Thompson's effort to recover from TJ pays off

Padres' first pick on Day 2 of Draft is healthy after surgery

June 11th, 2016

SAN DIEGO -- The record books at Round Rock High School in Texas will show one inning next to Mason Thompson's name for the 2016 season. But that doesn't quite tell the story.

For Thompson, who underwent Tommy John surgery in March 2015, that one inning represented all the work he put into his recovery. It also reinforced to Thompson that he had returned to full strength and was furthering his path toward becoming one of the game's top young pitching talents.

"It was a sign for me that, 'Hey you're back,'" Thompson said. "And it was really a special moment to spend with my teammates."

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On Friday afternoon, the Padres selected Thompson with the first of their eight selections on Day 2 of the Draft. 

Pitching, pitching, pitching for Friars on Day 2

It's easy to see why San Diego likes Thompson. He's a 6-foot-7 right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and a pair of offspeed weapons (curveball and changeup) that project as big league-caliber out pitches.

"We saw it as an opportunity to take a guy who definitely would not have been there in that spot if he had stayed healthy for two seasons," said Padres general manager A.J. Preller. "We felt like with the risk, the reward is a big-upside right-handed pitcher."

It's more than just the tangible assets that the Padres liked in Thompson. They've watched him closely since he led the United States to a gold medal with six innings of one-run ball vs. Cuba in the 15-and-under Pan American Championships in 2013 -- a game Thompson calls, "My defining moment as a pitcher."

"He's ultra-competitive on the mound, likes to attack hitters, really shows no fear out there," said Padres scouting director Mark Conner. "... Through the whole rehab process, the dedication that he showed to getting better and getting healthy, it shows his ability to persevere."

Thompson takes more pride in his precision than his power -- though, understandably, it's his fastball that draws the rave reviews.

"I have the ability to pinpoint and change speeds and keep batters off-balance," Thompson said. "That's really what I pride myself on. Not only can I go out there and give you 95-97 [mph], but I can also keep guys off balance with good offspeed pitches."

During his sophomore year, Thompson became the youngest University of Texas baseball commit this century. Thompson is still committed to Texas, but it sounds as though he's set on signing with the Padres.

Thompson will likely command an above-slot-value signing bonus, but Preller and the Friars own the third biggest bonus-pool allotment in this year's Draft, and their abundance of early selections could allow them shuffle around some of that money.

"It would take something special for me to bypass that commitment, and I think we have found something special with the Padres," Thompson said. "I do believe that we will bypass Texas and join the Padres organization."

John Carter was Thompson's coach at Round Rock High school -- which also produced pitchers John and Jordan Danks. He gave rave reviews about Thompson's stuff, but was just as quick to point out that when Thompson was injured, "he came to every practice and was there for his teammates."

Said Carter of Thompson's motion: "It seems like he pitches with very little effort. He's very mechanical. His mechanics are very sound, and what he really is, is a heck of an athlete."

Conner believes Thompson will be able to get to work right away this summer, with no lingering effects of the surgery. Once he signs, Thompson would likely head to instructional ball.

Given that Thompson hasn't pitched consistently for the past two seasons, that's obviously an appealing prospect.

"I'm really excited for the opportunity," Thompson said. "I definitely believe I'm a stronger person and a baseball player because of this past year and a half or so."