Zach Thompson Emerges As Bullpen Candidate
Over the last two seasons, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has traded one veteran relief pitcher after another.
Joakim Soria, Xavier Cedeno, Luis Avilan, David Robertson, Anthony Swarzak and Dan Jennings were among the established arms flipped for prospects, leaving Chicago's bullpen decimated two years in a row.
As the White Sox move into the third season of their rebuild, they expect the competitive arrow to gradually start pointing up.
Establishing stability in the bullpen is an obvious goal for Hahn, and 25-year-old righthander Zach Thompson is looking like a keeper.
A relative unknown heading into the season, Thompson put himself on the organization's radar while going a combined 6-1, 1.55 in 43 relief appearances with high Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.
In 2017, he had run up a 5.50 ERA in 33 games (14 starts) with Winston-Salem.
"It was mainly just going into it not thinking too much,” Thompson said. "I’m a very intellectual guy and if I overthink things, that’s when they kind of go south. This season I really focused on pitch to pitch, and if I had a bad pitch, it was kind of out of my mind and I was on to the next one. I was focusing as much as I could on pounding the strike zone.”
Poor control is a common flaw for young pitchers, and Thompson fit that profile in 2017, walking 50 over 93.1 innings. A year later he walked 29 in in 75.1 innings.
The 2014 fifth-round pick out of Texas-Arlington also pitched in the Arizona Fall League and logged a 2.70 ERA with three saves in 11 appearances for Glendale.
"I went into the Fall League not really knowing how to pitch, I guess you could say,” Thompson said. "I've gained a lot of learning in pitch sequencing.
"I came in with the stuff I had, but working here with the two pitching coaches we have (Rigo Beltran and Gerardo Casadiego), we’ve really gone over how to pitch to guys, when to throw certain pitches. I feel like it’s helped me in a more advanced setting.”
As he has moved from the rotation to the bullpen, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Thompson has also learned how to use his size to his advantage to throw straight downhill.
"I really try not to sink into my back side to flatten out my fastballs or any of my pitches," Thompson said. "I try to maintain angle . . . I can pepper the bottom of the zone. It looks like it’s going straight downhill, like it’s going to be a ball, and then it stays up.”