Aaron Thompson made his Major League Debut last year. Called up as an emergency starter for the Pirates, Thompson threw 68 pitches in 4.1 innings, and he did not allow a run in a 2-0 Bucs’ victory. Like most rookies, though, he had trouble maintaining consistent success. He gave up six runs in three September relief outings (though, to be fair, the Pirates were already getting pummeled when Thompson entered those games). Thompson finished his rookie audition with a 7.04 ERA in 7.2 innings pitched.
This year the former top prospect will be in camp with the Twins as a non-roster invitee. He’ll be wearing jersey number 65 for Minnesota.
Thompson is a classic “Crafty Lefty” pitcher. He relies on movement and pitch selection rather than velocity to get hitters out. His fastball averages about 88 mph, and he complements it with an 82 mph change and a slider in the mid 80s. An online Pirates writer described him as “efficient, not dominant,” which puts him in the same category as fellow lefty Brian Duensing on the Twins staff. Duensing will probably pitch out of the bullpen this season, but both he and Thompson were almost exclusively used as starters in the minors.
The Florida Marlins were very high on Thompson when he was a high school pitcher in Beaumont, Texas. They selected him with the 22nd pick in the 2005 draft, right before the Red Sox took star outfield Jacoby Ellsbury three picks before the Twins grabbed Matt Garza. Thompson actually leaned toward college over the Marlins, but he signed with Florida after his school of choice, Texas A&M, fired its coaching staff. Things started well for Thompson in the Florida system. He burst onto the scene with 41 Ks in 32 innings for the Rookie League team in ’05. The next year at A ball, Thompson posted a solid 3.63 ERA in his first full pro season. But he regressed at AA in 2008, stumbling to a 5.26 ERA.
Still, his stock was high enough that the Nationals took notice. Washington dealt first baseman Nick Johnson to Florida at the trade deadline in 2009, and they asked for Thompson in return. That year at AA was arguably the best of Thompson’s career. His 5-12 record wasn’t very pretty, but he had a respecable 3.93 ERA, and he struck out 27 batters in 32 innings after the trade to Washington. That success didn’t last. 2010 saw another 5.00+ ERA for Thompson, and the Nats let him leave via free agency. He was scooped up by the Pirates, who also let him go after one season.
Thompson will turn 25 years old in Ft. Myers at the end of February, which means that he is still young enough to turn things around and make a case to get back to the Majors. Still, one has to think that the Twins brought him in with Rochester in mind. First, the Twins rotation is probably set after the Jason Marquis signing. Second, the Red Wings had a horrendous 4.76 team ERA last season, and no Wings starter won more than seven games. The Twins brought in a new manager and hitting coach for their AAA squad, and they have stated an interest in improving the baseball experience for Rochester area fans. Thompson could bring some new stability to the Rochester rotation this season.
Of course, any regular player at AAA is a threat to be called up at any time. Thompson may get a shot in a Twins uniform just like Eric Hacker and Scott Diamond did last season.
Thompson is one of 25 non-roster players invited to camp with the Twins this year. Check out some of their stories here.