No Pressure For Keegan Thompson

Last summer, Keegan Thompson was a key component of Team USA’s 16-and-under gold medal win in the IBAF World Championships in Lagos De Moreno, Mexico. He pitched 14 innings and went 2-0, 1.29 with 18 strikeouts while surrendering just six hits. He made only two appearances in the tournament, but his second was simply dominant. In the gold medal game, he threw a complete game and held Cuba to four hits while walking one and striking out 12. Given his achievement, it’s easy to see why he isn’t worried about pressure at the Tournament of Stars this summer.

“Last year was kind of hard,” Thompson said. “I had a lot of pressure on me because I wanted to make it. This year, I’m a little more settled down and not as nervous as last year.”

Thompson pitched a week ago so he had to wait until Saturday to make his first appearance of the event. In three innings of work he allowed one run on three hits. He also walked one and struck out four. He surrendered a leadoff hit to second baseman Nico Giarratano, but it was a bloop single over the shortstop that came off the handle. Thompson proceeded to strike out the side and had a perfect second inning when he induced two groundouts and struck out his fourth batter. He walked one and allowed two hits in the third. A two-out single brought in a run, but Thompson then finished the inning by getting first baseman Zack Collins to fly out.
“My arm felt pretty good and my fastball was working pretty well,” Thompson said. “My changeup was working pretty well, but the breaking balls were flat and I wasn’t controlling them too well.”

Thompson has an athletic frame at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds. His fastball was consistently 89-91 mph while mixed in a mid-80s changeup and two different breaking balls. He has a hard slider that he describes as his out pitch and it was in the high 70s. His curveball is a “show pitch” and it was more in the low to mid 70s. Both flashed sharped bite at times and have the potential to be good pitches, but they were inconsistent.

Thompson, who plays at Cullman (Ala.) High, was named a second team All-American by Baseball America after going 7-2, 0.94 with four saves in 67 innings. He struck out 119 and walked only five. He was also a second-team All-American after his sophomore year as a utility player after hitting .433 with 17 home runs and 66 RBIs while going 9-2, 1.70 with 123 strikeouts and 16 walks in 83 innings.

“The season was great,” Thompson said. “After last year, the guys were geared up and ready for the fastball and my offspeed was working great this year so I had another good year on the mound.”

Cullman lost in the second round of the state playoffs, but winning was a secondary concern this season. Junior Andrew Winfrey, Cullman’s shortstop, was in a single-car accident in late February. He broke several bones and had severe head trauma. The family kept the community update through their church’s web site and t-shirts were sold to help raise money for medical costs. The t-shirts said “Praying for Andrew” on the front with Winfrey and his number (11) on the back. Thompson said the school helped raise about $60,000 and other schools helped as well.

“One team came down from Mobile and gave use $2,000,” Thompson said. “He’s doing pretty well. He’s getting better. He can respond to questions and open his eyes.

“It was tough when it first happened. Everybody was sad and we didn’t practice for a couple days. But he probably would’ve wanted us out there playing. It’s tough, but we hung in there.”

TOS Tidbits

• Outfielder Nick Buckner had a very trying start to the week, going 0-for-4 with four strikeouts on the first day. In those four at-bats, he swung and missed four times, but came through in Saturday’s game. He just missed a home run to deep center field, but it ended up being an RBI triple. He then followed that up with a spectacular diving catch in deep left-center field. Buckner is very raw, but offers intriguing tools. He has a lean, strong frame at 6-feet, 205 pounds, and is a solid runner.

• Garrett Williams is a 6-foot-3, 185-pound, lefthander from Calvary Baptist High (Shreveport, La.) who shows two-way potential. On the mound, Williams has sat 90-91 mph with a high-70s curveball with two-plane break. As a hitter, Williams laced one of the hardest hit balls of the tournament on Saturday, a triple to left-center field.

• Olympia High (Orlando) shortstop/righthander Nick Gordon has strong big league bloodlines as the brother of Dee Gordon and the son of Tom. Nick hit 91 mph and featured a low-70s slider on the mound. The 6-foot-1, 155-pound Gordon displayed his excellent athleticism and above-average agility during Friday’s workouts and Saturday’s games.

• Righthander Mark Ecker from O’Connor High in Helotes, Texas, sat 88-89 with his fastball and hit 91 mph when he reached back for more. Ecker also shows command of his pitches and a repeatable delivery. He has a mid-70s 12-to-6 curveball that is capable of generating swings-and-misses.

• After being the only player to hit multiple home runs in Friday’s workouts, Nick Longhi continued to swing well and laced two line drive singles in four at-bats on Saturday. He showed he has the ability to hit velocity as those hits came off of 89 and 91 mph fastballs. The 6-foot-2 outfielder/first baseman hails from Venice (Fla.) High.

• Shortstop Elliott Barzilli was the only other player to homer in Friday’s batting practice session. The 6-foot-1, righthanded hitter also singled twice and displayed quick hands, fluidity and a strong feel for contact. Barzilli hails from Palisades Charter High in Los Angeles.

• PONY catcher Jeremy Martinez (Mater Dei High, Santa Ana, Calif.) hit the tournament’s first home run—a walkoff shot against NABF to win the game 5-4. Martinez went 3-for-4 in the game with a walk and also spent a little time at third base. Over the past three days, he’s now hitting .400/.538/.700 over 13 at-bats.

• Players participated in a workout day on Friday and the five fastest 60-yard dash times were recorded by: Outfielder Ryan Boldt from Red Wing (Minn.) High (6.60), infielder Riley Unroe from Desert Ridge High in Mesa, Ariz., (6.61), outfielder Alex Krupa from Greenwood (Ind.) High (6.62), infielder/outfielder Khalil Macklin from Rocky Mount (N.C.) High (6.65) and outfielder Cody Thomas from Heritage High in Colleyville, Texas, (6.69).

• Several former big leaguers have been spotted at the Tournament of Stars in various roles. Among the scouts, parents, coaches and advisers are: Craig Biggio, Darin Erstad, Todd Jones, Braden Looper, Jody Gerut, Scott Bradley, Scott Brosius, Keith Lockhart, Ray Montgomery, Kurt Stillwell, Bill Caudill, Walt Weiss, Aaron Looper, Jim Lentine, Andy Cannizaro, Rich Amaral, Bobby Witt, Mark Ross, Calvin Murray and Paul Gibson.

Contributing: Conor Glassey and Clint Longenecker