Pitching in a deep Astros system a year ago, Trent Thornton had trouble envisioning a path to the major leagues.
“It was tough,” the 25-year-old righthander said. “I felt a lot of pitchers in that organization were worthy of having an opportunity in the big leagues at some point but it’s a logjam with guys like, last year, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Mortonfive guys who are extremely experienced there and have really good stuff, some Cy Youngs. For me, personally, it was in my best interests to get another opportunity elsewhere and luckily I was able to get traded.”
Word of the Nov. 17 deal that sent him to the Blue Jays for shortstop Aledmys Diaz left Thornton “giddy with the new opportunity.”
As the most notable young arm acquired by GM Ross Atkins over the winter, Thornton will be given every chance to become an important piece after a solid 2018.
In 124.1 innings with Triple-A Fresno, Thornton went 9-8, 4.42 with 122 strikeouts against just 31 walks. Working out of the bullpen in the Arizona Fall League, he struck out 20 more batters over 15.2 innings while walking just four. The season marked a nice step forward from 2017, when he pitched to a 5.21 ERA at Double-A Corpus Christi and Fresno.
“I was throwing quality strikes and quality balls instead of just throwing strikes,” explains Thornton, “and when I was ahead in the count I was minimizing pitches to strike guys out.”
Thornton is also adept with the data-driven coaching that is sweeping the game and being integrated in the Blue Jays system. The Astros helped him with arm slot and pitch mix when he entered pro ball and he has benefitted from using objective info to understand his pitches.
“My curveball has a good spin rate, my fastball has good hop and those are the things the Astros like so I wanted to make sure I could maximize what I was doing in order to get out there and get outs and compete and win,” he said. “They were able to show me all that information.”
— One surprise invite to camp was Willy Ortiz, the hard-throwing righthander who has cut among the Rays’ roster crunch but hasn’t pitched above high Class A.