There was a time when Tampa Bay Rays prospect Jake Thompson looked to be on the fast track as a starter. After being a second round draft pick out of Long Beach State in 2010, Thompson put up an outstanding 2.90 ERA in 114.2 innings at High-A Port Charlotte in 2011- just his first full pro season. But upon a move to Double-A Montgomery he hit a wall, putting up a 5.65 ERA there in 2012 before repeating there in 2013 and still disappointing with a 4.18 ERA. Now in 2014, Thompson seems close to being ready to help the big league club after a move to relief has led to a breakout year.
The move seemed likely after his poor 2013 year, but it became reality when Thompson opened the year in Montgomery’s bullpen. He made quick work of hitters in his third go-around at the level, posting a 2.08 ERA and a 14-4 K-BB ratio in 17.2 innings. Upon promotion to Triple-A Durham he has been even better, putting up a 1.83 ERA and a 20-5 K-BB ratio in 19.2 innings. His hard fastball-slider combination has really played up in shorter stints in the bullpen, and that is why he has transitioned to the bullpen so well. Some issues with command and his lack of a quality third pitch have also been masked in the ‘pen, and that has certainly helped his success. Simply put- Thompson has turned from an underperforming arm that was quickly getting lost in the fold into a legitimate big league depth piece in the course of half a season.
Given the Rays depth at relief, Thompson is not done fighting just yet. 6 of their 7 relievers are under control for 2015 barring a trade, so there is not much room to accommodate their arms that are currently in the minors. Jeff Beliveau, Adam Liberatore, and C.J. Riefenhauser have all dominated at Triple-A this year, and starters like Nate Karns, Enny Romero, Matt Andriese, and Mike Montgomery could all be moved to the bullpen in the future. If Thompson wants any kind of spot on the big league roster anytime soon, he is going to have to beat out some tough competition. But if he keeps dominating like he has, beating out that competition is entirely possible. At the very least the Rays suddenly have one more candidate that is able to fill-in on the big league roster in the event of injury, but Thompson will surely want a bigger role than that if he keeps up the good work.
The Tampa Bay Rays have a nice surprise on their hands in Jake Thompson. After disappointing as a starter, a move to relief has led to a breakout season. Thompson still has plenty of work to do if he wants a big league role, as he needs to prove his great half season has not been a fluke and has to prove himself better than some tough competition. But, the Rays have a good depth piece now and the potential for a good reliever down the road, and they will certainly take it after Thompson’s career appeared to be in flux just a couple of months ago.