Updated: Dec 5, 2021
WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really by bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#15: LHP ZacK Thompson
24 years old on Opening Day
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2019 draft
IF I HAVE SAID IT ONCE, I'VE SAID IT 100 TIMES: THE CONTEXT OF THOMPSON'S 2021 SEASON IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PERCEIVED SEASON THAT HE HAD.
LET'S PUT IT INTO PERSPECTIVE: Thompson was drafted in 2019, and he only pitched 15.1 sporadic, affiliated innings after he was drafted that year. Even more, Thompson had missed a little time dating back to his time in college.
Then the 2020 season was lost. Yes, Thompson was a part of spring training 2020 and 2021. Yes, he was also a part of "Summer Camp" during the 2020 season. No, that doesn't count as much as I'd/we'd like. Here we are, and we still have not given all of the imoprtant context.
AAA is the most difficult level of baseball in the world that isn't the Majors. There are some leagues abroad that are close, but none of those leagues are quite like AAA. It's a tough assignment for any prospect, but it has to be even more difficult for a kid who just missed an entire season of competitive, affiliated Minor League baseball, and who had only ever had the smallest of sniffs of what that is like. Those sniffs of affiliated baseball in 2019 were at instructional league and at then A+ Palm Beach, and they were all short-inning appearances. That's a far distance from being a starting pitcher at AAA.
Then, on top of all of this, the Cardinals awarded Thompson the number 57 in spring. Thompson became the first player to wear that number since Daryl Kile's untimely death. It's an incredible honor that Thompson deserved, but it was yet another levied expectation upon a kid that lacked a chance at a full Minor League season.
What I’m getting at is, the AAA assignment was as tough as it could possibly have been for any prospect. Thompson’s stats aren’t pretty. There isn’t a lot that I’m going to be able to show you that will make you pleased about the season that he had. And, honestly, that’s because Thompson had a bad season. It would be irresponsible of me to paint it in any other light. But that is why the context is important. There were some really positive signs among a helluva struggle, and that’s why we are going to blow by the relative statistical struggle that Thompson had in 2021 at Memphis. If you want to dwell on it, go ahead. I'm not going to do that, and I can promise you that he isn’t.
While I’m not going to focus on the statistical side of some of the struggles that Thompson had in 2021, I do want to point out some of the things that he clearly needs to work on. First, Thompson doesn’t do himself any favors early in counts. He tried too hard to live on the edges of the strike zone in 2021, and he was missing his spot. This meant that he wound up working from behind a lot. Thompson had diminished velocity for the majority of the 2021 season, and I wonder if this stopped him from being as aggressive as he otherwise would have, specifically early in the season. It seemed like he was working from behind almost always. This is something that needs to change, and it needs to change quickly. It was great to see him end the season with an increase in both command and velocity of the fastball, and that's obviously going to be a huge key for him moving forward.
Thompson is feisty kid and a hell of a competitor, but he is in his own head too much when he throws a ball. It's noticeable right away, too. Upon landing a pitch outside of the zone, Thompson will spin away towards the center field camera with clear disgust in his face. These two major complaints that I have about him, these two areas in need of work, are clearly feeding into each other. It’s OK to throw balls. It’s even OK to work behind in the count. It’s not good for any human to allow themselves to eat themselves alive. Now, I might also be doing a little personal projecting here, of course. Either way, unlike me, Thompson is too talented to not trust himself or his stuff. Let it fly, young man. The gif below will show you everything that I will talk about in this article, from the description of working behind in the count and being too "on the black", to what his entire arsenal looks like.
While all of this really sucks, I am happy to see that Thompson is having a really great beginning in the Arizona Fall League (I wrote the meat of this post in mid/late October). As I write this, Thompson has pitched six innings and only allowed two hits while striking out 11. He is still throwing too many balls and walking too many, but his velocity has ticked back upward and his stuff is biting. One of the things that we saw early in the 2021 season was that Thompson would struggle to get a handle of his curveball. He started to show signs of a better handle of it towards the end of the season, and that has apparently carried over into the Fall League. Many believe that it's Thompson's best pitch (me, too), and it can grade out regularly as a plus pitch to lefties and above average to righties when he has a grip on it.
I would also say that Thompson’s slider is better than I thought it would be. Just like with Matthew Liberatore, I think that it behooves Thompson to use his off-speed as often as he can, and I think that he has some extra effectiveness present if he is using his slider and his curve as often as possible. I could be wrong of course, but it seemed like his slider had more sweeping action early in the year and a stronger cutting bite later in the season. I love the action on the sweeping thing, but he commanded the cutting thing much better. It'd be cool if he could work both pitches in, but I'm all about focusing on whatever he feels like he is commands best right now.
One thing that became clear towards the end of the season was that Thompson was using a changeup more often than ever before, and I really dug that. I don't have much of a feel for the pitch's capabilities or an understanding of how Thompson uses, but he showed us that it can be an effective pitch when used here and there. I'm anxious to see more of it.
Not to make excuses, but another important part of the success that Thompson is capable of having is dependent on if he’s getting the inside corner against righties. Maybe he was just a fraction too much inside and I don’t have a feel for it, but it seemed like Thompson was getting squeezed in this regard. Early in the season, specifically. That forced him to get a little too over the middle, and that’s a large part of the reason why he let up so much slug. Either way, he’s going to have to refine and "own" the corners in an effort to own that inside part of the plate. I believe that’s a huge key for him, too.
It was a tough season for this highly decorated lefty. However, some of those statistically struggles only begin to paint a fraction of the picture that was Thompson’s 2021 season. If Thompson can work through the frustration issues that he appears to have with himself, and if he can continue to let it fly while rediscovering some of his lost velocity, I think that we’ll see the version of Thompson in 2022 that we hoped to see in 2021.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Thank For Reading!!