Entering the season, there was no denying that 2018 was going to be a pivotal year for Mason Thompson.
The 20-year-old Texan, who was given more than a million dollars over the slot bonus in 2016, has long possessed the makings of a big league pitcher, but has often found himself thwarted by injuries. In high school, it was a torn UCL and Tommy John surgery that cost him roughly two seasons, and last year, it was arm and shoulder injuries cutting his time short.
However, the narrative has slowly begun to shift as Thompson continues to build on the longest stretch of uninterrupted game time he’s had since he was 16 years old.
Over his last ten starts, Thompson has held opponents to three earned runs or less in every single game and tantalized fans and scouts with an improving arsenal that includes a curveball that sinks as low as 69 mph and a fastball that touches 95 mph. That devastating differential combined with strong fastball command baffled hitters in his last outing as he struck out a career high seven batters on only 67 pitches.
Thompson was generous enough to chat with us last week for a mid-season check-in…
MadFriars: What went through your mind during your rough stretch to start the season?
Mason Thompson: It definitely started off a little rough…definitely, not the way I wanted it to, but I knew what I was capable of and that I needed to stay confident and composed out there even through the rough patches I was going through. I just needed to look forward to the good things that were bound to happen if I kept honing my craft and working hard.
After the temperatures warmed up, you seemed to find some consistency. What else changed for you in May?
Mason Thompson: I’ve talked about it before but definitely the mindset. I just kind of went into an attack mentality and wasn’t going to lose when I was out there. I wanted to compete and win for the team, and I feel like I was able to go out there with that mindset and put together some really good outings by simply refusing to lose and continuing to compete. Along with that, I made a few mechanical adjustments, nothing major…just a few things that helped me compete with the ball in the zone a little better.
How do you balance the competitive side that wants to see results and the understanding that it’s a process, especially being at the Low-A level?
Mason Thompson: It’s tough sometimes. … I‘m a competitor whether it is ping pong or video games or whatever it may be. So sometimes it is hard to bottle things up and not get too competitive when you’re out there. But at the same time, you want to compete no matter the level, whether it be Low-A, Triple-A, or the big leagues. I’m never going to push that aside. I’m always going to be a competitor out there, and I think that kind of makes me who I am and allows me to go out there and have success.
With the injuries last season, it must have been difficult to find consistency. Have you done anything differently this year in an effort to stay healthy?
Mason Thompson: One of the main focuses this offseason was obviously health, especially coming off the year that I had last year. A lot more shoulder stability stuff and shoulder strengthening workouts were part of the weekly regimen, and I’ve kind of brought it into the season this year and used that as something to help keep me healthy during the year. Also, paying a little more attention to the warmup process and both the time in between starts and the time leading up to starts has been important to me as I’ve worked to stay healthy.
Now that you have had some consistency this season, have you been able to make more adjustments from game to game?
Mason Thompson: I think every time you go out there whether good or bad, … you can take something from it and learn from it and use it in the next outing and the outings going forward. I feel like I have done a good job this year doing that, especially with the way things started. I had to take a step back and look at things that weren’t working at the time and see what I can do to fix them and make them better. And ultimately, it paid off, and I was able to put together some good starts after that and I’ll continue to do that from this point forward.
Earlier this season, you alluded to making some mechanical adjustments. Can you describe for us how you altered your delivery?
Mason Thompson: Yeah, I think staying closed as long as you can is important, especially for a guy like me who is tall and lanky and has a lot of moving parts. I think staying closed as long as possible and keeping everything going towards the target rather than flying open and leaving my arm dragging behind is a big piece to the puzzle. When I am able to do that, it enables me to keep everything in line and really come at the catcher’s mitt and have all my momentum and all the pieces going in the right direction.
Would you say that you have developed confidence in your ability to replicate the new delivery?
Mason Thompson: Absolutely. I think early on, like we said, I struggled a little bit. But it was something I had to stick with. With that mentality and what I had been working on, I thought it was eventually going to work, and it allowed me to go out there and have some good outings once I was able to do that. I’ve been working on this for a while, and I can’t get upset when it doesn’t quite go my way the first time or first couple of times that I’m out there. I just had to stick with the process and trust the process, and now it is starting to pay off.
In addition to the mechanical adjustments, you also integrated a slider into your repertoire this offseason. How has it performed this season?
Mason Thompson: It’s been a huge piece for me this year. I think it allows me to give the batter a different look not only with movement but also with a different speed. It’s kind of right there in between my curveball and fastball and my changeup, so it’s definitely given me a good weapon to use against these hitters. I’ve built a lot of confidence with that pitch as the year has gone on. Even from the first outing until now, I’ve made little minor adjustments on it and feel really confident about where it is right now.
In regards to fastball velocity, are you pleased with where you are this season or do you feel like there is more in the tank?
Mason Thompson: I think as I mature and get older that I definitely have more in the tank. It isn’t something I worry about too much right now because at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. You could throw 97 and give up a home run or throw 82 and strike somebody out, and I would much rather take the strikeout than the home run. So at the end of the day, the velocity doesn’t matter too much, but I know that as I mature and get bigger and stronger that will take care of itself… and I think I will definitely have more in the tank as I mature.
It’s been almost exactly two years since the Padres selected you in the draft. What was that experience like?
Mason Thompson: It really was a different experience for me, especially with the way it all played out coming off my Tommy John surgery. So I didn’t really know what to expect going in … I knew the Padres were definitely going to be an option for me.
I’m really glad the way things turned out, but my draft experience was pretty different from the guys who came up because they probably had a pretty good idea of where they were going or what situation they were going to be presented with. But with me, it was get together with my family and hope and pray that things work out the way they are meant to be. If I would have ended up going to Texas, that would have been great …I would have worked hard and maybe be in the same situation three years later, but I’m definitely happy with the way everything played out.