Texas Rangers: Don't sleep on Bubba Thompson's potential
By West Jones
While the addition of top pitching has been a welcome site to all Ranger's fans, some are still wanting Chris Young to do more. Specifically, the addition of a top outfield bat is something that fans are wanting to see. Left field for the Rangers last year was less than terrible. In fact, the Rangers left fielders ranked dead last in MLB (30th) with -0.8 fWAR. It makes sense that the front office would be looking to improve upon this dismal showing.
What if, the Rangers already had someone on the roster that could be the solution without having to trade for a proven outfielder such as Bryan Reynolds or signing one of the remaining free agents like Jurickson Profar or Andrew McCutchen? What if the kid from Alabama, that they took with their 1st round draft pick in 2017 was the man for the job?
My question, is why not Bubba Thompson? Why can't he be the Ranger's everyday leftfielder? He has already piqued the interest of the new skipper, Bochy, so that is half the battle for Thompson. Thompson is 24 years old (turns 25 June 9th) and in my opinion, ready to shine.
Bubba Thompson could be the left fielder the Texas Rangers are looking for
Many people that I have heard speaking on Thompson, are already referring to him as a role player that could come in off the bench to run, or to play defense late in the game. That may well be his ultimate destination and one that he would excel at, but I wouldn't want to see him relegated to that fate just yet.
With the 2020 season having no minor league games league wide, Thompson was setback a full year of actual game development. He didn't let that unfortunate circumstance derail his path up the minor league ranks and ultimately to Arlington. In 2021, he played 104 games for AA Frisco and slashed .275/.325/.483 with 16 HR, 9 triples, and 23 doubles. He also had 25 stolen bases that year.
He was selected as the 2022 Round Rock Express MVP despite being called up to Arlington for the final two months of the season. He didn't get that award by just being fast. Thompson slashed .304/.355/.474 for AAA Round Rock in 80 games and 375 PA. The number that everyone wants to talk about, and rightly so, is the 49 stolen bases in only 52 attempts.
Thompson is not just another Willie Mays Hayes though, he may run like Mays, but he actually hits pretty dang good too! He also had 13 HR, 4 triples, and 12 doubles. Basically, he hit very well in his time at AAA, which was actually his first time at that level.
Thompson was called up to Arlington in August of last year and made his major league debut on August 4th. He had 181 plate appearances across 55 games, and slashed .265/.302/.312 with 1 HR, no triples, and 5 doubles. These are not stellar numbers, but they aren't bad for a kid's first cup of coffee in the big leagues. There is room for improvement, and he is the kind of hard-working athlete that can do just that.
Thompson has proven that he can hit, and hit well, at both AA and AAA over the last two seasons. It is a big jump from AAA to the major leagues, but the fact that he hit so well on his way up bodes well. At times with the big club, Bubba looked like a player that was trying to not mess up, instead of one that was being aggressive and trusting their abilities. As the comfort level increases for Thompson, his production should increase substantially.
One area that Thompson will need to work on is both his strikeout rate and his walk percentage. He sat right at the 25% K% for both his AA and AAA seasons and then it jumped up to 30.9% with the parent club. The swing and miss have always been a concern for him, but if he can get his K% back down to the 25% level he has proven that he can produce at a solid clip. Being more selective at the plate needs to be a priority as well, as he will need to improve upon his putrid 3.9% BB% last year in Arlington.
As a team in 2022 the Texas Rangers were not bad at all offensively. Pitching was the area that was lacking the most, and one way to improve pitching, is by having solid defense. With Thompson roaming left field more often there will be fewer balls in the gaps or getting down for base hits. That is a big plus for a team that is pushing to make the move to be a contender.
Obviously with larger bases in 2023 and the new pickoff rules, Thompson's speed and baserunning ability is going to be a huge asset. He needs to just get on base and then let his wheels show off. I believe that he was trying so hard at the end of last year to "just get on" that it actually took him out of his natural hitting style. If he can relax and hit normal for him, he will be on base plenty of times to wreak havoc on the opponents.
Bubba Thompson still has room to mature as a player. He is no doubt working on that this offseason. I'm not going to be sad if Young signs a free agent outfielder or makes a trade for one, but I do hope that Thompson gets a fair shake at being a regular big leaguer in the near future. If he does get the opportunity, and if he hits at a reasonable clip, he is going to be one of the most electric players going. That is something that is going to be fun to watch!