Offseason Prospect Overview: Riley Thompson

Riley Thompson (photo by MiLB.com)

Riley Thompson (photo by MiLB.com)

Season Review

rileythompson2018The Cubs have rarely taken risky, high-upside college arms in recent drafts but the front office admitted in 2018 that they have probably been too narrow in their profile of draftable pitchers. It has led to a limited number of high upside arms in the system, but if there is a prime example of the Cubs showing a new willingness to take a few risks, it's 11th round choice Riley Thompson out of Louisville.

Once considered the top prep prospect out of Kentucky, Thompson suffered an elbow injury as a freshman which required surgery and then struggled to establish himself once he recovered despite showing top flight stuff at times. The Cubs labeled Thompson a first round caliber arm there is truth to that appraisal. Thompson has the upside of an impact starter or reliever if he can take command of his plus stuff.

After signing Thompson did excel once he arrived in Eugene. There were definitely flashes of the control issues that plagued him at Louisville, but his stuff was good enough to overcome the occasional bouts where he lost the zone. It was a positive first step that provides hope the Cubs can help Thompson unlock his full potential.

Positives

All of the ingredients necessary for an impact pitcher are present. Thompson is a good athlete with good size. He also has a big arm. He worked as high as 97 as a starter for Eugene and there are reports he can hit 99-100 in relief. His fastball isn't just about velocity either. His works his heavy two-seamer (92-94) with good plane down in the zone to generate both ground balls and whiffs. His four-seamer (95+) explodes through the top of the zone with good life.

His secondaries are definitely inconsistent in terms of their effectiveness and more importantly control. He really struggled to throw either for strikes, but when he gets them in the zone it is easy to see their potential.

Negatives

Thompson struggled mightily with control and consistency in his career at Louisville. He redshirted his freshman season while recovering from TJS. Once recovered he struggled to throw strikes and was unable to hold on to a spot in the rotation. He finished 2018 with a 2-3 record and 6.17 ERA as he walked 32 batters in 46.2 innings (1.67 WHIP) over 24 games (7 GS). He also struck out 55 and and allowed only 2 home runs which shows the talent he possesses even as he couldn't put the ball where he wanted. The good news is Thompson showed he could throw strikes with his fastball in his stint with Eugene. The bad news is he struggled to control his secondaries, and even the fastball control needs to be taken with a grain of salt, because we are of course talking about a small sample size.

Summation

His lack of consistency and his high effort delivery point toward Thompson becoming a reliever but the stuff he flashes makes you dream that he can become more. He may end up an enigma like Dillon Maples. But there is also some Andrew Cashner vibes, or if I'm being even more charitable you see some glimpses of a young Jake Arrieta (who struggled for a long time to capitalize on his supreme talent level).

2019 Outlook

Thompson will get a chance to show if he can extend the run of success he had at Eugene over the course of a full season at South Bend. He was unable to sustain a successful run during his time at Louisville so the grind of pitching every five days in the Midwest League is going to be a big challenge, but one I look forward to watching.

Comments

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  • Thompson seems like one of those guys that hits MLB and makes everyone say, "Wow, where did HE come from!" Hope he improves the consistency and rises through the system.

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    Dillon Maples is an interesting name to bring up for him. I remember someone commented that Maples is kind of an 'in-between' guy. If you are super excited about the velocity we need to remember he can't control it at this point which limits his effectiveness. But if someone gets too worked up about his BB/9IP we need to remember he is just learning control away from being a dominant reliever and those guys don't grow on trees.

    In short, that's what the minor leagues are for.

  • This is the type of high upside arm we should stock with every year. If you can add 3-5 guys like this and 1 hits every 5 years it is well worth it.

    I hope the give him the “skip a start every 6-8 start” treatment as moving into a full 5 man professional season is far different than anything he has experienced.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    The Cubs do use 6-man rotations in South Bend and Myrtle Beach, and i expect at Tennessee this year as well. They kept all of them on 85-95 pitch counts depending on their situation.

  • In reply to Michael Ernst:

    Good to know.

    I am not a pitch count guy. What wears the arms down is the grind of every 5th day starts with bullpens and side work. It is a lot to take on when a player has never done it before. I guess this is the Cubs way of "caring" for a pitcher's arm. As long as Thompson gets extra rest I think that would be a good thing in his case. In 2020 he can open it up more if remaining healthy this year.

  • In reply to rbrucato:

    Given he wasn't a full-time starter in 2018, I would expect the Cubs to be careful with him. He could get the same treatment Bailey Clark did last year, where he began as a multi-inning reliever, eventually moved into the rotation, then transitioned back to the pen after missing some time due to injury.

  • I love reading your prospect reviews. You paint an excellent picture of the talents and potential each player has. Thanks!

    I'm still impressed with the breadth of quality players in the farm system. They do not have a ton of "top 100 prospects" in their system right now, but they have quite a few who might make an impact at the major league level at some point. They know how to develop position players, that's for sure. If they can figure out how to develop their pitchers, the future looks brighter than what the Sickels' of the world might think,

  • In reply to HefCA:

    Thanks.

    I try to stay optimistic with all of them. You can easily frame a prospect by saying he can't do X and Y and so they are most likely to only hit their floor and you shouldn't get your hopes up, but I choose to present them by saying if the prospect needs to improve A and B in order to reach their ceiling.

    It's a subtle difference, and I know the people who embrace the pessimistic stance will end up being more accurate because few prospects reach or exceed their projected ceiling but it is a drudge to write in such a negative fashion. I feel I can still present a realistic appraisal of both their ceiling and floor while focusing on their pathways to success rather than failure.

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