EASTLAKE, Ohio — In the 2016 draft, Padres General Manager A.J. Preller took an early gamble with the eighth pick, selecting right handed pitcher Cal Quantrill as he was coming off of Tommy John Surgery. It was a gutsy, high-risk, high-reward move, but it wasn’t his only bold selection in the early rounds of the draft. He nabbed another high ceiling pitcher coming off a torn UCL in the third round, 6-foot-7 right-hander Mason Thompson.
Nearly two years later, the hype and scrutiny continue to follow the former. Meanwhile, Thompson quietly embarks on his first full season of game action in three years following a disappointing and injury-plagued 2017 in Fort Wayne. Nevertheless, he appears poised and ready to realize his potential after adding a new weapon to his arsenal and working with some of MLB’s finest in the offseason.
Thompson’s first start (a 2.1 IP, 5 K, 4 BB, 2 ER performance) suggests it could take some time for him to find consistency, but the tools are there for a major breakout in 2018, provided he stays healthy.
MadFriars: What are you looking forward to in getting back out on the mound this year?
Mason Thompson: I’m just looking forward to getting back out and competing…to have more of a team environment. You know in spring training everything is so mixed up with a lot of guys in a lot of different spots, so it’s going to be nice to get back out with these guys and start winning ball games and competing.
Now, were you expecting to start the year in Fort Wayne?
Mason Thompson: I went into Spring Training not really knowing where I’d be, just like any other year. I had kind of an idea that Fort Wayne may be a spot for me, so when I was told I’d be in Fort Wayne, I was excited to be back here.
Let’s talk a little about last season. What were somethings that you enjoyed last season and maybe some areas where you grew?
Mason Thompson: I enjoyed the challenge last year. I enjoyed facing some better competition and being in that team setting that I said. It kind of forced me to grow up a bit last year, especially battling injury and having to learn the things I needed to do to stay healthy and get back on the field.
How did you find yourself attacking hitters differently as the season progressed?
Mason Thompson: It’s a little different than the AZL, where you can get away with a bit more. I definitely had to attack the hitters differently just as I will have to at every other level. It was a little bit of an adjustment, but with each start, I got more comfortable, and by the end, I felt like I was pretty well acclimated to the league and the environment.
Early last season [after extended Spring Training], we briefly discussed your arsenal. Can you describe for us how you felt each of your offerings performed?
Mason Thompson: Yeah, I felt like everything last year built off my fastball, but I feel confident with my changeup this year in both speed and movement differential. It’s a real good weapon. My curveball has been a good pitch for me this spring training and I plan to continue to build on that pitch. I started mixing in a slider this year that I think gives me another look to keep a hitter off balance.
What type of slider is it? A hard slider or…
Mason Thompson: It’s a harder slider that I think works well off my fastball with only about a 5-6 MPH speed difference between the two, now giving me four different speeds to work with.
How did the slider fare this spring?
Mason Thompson: I worked quite a bit on it, throwing it mainly towards the end of spring training, but I’ve been throwing a slider since I was about 14 years old. I kind of put in my back pocket for a little while and started really focusing on the curveball and the changeup. Once I felt like those pitches were where I wanted them to be, I started mixing in the slider again. It really worked well this spring, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it does this season.
Since you spent a significant amount of time working with Burt Hooton last season, can you tell us what he brought to sharpen your game?
Mason Thompson: He brings a lot to the table, a lot of knowledge, you know, a lot of experience. I think for me, the main thing that he taught me was that anything can happen in this game. He’s been around this game for a long time and seen just about anything you can see in baseball, so he had scenarios and some things that he faced in his career that helped me with situations I was in last year.
I hate to bring it up since you’ve probably talked about it frequently, but it’s hard to find consistency when you start a couple of games and get hurt, especially when you come back and look pretty good only to have injury strike again. What went through your mind when that happened last season?
Mason Thompson: I mean it obviously gets frustrating, especially when you feel like you are back to 100 percent and have the whole thing kind of happen again. But like I said, I’ve had a lot of time to plan for this season and to look back at things that I could have done better or should have done differently. I feel like I have a lot better idea of what I need to do this season to stay healthy and to continue to compete.
In terms of rehab this offseason, how did you go about preparing?
Mason Thompson: I worked out with a new trainer this offseason in Austin and was able to spend some time working out with John Lackey, Jake Arrieta, and Clay Buchholz. I also spent a lot of time talking with those guys, especially Lackey, who has dealt with some shoulder issues over his career. Just talking to him about different things and getting an idea of what he does to prepare and what he does to recover was real helpful during my offseason.
Was there any other insight into how they attack hitters or into the mental grind of the season that they shared with you?
Mason Thompson: There was a lot of everything. My main takeaway from those guys was just to enjoy it and have fun. Whenever we were working out and it was their turn to do reps, they really got after it and focused, locking in to what they needed to do. But every time in between, they were joking around and having a good time. I think at times, especially coming out of high school not knowing how everything works, it was good to see that you can have a lot of fun and enjoy it, and you don’t have to be serious every second you’re at the field or every second that you’re in a uniform.
You’re about three years removed from Tommy John Surgery. In terms of velocity and command, do you feel that you’re finally coming back to yourself?
Mason Thompson: I feel good. I felt like even last year, and even my first half season in the AZL, that I’ve had good command and that the velocity has continued to build up. I’m feeling really strong compared to where I was at before surgery, and I’ve learned a lot about the recovery process and preparation. So looking back, it was unfortunate that it happened. But at the same time, I was able to take a lot away from it, and I feel like I’m a better pitcher and a better person because of it.
This season, whether you’re in Fort Wayne for a while or quickly up in Lake Elsinore, what are some of your goals for the season?
Mason Thompson: My main goal is to stay healthy, and then after that, it’s just to compete and show everyone what I’m able to do. It’s been tough, and I’ve only had small sample sizes to show, but I’m real excited to get after it this year.
You’ve already mentioned integrating the slider. Is there any other area of your arsenal that you want to hone this year?
Mason Thompson: Mainly my offspeed pitches. I feel like my fastball was a real competitive pitch last year but maybe the curveball and changeup weren’t quite up to that level. So my focus this year is getting all four of those pitches on a high level consistently, day in and day out.