If and when Trayce Thompson reaches the Major Leagues, he can expect something closer to sighs than surprise within his own family. For as high as his ceiling is in baseball, he grew up under the same roof as middle child Klay (Golden State Warriors) and older Mychel (Cleveland Cavaliers), each following in the footsteps of father Mychal, the top pick in the NBA's 1978 Draft.
Like his basketball-playing bros, however, Thompson, the White Sox's second-round draftee in 2009, is well-regarded. Bumped from MLB.com's list of top 10 Sox prospects when Chicago acquired pitchers Nestor Molina, Jhan Marinez and Simon Castro in three offseason deals, Thompson was ranked fourth in the organization by Baseball America earlier this month; the publication cited him as the system's best power hitter.
Thompson batted .241 at Class A Kannapolis in 2011, his first full, injury-free pro season, collecting 24 home runs, 36 doubles and 87 RBIs. "He is a young player, but just the way the ball comes off of his bat is different from than some of the other guys at 20 years old," White Sox assistant director of player development and scouting Del Matthews told MiLB.com last October.
Coming up on his second month of offseason workouts in Southern California, Thompson spoke with MiLB.com after visiting a San Juan Capistrano hitting complex run by former White Sox and 12-year MLB veteran Craig Grebeck. "It's 85 degrees out right now," Thompson bragged. "All California guys have a little bit of an advantage over guys around the country; we should come into Spring Training in midseason form."
MiLB.com: What's a typical day like for you right now?
Thompson: I'll wake up, eat breakfast, work out, then go hit. The place where I hit, there are a lot of big leaguers, especially Cardinals guys. Skip Schumaker is in there with us every day. Mark McGwire, the Cardinals' hitting coach, is in there almost every day; Allen Craig too. It's interesting because I see these guys that are just coming off a World Series and are still motivated and still hungry and want to get better -- that's refreshing.
MiLB.com: Simply as a fan, how much do you ask those guys about the Series?
Thompson: It's just interesting to pick their brains. I remember my first offseason in 2010, which was Jim Edmonds' last season. He was working out with us. There were a lot of days where guys would take days off and he would still be in there; it'd just be me and him. Being a center fielder -- I have wanted to be one since I was I kid growing up in the Northwest and idolizing Ken Griffey, Jr. -- if Griffey was the best center fielder of my childhood, then Jim Edmonds has to be the second best. Talking to him, picking his brain about his approach to defense -- you can't really ask for much more.
MiLB.com: After playing in a South Atlantic League-leading 136 games in 2011, are you also taking time early in 2012 to just relax?
Thompson: I just try to stay on the couch as much as possible. I watch a lot of TV. It's funny because I come from a basketball family, but when I have the remote in my hands, it's on MLB Network for sure.
MiLB: Lots of NBA action too?
Thompson: I went out for Christmas Day when the Warriors played the Los Angeles Clippers. It was real cool to see Klay make his debut and go against Chauncey Billups, Chris Paul, Mo Williams, Blake Griffin and all these guys. I could tell he was a little nervous in the first half, but personally I thought he'd [calm down] when he made his first shot. He came out and his third shot in the second half, he made it and looked comfortable after that. He'll always be my brother -- he'll always be Klay to me -- but to see him going against these guys we watched growing up, it's pretty special.
MiLB.com: With three hoops guys in the family, is there ever much talk of your chosen sport?
Thompson: My brothers and my dad always hate on baseball. I'm not going to throw any [ballplayers] under the bus, but they talk about how guys can be out of shape and still play the game. It is what it is. Look at Babe Ruth. He's one of the greatest players in the game, and look how he was built.
MiLB.com: Their argument is that NBA players are better athletes...
Thompson: Yeah, and I'm not going to argue that. I know there are guys in the NBA that can jump 50 inches [high]. But hitting a baseball is the hardest thing in all of sports. I tell my friends that all the time. My brothers, they played baseball growing up, so they know how hard it is; they respect the game. The reason they talk smack is baseball bores them; that's why they didn't keep playing throughout high school.
MiLB.com: Is it surreal at all to have three brothers all playing a game for a living?
Thompson: It's not a shock to us. We have been around sports our whole lives. My dad always believed in us, and I always believed in myself.
MiLB.com: Then it's a matter of being exposed to -- and therefore accustomed to -- the big stage?
Thompson: Yeah, like I remember my first big league at-bat in a Spring Training game; I was still nervous up there, but once I got in the batter's box, it was just like I was playing whiffle ball with my brothers back in the day. I guess we're all comfortable because we all grew up around locker rooms and all of it.
MiLB.com: So how good can you be?
Thompson: This year, I'm not going to call it a failure because I got a lot of experience, but I expect a lot more out of myself. I try to be as much of a complete hitter as I can be. Growing up in the Northwest, watching A-Rod and Griffey come up -- I mean, Griffey was my guy; I always wanted to be Griffey -- I realized every hitter has his own identity. As far as a guy I try to emulate, Matt Kemp is a guy who does it all: hit for average, hit for power, hit for extra bases, he steals bases. That's what I feel like I can bring to the table.
MiLB.com: The logical next step for you is Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. How much more development do you need?
Thompson: I didn't play a ton of baseball growing up in Portland, Oregon. It was always football season, basketball season, baseball season and I never really worked on it. I just went out there and played. Moving down to California as a teenager, it was different seeing how much time guys put into [practice]. My best friend and hitting partner, [Colorado Rockies' No. 4 prospect] Nolan Arenado -- in my opinion, he's the best hitter in the Minor Leagues. Watching him and seeing how far developed he is, it's just crazy to think all the time he put in during high school is really helping him out now.
MiLB.com: Without that same level of experience, you consider yourself very much a work-in-progress...
Thompson: As far as scratching the surface, I don't think I have put up the numbers I am capable of yet. I'm going to have to go out there this year and prove to people that I can be the player I know I can be. Nothing will surprise me; I think I can surprise some people.
MiLB.com: You mentioned Arenado. He's one month younger than you, and he's knocking on the door of the bigs.
Thompson: It's definitely a motivation for me to get there and catch up to him.