ZACH THOMPSON, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: October 23, 1993
Drafted: 5th Round, 138th overall pick, 2014 (White Sox)
How Acquired: Trade (from Marlins)
College: University of Texas Arlington
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|The White Sox drafted Thompson in 2014 and he made very slow progress through their system. He usually struggled at each new level and didn’t reach AAA until 2019. In 2017, Chicago moved him from starting to the bullpen. He never made the 40-man roster and became a free agent after the pandemic season, signing with Miami for 2021. In June, the Marlins called him up and he pitched very well, first as a starter and then in relief. Thompson is a big guy who throws a fastball that sits a little over 92, but his main pitch is a very effective cutter. He also throws a curve, change and sinker, all of which played as roughly average pitches in 2021. His fastball has a very high spin rate, his curve a very low one. The Pirates acquired him in the Jacob Stallings trade.
Thompson started 11 games in advanced rookie ball and pitched reasonably well, with a low K rate.
The White Sox moved Thompson up to Low-A, where he made 16 starts. He had just a passable season, as walks were a problem. He had some extreme ups and downs, like an 8.84 ERA in five July starts and 1.95 in five starts in August.
The White Sox kept Thompson initially in Low-A, where he made 16 starts. His control still wasn’t great, but he sharply increased his K rate and opponents batted just .193 against him. He moved up to High-A for ten starts and got the opposite results, with opponents batting .292. Baseball America rated him the Sox’ 25th best prospect after the season.
Thompson spent the entire season at High-A and struggled. He had subpar walk and K rates, and opponents batted .281. About halfway through the season, the Sox moved him to the bullpen and he started pitching a little better in August.
Thompson split the season between High-A and AA, pitching strictly in relief. He was very successful at both levels, missing a lot more bats. Opponents batted just .206 against him for the season. BA rated him 28th in the Sox’ system.
Thompson opened the season in AAA, moved down to AA for four games and then went back to AAA. He had good walk and K rates there, but was hampered by gopher balls, as he allowed 15.
Thompson didn’t pitch during the season and, when Chicago failed to add him to the 40-man roster, he became a minor league free agent. He signed with Miami.
Thompson made eight relief appearances in AAA, which obviously didn’t go well. The Marlins called him up anyway, in early June, and put him in their rotation. He made 13 starts, getting very good results, although he got a little shaky over the last five. Miami then moved him to the bullpen and he continued pitching well, making a dozen relief appearances and one start the rest of the season. Overall, Thompson didn’t miss a lot of bats, but he was well above average in limiting hard contact. Opponents managed just a 227/301/374 line against him. He had trouble with left-handed batters, allowing them an .807 OPS, but right-handed batters managed only .557. The metrics didn’t totally buy his success, as he had an xFIP of 4.65.
Thompson went through some extremes during the season, most of which he spent in the rotation. He got off to a horrific start, with a 10.05 ERA in four April starts. Then in 11 starts from May 8 to July 14 he had an ERA of 2.62. Then he had another terrible stretch of five starts with an ERA of 9.00, although Derek Shelton made things worse by leaving him in too long in a couple of them. At that point, the Pirates mostly moved Thompson to relief. Over the last six weeks of the season, Thompson made only two starts out of his eight appearances. He didn’t do any better in relief, with a 5.12 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. On the season, his K rate was down from the previous year and he had trouble with gopher balls, allowing 19. Opponents batted 280/344/446 against him. The Statcast shows that he went from a guy who gave up little hard contact in 2021 to one who ranked roughly around the tenth percentile (i.e., tenth worst) in most measures of hard contact. His cutter went from an opponents’ slugging average of .284 in 2021 to .530 in 2022.
Thompson’s 2022 season was a puzzle, partly because he went through such extremes in results and partly because his cutter lost effectiveness. The Pirates no doubt will hope he can get back to his 2021 form, but they’ll question they’ll face is how long to wait for that to happen, given that they have other options. There’s no particular reason to think he’ll do well in relief if he’s not doing well as a starter. He has three options left, but the team wasn’t willing to send him down in 2022.
|2023: Major League Minimum|
|Signing Bonus: $363,400
MiLB Debut: 2014
MLB Debut: 6/7/2021
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2028
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2015
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 1.121
|June 8, 2011: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 48th round, 1442nd overall pick.
June 6, 2014: Drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 5th round, 138th overall pick; signed on June 10.
November 2, 2020: Became a free agent.
December 3, 2020: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Miami Marlins.
June 5, 2021: Contract purchased by the Miami Marlins.
November 29, 2021: Traded by the Miami Marlins with Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jacob Stallings.