'I wish I could do that': Bubba's big day boosts Rangers

April 9th, 2023

CHICAGO -- zoomed around the bases on a ball hit in the gap, helmet flying off, before sliding into third base, easily beating out the throw to the bag in the sixth inning on Sunday afternoon. It was a quintessential Thompson play, complete with solid contact and a sprint around the bases as he reached third in the blink of an eye. 

It was just one of many ways Thompson made his presence known in the Rangers’ series finale against the Cubs. For an offense that went cold on its road trip up north to Chicago, Thompson’s insertion into the lineup on Sunday sparked the 10-hit, eight-run affair during Sunday’s matinee. 

In his first start of the season, Thompson made it count. Known for his defense and speed, he showed that off and more, reaching base in three of his four plate appearances and logging both an RBI double and an RBI triple that the Rangers rode to an 8-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“I’ve been mentally and physically getting information and getting my swings in,” Thompson said about not playing often early in the season. “I believe I can play up here. And then, when I get a shot, I want to do the little things to help my team win. That's it. I could be sitting somewhere else, so it's a blessing to be up here with these guys and playing behind some of the best in the world. 

“It feels good [to deliver]. Like I said, these are the best guys in the world, so it feels good. Every time I step on that field, I try to do something any way I can.”

Manager Bruce Bochy emphasized how big it was for the bottom two hitters in the lineup -- Thompson and fellow outfielder  -- to come up with big hits and big RBIs right when the Rangers needed it most.

“It’s awesome when you have eight, nine hitters with that type of speed,” Jankowski added. “If we can get on base, you’ve got one, two and three coming up right after us. There's gonna be a lot of stuff that can happen, so that's one of those things that go when you're in that situation. It’s just like, 'What can I do to get on base?' I do what I can to get on base and let these guys drive me in and get something going for the team.”

Thompson’s speed obviously can and will help the Rangers contend, whether that’s off the bench or starting like on Sunday. He had the second-highest sprint speed in the Majors last year at 30.4 feet per second. The Major League average on a "competitive" play is 27 ft./sec., with 30 ft./sec. qualifying as elite. He logged 44 bolts, which is any sprint above 30 ft./sec.

It showed especially in the win on Sunday, not just in hustling out a triple, but in forcing the defense to make plays when he’s at the plate, as he did in his first at-bat. As long as he puts it in play, he has a chance to make something happen.

“That’s [the] game-changing speed he has,” Bochy said. “You hear the old adage ‘Put the ball in play and good things happen?' Yesterday, they did that and you saw what happened, we had a tough time. So in that situation, it’s just like ‘All right Bubba, put it in play.’ … It’s elite, his speed. There are very few guys that have that kind of speed, but that’s what Bubba has.” 

While Thompson slashed just .265/.302/.312 in 55 games in the Majors in 2022, his production went far beyond the numbers. His slash line won't blow anybody out of the water, but he is a player who piles up infield hits and forces errors with his speed. More importantly, when he does get on base, he makes it count. In 2022, Thompson stole 49 bases in 80 games with Triple-A Round Rock and 18 more after making his MLB debut on Aug. 4.

He hasn’t had much of an opportunity to display that ability this season, having entered the day with just three at-bats as a late game defensive replacement, but his speed may earn him more starts down the line. 

“It's amazing, man,” Sunday’s starter Jon Gray said of Thompson’s speed. "I wish I could do that. And I've always wanted that, but it's cool to see it, and the guy's got some thumb on the bat, too. So you can't sleep on him. He's got some power.”