VIERA, Fla.–You can't blame a 19-year-old if he doesn't remember Dennis "Oil Can" Boyd's pitching days, even if his body type, mound presence and overall feel for pitching remind scouts of the former big league righthander.
"I didn't even know who Oil Can Boyd was," Nationals righthander Daryl Thompson said, "until I read that in Baseball America. Then I went back and found out exactly. Since I never heard of him and it was in there, I needed to know."
It doesn't help that Thompson grew up a Red Sox fan, although he gets a pass for missing arguably Boyd's best season with the Sox in 1986 when he went 16-10, 3.78 in 214 innings–he was only one.
"He's like that," Nationals farm director Adam Wogan said. "He's wiry strong and his frame is very projectable. He's like Oil Can now in that he locates his fastball well and changes speeds on it. He should continue to grow and add more strength as he fills out."
All of which paints an intriguing picture in the organization looking for another impact arm to go along with lefthander Mike Hinckley, who will start in Triple-A New Orleans, and righthander Clint Everts, who will miss this season because of Tommy John surgery.
Boyd was 6-foot-1, 155 pounds in his prime, and Thompson is listed at 6-foot-1, 170 (though he says he's more like 5-foot-11). Oil Can made his debut with the Sox at age 23, but Thompson could make get to the majors sooner.
An eighth-round pick out of La Plata (Md.) High, Thompson is very athletic with a quick arm and a loose, easy delivery. His feel for pitching and his makeup are remarkable for such a young pitcher. Thompson was the youngest pitcher in the South Atlantic League last season, when he went 4-9, 5.08 in 103 innings for low Class A Savannah.
Despite those less than stellar numbers, Thompson pushed for the high Class A Potomac roster this spring, though he is slated to begin the year back in Savannah.
"He's a great young arm with an outstanding fastball," Wogan said. "It has a lot of life to it and he pitches inside really well. He pitched better than those numbers indicate, but we felt it was the right move to have him start back in Savannah and build on his accomplishments."
And also to refine the depth on his changeup, which he hardly used in 2004. Thompson has bought in to the Nationals game plan of getting him to use his fastball both inside and outside and continue to develop his breaking stuff.
"I used to be afraid to pitch inside, because I was worried that I'd either be thinking about it too much and leave it out over the plate or I'd hit somebody," he said. "Either way, I did damage to myself. Now, I don't even think about it."
Thompson's fastball tops out at 94 mph, and being able to use that pitch on the inside corner, as well as his advanced secondary pitches, should have him in high Class A Potomac by midseason.
"If I can hit 94 on the outside corner and then come back and hit 94 on the inside corner, plus use my changeup and curveball in that mix, I can have some real success," he said. "I'm glad to be going back to Savannah to build on what I did last year. I need to prove that I can handle that and then we'll go from there.
"I'm in no rush, because I'm just working to be the best pitcher I can be with the best stuff I can have. I wanted to move up, but I understand it and I'm not disappointed at all."
• While Thompson is headed back to Savannah for further refinement, righthander Greg Bunn is bound for the Nationals' new Class A affiliate at Potomac. A fifth-round pick last year out of East Carolina, the plan is for Bunn to begin the season slowly, working him out of the bullpen to stretch out his innings, then move into the rotation. Bunn is working on a changeup, as well as changing speeds on his two-seam and four-seam fastballs. He is also getting used to the rigors of pitching at the professional level after debuting at short-season Vermont, where he went 3-0, 3.00 in 24 innings. Wherever he pitches, he keeps former ECU head coach Keith LeClair–who is suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease and is confined to a wheelchair–at the forefront of his mind.
"It'll be nice to be able to come back close to home when we get to Kinston (N.C.)," Bunn said of pitching for Potomac. "Coach LeClair sends me an e-mail everyday and I keep him in the back of my mind in everything I go through. When you're out there working at it 10 hours a day and you're hot, you're sweaty and you think about how hard it is, all you can do is think of him. He's so positive in his situation, just trying to make everyone's life around him better."
• Angels infielder Kendry Morales, the Cuban emigre signed as a free agent, lost his chance to compete for a major league job when he failed to secure a visa from the Dominican Republic, where he has declared citizenship.
• Lefthander Taylor Tankersley, the Marlins' first-round pick last June, was shut down for 3-4 weeks with tendinitis in his throwing shoulder. Tankersley had an MRI last week and received two medical opinions on his shoulder but the problem was deemed minor.
• OK, we jumped the gun on Brandon McCarthy. The White Sox righthander was set to replace injured Mark Buehrle in the Sox' rotation–both were signed, incidentally, by area scout John Kazanas–when Buehrle injured his foot. But Buehrle's injury wasn't as bad as the initial diagnosis, meaning McCarthy will start the year at Triple-A Charlotte.
• Other prospects sent to Triple-A on Wednesday: the Angels sent Dallas McPherson to Salt Lake. McPherson's early spring back spasms cost him at-bats, and third-year veteran Robb Quinlan won the third base job; Brewers outfielder David Krynzel, who joins Corey Hart in Nashville after Hart was sent down the previous day; Athletics lefthander Dan Meyer, who will start at Sacramento but is expected to earn his way to Oakland sooner than later; and Phillies slugger Ryan Howard, who hit 46 homers to lead the minors last year.
• The top pick in the major league Rule 5 draft, righthander Angel Garcia, failed to make the Devil Rays' roster and was returned to the Twins. Garcia has not pitched above Class A in his career and is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and the Rays decided they couldn't spare a spot. Another Rule 5 pick returned Wednesday was two-time pick Shane Victorino, returned to the Dodgers by the Phillies.
Contributing: Mike Berardino, Bill Shaikin.