Offseason Prospect Overview: Riley Thompson

Riley Thompson (photo by Rikk Carlsson)

Riley Thompson (photo by Rikk Carlsson)

Season Review

rileythompson2020

Riley Thompson wasn't the best starter for South Bend in 2019 (Cam Sanders). Nor was he the flashiest prospect (Brailyn Marquez). He wasn't even one of the rotation workhorses (Faustino Carrera and Derek Casey). Despite that, he remained a key cog throughout the year and once Marquez moved up to Myrtle Beach, Thompson became the guy the team looked to for flashes of brilliance. And he came through for thm in their biggest moment of the season, putting together his finest outing on the road in the deciding game of the MWL Championship Series (5 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 10 K).

Positives

Few Cubs starting pitcher prospects can sit 92-94 and touch the mid-90s like Thompson. When working in shorter stints for Louisville he was able to hit the upper-90s. His over-the-top release point also gives him a bit of deception and helps him induce some weak contact.


The biggest reason for optimism with Thompson is the tremendous strides he made with his changeup in 2019. He worked on a new grip last spring and then gained comfort with the pitch throughout the season. It became his best weapon for many starts by the end of the summer, offering him an out pitch against both right and left-handed batters. If he develops the confidence in the pitch to use it in any count against hitters from either side of the plate it would greatly improve his odds of sticking as a starter.

Negatives

The Cubs were careful with Thompson throughout 2019. He went more than 5 innings only once. They kept him in South Bend all season despite his success. For a pitcher who suffered a significant injury and who never really found his footing at the collegiate level, giving him a stable environment in his first full season of pro ball was probably not a bad idea.

Never a full-time starter at Louisville due to TJS and subsequent control issues, Thompson did appear to tire a bit in the second half (3.65 ERA compared to 2.50 in the first half) of 2019. There were still plenty of highs, with 5 scoreless starts (including 5 innings of no-hit ball in the deciding game of the MWL Championship Series), but he also failed to complete 4 innings in 4 of his 12 starts. Thompson had pitched into the 5th in all 11 of his 1st half starts.


Inconsistencies with control and stuff remain on a pitch-to-pitch basis. Thompson doesn't always hold his velocity, and his secondaries remain works in progress, despite the way they flash. When he has all three pitches working in unison he is capable of missing a ton of bats (such as the 10 K over 5 IP in his final game). But Thompson also has outings where he pitches to a lot of contact when his command and feel for curveball falter.

Summation

While 2019 was a great first step in Riley Thompson regaining his status as a potential MOR starting pitcher that he projected as when coming out of the prep ranks he is still raw and inexperienced for a pitcher his age. A future bullpen role is still more likely, but the Cubs need to continue developing him as a starter as they have few arms with his type of upside in the system.

2020 Outlook

Thompson will move up to Myrtle Beach and figures to anchor the rotation. This core of players has won back-to-back championships, first in Eugene two years ago, and then with South Bend last season. The Pelicans will have perhaps the most exciting roster among the Cubs affiliates and Thompson could be a big part of a group of prospects ready to break out.

I would expect the Cubs to be a bit more aggressive with his development this summer. Expect them to push him beyond 5 innings more often, and I don't believe they will hesitate to promote him to Tennessee in the second half if he manages to show greater consistency with his three pitch mix.

Comments

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    Michael, thanks for these reviews of our prospects. I liked what I read about Thompson when the Cubs drafted him and what you wrote today. He seems like many good prospects in that he has the stuff and the talent but the question is if he can harness and control his pitches. If he can, he'll be a valuable asset, if not, someone who just couldn't progress much farther. Maybe he stays a starter or becomes a reliever with a FB approaching the upper 90's.
    Thanks again.

  • Michael,

    What is your opinion of the pitch lab, or hit lab?

    I cannot believe the minor league coaching/development was totally archaic before changes.

  • In reply to Naujack:

    It is difficult to say for certain how extensive the use was over the past couple of years. We know there have been success stories, mostly on the pitching side (reworking Ryan's release point and stuff, Wick and Wieck curveballs). I'm sure there have been others that weren't publicized. So it's not like they don't know how to use them.

    It sounds like this season they are going to collect far more data, from all levels, and have a more comprehensive plan of attack and be a bit more proactive with use of them.

  • Thanks.

  • Thompson sounds like a prospect with plenty of potential. Let's keep picking these guys up Theo. Good job.

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