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.