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Scouting Zack Thompson

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The Cards’ first pick is in, and it’s a college pitcher with a substantial ceiling.

With their first round pick, number nineteen overall, the Cardinals selected Zack Thompson, a left-handed pitcher out of the University of Kentucky.

As per usual, the Cards managed to select a player I didn’t actually cover this spring, despite them having myriad options to take. I assume this is a personal affront, and I am not amused by it. In this particular case, I didn’t cover the player precisely because I didn’t like him all that much early, then ran out of time late.

So what are my thoughts on the selection? I am decidedly lukewarm. There were multiple players still on the board I liked substantially more than Thompson, and so when the pick came down I was extremely disappointed. However, whereas the younger me might very well have just flown off the handle with a derisive comment or post of some sort, the older, wiser me opened up his spreadsheet, pulled up my notes on Thompson, and then moderated my position to mildly disappointed.

Here’s the thing: Zack Thompson is a very talented pitcher. He may end up being a very good pitcher. But he’s also been a hurt pitcher on at least two occasions, I have concerns about his arm action, and he has command issues I still want to see addressed before I really buy into him as anything more than a backend starter.

Zack Thompson, LHP, University of Kentucky

6’3”, 225 lbs

Bats/Throws: Left/Left

DOB: 28 October 1997

So, what’s so great about this guy?

Coming into 2019, Zack Thompson was an injury risk with a middling ceiling, trying to prove the elbow injury that cost him most of his 2018 season was a fluke thing, rather than a sign of a pitcher with chronic arm troubles beginning to show up. By the time the season wrapped up, he was a former injury risk with number two starter upside. Suffice to say, 2019 has been very good to Zack Thompson so far.

The most troubling thing about Thompson’s arm issues in 2018 was that it wasn’t the first time he’s been sidelined with an arm injury. Back in high school he had a shoulder injury that helped depress his draft stock, enough so that he ended up making it to campus at Kentucky. So now, with the elbow in 2018, we have a pitcher who has had issues with both joints on his throwing arm, and it maybe doesn’t look like a coincidence that this guy with really ugly throwing mechanics has not been able to avoid whatever the amateur version of the injures list is.

That’s the bad stuff. Now let’s talk about the good stuff.

First off, Thompson’s delivery has improved steadily, and noticeably, over his time at Kentucky. His timing isn’t really bad, and at foot plant he’s close to where you would like to see him with his arm, even if I still don’t like the way he gets there necessarily. He took the ball every time he was asked this spring, made fourteen starts, averaged over six innings per start, and showed both better stamina and better command than he ever had before. If you were looking to buy stock in a pitcher who has had problems in the past but at least anecdotally appears to be moving past them, Zack Thompson is pretty much your guy.

Even better than that stuff, though, is the stuff. The stuff is the really good stuff, and it is, in fact, really good stuff.

The velocity for Thompson on his fastball is a plus, particularly for a lefty, as he works consistently in the 92-94 range and will pop as high as 97 on occasion, though the 96s and 7s are usually at least a little overthrown. The pitch has really good armside run, and hitters struggle to get good swings against Thompson even before he goes to any of his secondary weapons.

Thompson is a legitimate four-pitch pitcher, featuring a slider, curve, and changeup to complement his heater. The slider is the best of the three for now, looking like a future 60 if he can improve his consistency with the pitch. Good power, good depth, good spin, pretty much everything you’re looking for. The only problem? He has a bit of Jason Marquisitis with the slider, as in, Zack Thompson has a habit of throwing hangers. That has time to improve, though, and at its best the slider is a true swing and miss out pitch.

The changeup is roughly average in terms of movement and deception, but Thompson locates it well and so it plays up a touch over that. It’s not great, but it’s pretty good, and has a chance at more than just pretty good.

For me, probably the most interesting pitch in Thompson’s repertoire is his curveball, which has huge break but is a little loopy, thrown a bit too slow and without a whole lot of conviction. Every once in awhile, though, Thompson will break off a curve that makes you sit up and take notice. It’s not often, but it does happen. And when it does, you can see a different, much more deadly pitcher on the mound.

If everything comes together for Thompson, he could be a legit top of the rotation type starter. The fastball, slider, and curve all show signs of being above-average pitches at their respective bests, and the changeup looks at least usable. The downside risk with past injuries and shaky command is pretty substantial, but there’s also a very high payoff possible with this guy. We’ll just have to see if he gets there.

via 2080 Baseball:

Bottom line, Thompson would not have been my choice here. There were plenty of guys I liked better. However, I’m not going to complain overmuch here. This is a potentially high-impact arm, if he can stay on the field and avoid further arm issues. At the very least, it’s worth noting that Zack Thompson pitched in one of the toughest conferences (if not the toughest), in the country and posted some ridiculous strikeout numbers. That’s not nothing. In fact, it is very much something.