TROY, NY - On the Major League level, closers, the relief pitchers that are counted on to get the final outs of close games, are frequently known for their uniqueness. They are often identified by a quirky part of their game, or part of their personalities, that make them unique. For example, Cincinnati Reds lefty Aroldis Chapman gains acclaim for his fiery fastball that often exceeds 100 miles per hour, while former Yankee great, and eventual Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera had the devastating cutter.
As far as personalities or other distinguishing features goes, Seattle Mariners closer Fernando Rodney is known for his post-game celebration that includes shooting an imaginary arrow into the sky. Other relief pitchers can attribute part of their interesting reputations to their facial hair (such as Dodgers reliever and former All-Star closer Brian Wilson, thanks to his never-ending beard, and Pirates righty and former Brewers closer John Axford and his 1920's era mustache).
Tri-City ValleyCats closer Ryan Thompson may not have a 100 mile per hour heater, or facial hair that resembles a caveman. However, just like the typical back-end reliever, the Turner Ore., native does have something that not only makes him unique, but also helps him dominate opposing hitters: His delivery.
The 22-year old right-hander, who was selected by the Houston Astros in the 23rd round of the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, not only throws his pitches from a deceptive submarine-style angle, but the 6'5" hurler begins his delivery with a high leg kick, bringing his left knee up high enough that it covers his face.
"I feel like the first time I picked up a baseball, I threw with the leg kick," Thompson said. "Then before my junior year of high school, I went to a camp at Western Oregon University, and the pitching coach there told me that with the leg kick, my natural release point should be lower."
From that point on, Thompson converted to a submarine-style pitcher. Now, more than four years later, the adjustment to his delivery has paid off. Thompson began his professional career with the Tri-City Valleycats this season following a record-breaking two-year career at Campbell University (Buies Creek N.C.), which followed two years spent at Chemeketa Community College (Salem, Ore.,). At Campbell in 2013, Thompson led the country with a 0.78 earned run average, while setting a school record this season with 17 saves.
He has carried his success into his first professional campaign. After serving as a set-up reliever through the first few weeks of the season, Thompson transitioned into the closer role for manager Ed Romero's ValleyCats squad. And the righty reliever with the tricky delivery and high leg kick has picked up right where he left off following his stellar college career, leading Tri-City with 8 saves (as of Aug. 15), good for third among all New York-Penn League pitchers. Through 17 appearances, has struck out 15 batters, while allowing only six earned runs in 18.1 innings, good for a 2.95 ERA.
It may be early in his career. But whether it is the success he has found so quickly, or his ability to come in and close out games in high-pressure situations, this Tri-City ValleyCats reliever is doing all he can to show that, like Chapman, Rivera, Rodney, Wilson and Axford, Ryan Thompson has what it takes to take his signature move to the next level.
"I think that everybody needs to have something that nobody else has," he said. "I don't throw 95 (miles per hour) like Chapman, but l have something special of my own like he does. And I feel that is something that is unique for an organization to have, something that other teams do not have."
So far, Ryan Thompson, who was named a New York-Penn League All-Star on Aug. 9, has certainly found something he does that is unique. And through his first two months as a professional player, he has been quite successful in using his trademark submarine delivery to retire hitters, and rack up saves for the Tri-City ValleyCats. In the process, he is indeed giving fans at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium, as well as the Houston Astros, something that other teams do not have: A shut-down relief pitcher who's dominating delivery continues to fool opposing batter after opposing batter.