Tuesday night Trayce Thompson hit a pair of bombs and went 4-5 in Kannapolis' 11-7 win. He is off to a strong start to the season, demonstrating tremendous power and showing improvement with his plate discipline and contact. The 2009 second round pick has arguably the biggest upside of any White Sox prospect and last year I analyzed his development. Time for an update!
Like last year, Thompson is off to a hot start to the season. Unfortunately, he didn't maintain that level of play, slumping before a broken hand ended his 2010 after just 58 games. Still, other than the injury his on-field production has to be viewed as positive. He showed big time power, drew more walks and cut down on his strikeouts. As just a teenager in full season ball, that's the kind of development you want to see. This year (granted still with a small sample size), we are seeing the same progress.
Starting off with power because that's his best trait at the moment, Trayce went from a weak hitting strikeout machine his rookie year to having about half of his hits go for extra bases. His ISO (description here) from the last three years has shown steady improvement.
2009 ISO: .047
As Thompson's power comes along and teams realize he is a threat, he will be pitched around more and should draw more walks. Trayce's numbers support this so far, though obviously it's tough to use this year's stats as an indicator yet given the lack of plate appearances (62 in 13 games).
2009 BB/PA: 5.93% (7 in 118 PA)
2010: 8.94% (21 in 235 PA)
2011: 9.68% (6 in 62 PA)
Arguably the biggest thing is strikeouts. If a prospect has good production, but is striking out at a high rate he's likely going to struggle as he moves upwards in the minors (see Jordan Danks). So far, steady improvement in this category. Thompson still needs to cut the number, but at least he has the power to make up for it (unlike Danks). The strikeouts will prevent him from hitting for average (.231 combined for Kanny 2010-11), but at the moment they're at a semi-tolerable level.
2009 SO/PA: 34.75%
Only 20 years-old, it's clear Trayce has a long way to go. He's not a player Sox fans will see patrolling the outfield at The Cell next year, but he could become a hot prospect with a strong year. Will he blow away the South Atlantic League and become a top 20 MLB prospect? Maybe, but I think most people would be pleased if he maintained his current numbers for the full season.
It's likely I'll do another update on Thompson (and I'll probably keep referencing those 2009 stats just because they're an example of
why not to get down on a guy for performance in rookie ball) because I love having a player of his talent and upside in the system. The White Sox haven't had a lot of high upside hitters in the system in recent memory. They tend to draft pitchers early, but even some of the good hitting prospects (like Brian Anderson, Jeremy Reed or even Brent Morel more recently) projected to be solid regulars at best. There's nothing wrong with a solid regular, but Thompson has the ability to be more.
You probably have to go as far back as Joe Borchard for this kind of potential from a Sox hitting prospect. That's not a name that's going to thrill anybody, but he did have huge upside because of his mammoth power. Maybe Ryan Sweeney or currently Jared Mitchell have an argument, but Sweeney never showed any power potential and, at least at this point, picking between Thompson and Mitchell is a matter of preference.