May 18, 2012; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Rich Thompson (24) at bat against the Atlanta Braves at Tropicana Field. Atlanta Braves defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

The Tale Of Rich Thompson

Rich Thompson has been a bit of a baseball vagabond for most of his career. Originally drafted sixth round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, Thompson literally hit the ground running. Using his solid batting eye, ability to make contact, and excellent speed, Thompson reached AAA by halfway through his second minor league season. After spending 2002 and part of 2003 in AA, Thompson returned to AAA, where he essentially remained.

It was 2003 that his travels began. Thompson was traded from the Blue Jays to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who then left him exposed in the Rule V Draft. He was selected by the San Diego Padres, who then traded him to the Kansas City Royals. It was with the Royals that he had his first taste of major league action, appearing in six games, stealing a base, scoring a run, and grounding into a double play in his only at bat. He was then sent back to Pittsburgh, and bounced around the minor leagues from that point onward.

Thompson seemingly found a home in the Philadelphia Phillies system. Although he never reached the majors with the Phillies, he was continually brought back on one year deals, until being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays on May 16th, due to the plethora of outfield injuries suffered by the Rays at that point in the season. In his first start for the Rays, he got his first major league hit, drove in a run, and stole two bases – a wonderful story for someone that had been a career minor league player.

That game was essentially the end of Thompson’s run as a useful player. He scored only two more runs before being sent back down to Durham. When rosters expanded in September, Thompson was recalled, and again got a hit in his first game back. Overall for the season, Thompson has just those two hits and one RBI over 22 at bats, although he has scored four runs and stolen six bases.

Defensively, Thompson has been sub par. Despite his speed, he seems to take poor routes on fly balls, allowing them to fall in front of or behind him. His range factor per nine innings in left field is 1.34 is far below the league average of 1.95. As a major league player, Thompson appears best suited as a pinch runner, a luxury item on a team that has often times struggled to score runs. Yet, he has consistently produced solid statistics in the minor leagues, likely marking Thompson as a quintessential AAAA player.

Despite his limitations, Thompson has remained on the 40 man roster since being acquired by the Rays. In all likelihood, designating Thompson for assignment and removing him from the 40 man roster would not have sparked a run by other teams to acquire a 33 year old player with seemingly one asset – his speed. In fact, the Rays designated Will Rhymes for assignment this season, even though he appeared far more valuable than Thompson has been this year.

While Thompson was needed at a point during the season when injuries ravaged the outfield, that time appears to have passed. His speed is fairly redundant on a team that has Sam Fuld as a fourth outfielder. His continued presence on the 40 man roster is a bit puzzling, when he provides as little as he does.

On a team with the offensive struggles the Rays have had, that spot may have been better served by placing someone else on the 40 man roster. Leslie Anderson hit well this season, and the Rays could have found out what they had in their investment. Jesus Feliciano and Ryan Garko each have major league experience. Garko in particular has had major league success, and even Feliciano did manage 25 hits in his 108 at bats in 2010.

Rich Thompson was a nice story, and it was great to see him finally enjoy a moment of success in the major leagues.  If his career was made into a movie, the movie would have ended with that game. However, his moment has long since passed, and the Rays may have been better off finding another option.

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  • pigphan

    Of course we all have our favorites, but it’s interesting how modern statistics plus small samples quickly lead to incorrect conclusions. In fact, his Philly fans would describe the guy as having superb defensive skills as evidenced by years of highlight reel catches and a good arm. (Ask his former coach Ryne Sandberg and he’ll tell you the same.) As for hitting, he hit .310 at Durham while Anderson hit .309 and Thompson’s OPS was essentially the same as Anderson (.795 vs. .805).
    Don’t get me wrong, though, I thought that Anderson would come up in September also.

    • Robbie_Knopf

      I disagree with David on the lack of usefulness of Thompson on the roster (yes, we’re allowed to disagree), but looking at your comment, we see a major deficiency of OPS- how it’s divided. Thompson was a solid OBP guy at Triple-A for quite a while, but the problem from the Rays’ standpoint is his lack of power, something that also holds back his ability to hit for a solid average in the big leagues, although he has never gotten sufficient big league time to see how well he would hit. In any event, the argument for Anderson is that he has more power, but his power is still bad for a first base/corner outfield type, his lack of patience is a huge hindrance, and he can’t run or handle centerfield like Thompson can.

      • pigphan

        Yes I have to believe the scouts were salivating early on, at the prospect that he’d develop more power over the long haul. That’s probably all (plus bad luck) that’s impeded a long career in the majors. Dewayne Wise is comparable in many ways, and he’s been in the majors for 12 years while hitting only 30 HR total so there are examples out there of people who succeed without massive power. I’d like to see Thompson receive an invitation to major league camp next year to find out how well he can hit MLB pitching. Somehow I feel like that’s a good possibility but we’ll all have to wait and see. Thanks for addressing my question about Anderson.

        Meanwhile, GO RAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Dave Hill

      To me, he just looks like a player that hits well in AAA, but can’t perform at the major league level. Admittedly, it is a small sample size, but he has been on some teams (Royals, Pirates) that desperately could have used the help in the outfield. Should he have gotten more of a chance before now? Probably, but there has to be something behind why he didn’t before this year.

      He just seems a bit redundant to have on the roster, especially with Sam Fuld back.

      • pigphan

        Not to prolong this, but Sam’s hammy is far from healthy. Much like Longo, he cannot in any way run full out. (That was very evident last night) He’s a trooper but it was painful to watch