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Each week, Jared Wyllys digs into his notebook and shares some info on a prospect of his choice, then passes along some select entries from our 2018 Prospect Spotlight Library and 2018 Pro Scouting Report Library. This week, we get a closer look at the Cincinnati Reds righty and recent convert to the mound, Cory Thompson.
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Prospect Focus: Cory Thompson, RHP, Reds (High A Daytona, Florida State League)
With the season now behind him, Cory Thompson is aiming to continue building on his successful transition from shortstop to pitcher. The first few years of his professional career may have been marred by injury and frustration, but after two seasons on the mound, it looks as though Thompson has found his niche.
Drafted by Cincinnati in the 5th round in 2013 out of Mauldin High School in South Carolina, Thompson pitched and played short throughout his amateur career. And in those early years as a pro, he wanted to be a hitter.
“Growing up, I did both of them, but I enjoyed playing short more,” Thompson told 2080 Baseball. “You got to hit and do all the cool stuff. Steal bases, make cool plays.”
Pitching, Thompson said, was just something else that he did as a kid and in high school. It wasn’t how he saw himself. But in his first four years in the Reds farm system, injuries kept him from getting consistent at bats, and by the end of 2016, he was looking at being released. In 693 total at bats, he was batting .237. At the end of spring training in 2017, the Reds delivered the news every player hope doesn’t come.
“They told me I kind of fell behind in at bats due to injuries and that they didn’t see me being an everyday player anymore,” Thompson said. “I kind of got passed up.”
If not for a provision in his contract that said he could pitch if playing shortstop didn’t work out, Thompson probably would have been done. He could have tried to move on to another organization and hope that health would work in his favor and the at bats and better hitting would come, but instead Thompson went to extended spring training to work on becoming a pitcher again.
When the short season started in Billings, Montana, Thompson went to the Pioneer League. He made his pitching debut on June 20, and Thompson said that was as nervous as he had ever been in a baseball game.
“I didn’t want to go out in that first outing and have a terrible outing,” Thompson said. “I just wanted this to work out for me.”
He struck out two batters and gave up just one hit in his inning that day. From there, Thompson went on to put together a successful first season as a pitcher. In 32.1 innings, he struck out 32 batters, walked 18, and posted a 3.62 ERA as a reliever. In 2018, Thompson has doubled his innings total while improving on last year’s performance. He had 65 strikeouts and 11 walks with a 3.09 ERA for Dayton in the Midwest League.
As a high schooler, Thompson said, he threw a fastball and a curveball, and he said he had “somewhat” of a changeup. It wasn’t until his time in extended spring training in 2017 when he could hone that third pitch. Now, he has a changeup grip that he likens to Marcus Stroman’s.
“It’s kind of weird,” Thompson said. “I don’t really put a circle, I just stick my thumb at the bottom.”
Thompson said that he had been using the traditional circle change grip but didn’t really feel like it was working for him. Then a teammate in extended spring training suggested the different thumb placement, and Thompson took it from there.
At a time when teammate Hunter Greene (Reds) gave up hitting last season to focus on pitching and Shohei Ohtani (Angels) had to stop pitching for several months because of an elbow strain, Thompson appreciates the physical demands of trying to do both. Going forward, Thompson said that adjusting to pitching full time is as mental as it is physical. A lot of it has been learning to switch his frame of mind, and Thompson believes this has given him a bit of an advantage.
“How pitchers think, instead of how the hitters think,” Thompson said, describing his mental adjustment. “When I’m up there, I think about how I used to think, and attack those guys and let them get themselves out.”
He said that hitters at the Single-A level often cheat on the fastball, and he tries to keep them off balance by going with offspeed or breaking stuff in a hitters’ count. His work this season earned him a promotion to High-A Daytona for the minor league postseason. If Thompson can continue with the kind of growth and performance that he has shown so far, he could prove to be a valuable piece of the Reds bullpen in the relatively near future. He might miss the excitement of playing shortstop, but toeing the rubber in the majors will probably do just fine.
You can follow Cory on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/c_thompson12
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