Bubba Thompson's Home Run Leads Rangers Over Padres In Prospect Game
SAN DIEGO — Bubba Thompson just missed a home run in his second at-bat Thursday night.
He got a hanging curveball, barreled it on time and sent it deep into the San Diego night. But this is Petco Park, and with the thick, evening ocean air hanging, what looked like a home run off the bat instead hung up in the air, came to a stop in spacious left-center field and and fell into the glove of center fielder Jeisson Rosario just in front of the wall.
Thompson was disappointed. Understandably so. Hundreds of batters have felt the exact same in the 14 years since Petco Park opened with its cavernous alleys.
But rather than dwell on his irritation, Thompson harnessed it. When the moment was right, he uncorked it and lifted his team to victory.
Thompson hit a towering, tie-breaking, two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning to lift the Rangers prospects to a 5-3 victory over the Padres prospects in the Don Welke On Deck Classic.
Thompson, the Rangers first-round pick in 2017, turned around a 98 mph fastball from Padres reliever Dauris Valdez and sent a booming fly almost to the second deck in left field, parking it beyond the seats and onto the left-field concourse.
The majestic two-run blast snapped a 3-3 tie and ended a night of frustration for Thompson and the Rangers' offense, which until then had managed just four hits—all singles—against the Padres' collection of high-octane arms.
“One out, tie game, I had a runner ... on third, so I was really just situation hitting,” Thompson said. “I tried to put something deep and he left it up for me to do some damage.”
Thompson’s home run gave the Rangers their first win in the three tries in the annual series between the Padres and Rangers prospects. Diosbel Arias went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Yonny Hernandez scored twice, stole a base and made a highlight reel defensive play at second base. Emmanuel Clase got the win in relief and Joe Barlow pitched a hitless ninth for the save.
The loaded Rangers offense — featuring No. 2 prospect Julio Pablo Martinez, Thompson, No. 1 prospect Leody Taveras and No. 9 prospect Anderson Tejeda hitting in the top four spots — was largely neutralized for the first seven innings by the Padres' high-powered arms. None of the Padres' four pitchers on the night—Reggie Lawson, Michel Baez, Valdez and Andres Munoz—threw a fastball slower than 93 mph, with most pitching at 95 mph or above.
The result was strikeouts galore for the Rangers. Martinez twice waved through 95 mph fastballs for strike three. Tejeda struck out twice as well. Taveras struck out swinging through 95 mph from Lawson. All in all, the Rangers struck out 11 times in the first seven innings.
Thompson wasn’t immune. He struck out twice too, including swinging through a 94 mph fastball from Baez in the sixth inning.
But after watching his teammates swing through fastball after fastball all night and dealing with some of that himself, Thompson sat on a heater from Valdez, got one elevated over the plate and was ready for it. Even at 98 mph, Thompson got his hands through the zone, put the barrel on the ball and pulled it comfortably and with authority, launching it into the seats and ending the spell of high-velocity whiffs that had plagued the Rangers all night.
“I was just trying to get a pitch I can hit,” Thompson said. “The game called for the situation for me to try and knock that run in on third and it so happened I hit a home run. It felt really good.”
Though the game was tied up until that point, the standouts had largely been Padres. Esteury Ruiz launched a two-run homer to straightaway center in the third inning, an impressive feat of strength for a 19-year-old middle infielder.
Lawson drew the start for the Padres and was brilliant, going four innings, allowing two hits and two runs, walking one and striking out seven.
He sat 94-96 mph and held that velocity, introduced a previously unseen 83-84 mph slider that was arguably his best pitch of the night and mixed in a firm, upper-80s changeup and upper-70s curveball as needed. He kept them all in the zone—throwing 38 of 55 pitches for strikes—and exited the game with the lead.
“That (slider) is a new pitch I’ve been working on this whole instructs. It came in late in the season, and it’s just something that lets me get off my fastball a little bit,” Lawson said. “I wanted to throw it here in the big stage and see what it does. That’s how you build trust with it.”
Rangers starter A.J. Alexy had a bit of a tougher time, throwing as many balls as strikes (13) in his lone inning of work. The 20-year-old righthander, acquired from the Dodgers last summer in the Yu Darvish trade, struggled mightily to command his 92-96 mph fastball and rarely used his 83-84 mph slider and mid-70s curveball. He allowed two hits and a run and issued two walks and a balk, frequently missing high with his fastball either over the plate where it was hittable or too high and out of the strike zone.
The result was a Padres 1-0 lead just three batters in, when Tucupita Marcano lined an elevated fastball down the left-field line for an RBI double. The Rangers responded with a pair of runs in the top of the second on an Arias RBI single and Sam Huff sacrifice fly, but Ruiz launched a Jean Casanova fastball over the wall in center field in the bottom of the frame to put the Padres back in front 3-2.
A series of whiffs, stranded runners and baserunning mistakes kept the score there until the sixth, when Hernandez led off with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Martinez and came around to score the tying run when Taveras’ bloop single fell into center field.
That set the stage for Thompson in the eighth, and he took advantage with the first in-game home run he’s ever hit in a major league park.
“A home run is a home run,” Thompson said, “but to be in this atmosphere in a big league (stadium), it felt really good.”
Baseball America Q&A: Cody Atkinson (Part 2)
We sent Atkinson video of three Rangers prospects -- Bubba Thompson, Sam Huff, Sherten Apostel -- and asked for his analysis.
NEWS AND NOTES
Rangers first-round pick Cole Winn pitched the sixth inning and sat 91-93 mph with his fastball while showing an 83-85 mph changeup. He struggled with his control, walking a pair and throwing just eight of his 20 pitches for strikes, but he didn’t allow a hit or a run and notched a strikeout of Rosario. The Rangers drafted Winn, the Baseball America High School Player of the Year, with the 15th overall pick and signed him for $3.15 million this past June, but held him back from pitching in the regular season.
Padres No. 12 prospect Josh Naylor was noticeably slimmer compared to recent years as the Padres have tried him out in left field. He converted his only chance of the night, moving to his right and catching a well-hit fly ball from Yohel Pozo.
The top velocity of the night unsurprisingly belonged to Padres righthanded reliever Andres Munoz. The flamethrowing 19-year-old sat 99-100 mph and touched 102 mph in a perfect ninth inning, although he didn’t strike anyone out.
Clase had the highest velocity of the night for the Rangers. The 20-year-old entered with one out in the seventh and sat 97-98 mph with his fastball and touched 100 mph. The Rangers acquired Clase from the Padres in May for catcher Brett Nicholas.
Baez pitched three innings, gave up two hits and one run, walked one and struck out four in an encouraging outing. After showing uneven velocity and poor direction to the plate at times during the season, he comfortably sat 94-95 mph with his fastball and kept his 82-85 mph slider in and around the strike zone to make it an effective pitch.
Martinez, the Rangers' touted Cuban signee, went 0-for-4 and didn’t hit the ball out of the infield. He struck out swinging through fastballs in each of his first two at-bats, laid down a sacrifice bunt and hit a weak infield chopper. He tried to lay down bunts in each of his first two at-bats but didn’t get them down before chasing high fastballs. He got the bunt down on the first pitch of his third at-bat and was thrown out with room to spare, the same outcome that occurred on his weak chopper toward the second base bag in his final at-bat.
The Rangers' infield defense impressed while their offense stagnated. Hernandez made an impressive diving stop up the middle and to his right to rob Xavier Edwards of a single in the fifth inning, and three batters later the shortstop Tejeda charged in to his left, picked up a soft grounder and fired a perfect throw to the plate on the move to prevent the go-ahead run from scoring.