Utley, Tucker? Why this Rox prospect is garnering lofty comparisons

May 24th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Thomas Harding’s Rockies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PORTLAND, Maine -- heard Will Clark from a college coach. Others have told him Chase Utley or, for an active example, Kyle Tucker.

Those are lofty comparisons, but they come with the territory when a hitter has such a sweet left-handed swing as Thompson does, even if he hasn’t found a perfect comp for his own look in the box.

“I have to figure that out,” he said. “I just know I like my hands. I use my hands a lot, and that’s where I think a lot of it comes from.”

Thompson’s simple setup -- a slightly open stance, a limited leg lift and an uncomplicated bat path -- are part of what made him the 31st overall pick in the 2022 Draft and now the No. 91 overall prospect in MLB Pipeline’s rankings.

“His bat stays in the zone really long,” said Double-A Hartford manager Bobby Meacham. “He doesn’t have the uppercut swing. He has that backspin swing. It’s kind of a level swing. His balance is good. It’s almost like he’s not trying to reach back for any more than he has. His base is grounded. His weight distribution is really good. There aren’t a whole lot of moving parts, and he basically keeps that barrel through the zone as long as anybody we’ve seen this year.”

A career .332 hitter during his two years at the University of Florida, Thompson continued to show an impressive bat during his first full season a year ago, first by slashing .293/.376/.487 with 14 homers in 94 games between High-A Spokane and Double-A Hartford. Having been somewhat limited by an elbow injury, he made up for the lost time with another solid showing in the Arizona Fall League with a .338 average and .935 OPS in 21 contests.

Back with Hartford to open 2024, Thompson’s .266 average entering Friday might not be up to his career norms, but he’s keeping his strikeouts in check (18.9 percent) and his 110 wRC+ still makes him an above-average hitter for the Eastern League (where cold Northeastern spring can lead to slower offensive starts across the circuit).

Perhaps the most notable offensive development for the former Gator at Double-A has been his directionality at the plate. Thompson pulled 48.2 percent of his batted balls at Spokane last year. That number is down to 38.1 percent with Hartford this season with 25.7 percent up the middle and 36.3 percent the opposite way.

“I think I was mostly chasing power sometimes [at High-A], but I was also swinging inside since they were throwing me inside a lot,” Thompson said. “I always go and adjust to wherever they’re throwing me that game. In Double-A, they throw to both sides of the zone, inside and out, really well, so you have to stick to your approach. If you say you’re going to pull to only one side of the field, they’ll eat you alive at this level.”

The Rockies, as an organization, have made a move of their own to unlock Thompson’s potential. Primarily a right fielder in college, the 22-year-old received looks at second, third and left in 2023. He got nine starts at first base in April of this season but has played there only twice since the start of May, instead getting most of his looks in left.

“It’s a lot of work to cover first, second, third and left field,” Meacham said. “Let’s let him do less work on the defensive side and really focus more on the offensive side with one position at this particular time in his career, so he can get that best swing off and focus on the smaller size of work to carry over into the game. If he has success with the offense here in this league via success defensively in this league, then we can start moving him around a little bit more.”

Thompson is all for it, so long as he gets to show off that classic swing.

“I love the versatility aspect for our team and giving coaches multiple options to put me anywhere just to get in the lineup,” he said. “My main tool really is hitting. I just want to help the team as much as I can.”

Veen suffers back injury
No. 6 Rockies (No. 92 overall) prospect ’s performance, coming off last year’s wrist surgery, has been one of the storylines of the early season in the Colorado system. The 22-year-old outfielder has a .326/.418/.568 slash line with five homers and nine steals in 28 games for Double-A Hartford.

Unfortunately for him, that progress was temporarily halted when he was added to the Yard Goats' seven-day injured list on Sunday with a back issue. Meacham did not have a timetable for his return but did note how infectious Veen’s work and results were with his teammates.

“I think everybody has to go, ‘Well if he can do it, what can I get,’” said the skipper. “Then they try to figure out what led to that success.”