With his lineage and ability on the hardwood, Kannapolis outfielder Trayce Thompson
seemed destined to play basketball at the collegiate level and possibly beyond. Yet the son of former NBA standout Mychal Thompson decided to take a different route to the professional ranks by pursuing his passion on the diamond.
A three-sport standout as a youngster before giving up football in high school, Thompson concentrated solely on baseball during his senior year in Santa Margarita, Calif. His decision shocked many observers, particularly college basketball recruiters who expected the 6-foot-3 guard to follow in the footsteps of his father and older brothers. While Mychal was the first overall pick in the 1978 NBA draft after a stellar career at the University of Minnesota, siblings Mychel and Klay have established themselves while shooting hoops at Pepperdine and Washington State, respectively. (Klay was the 11th overall pick in June's NBA Draft by the Golden State Warriors.)
"Through my dad, everyone considers us to be a basketball family, which we are," Thompson said. "But my dad's brother Colin actually played a couple of years in the Dodgers farm system. I also grew up pretty close to Rod Carew, and he taught me some things about hitting. Baseball was always my first sport, even though some people thought otherwise."
His dedication to the diamond led to improvements in all areas of Thompson's game, which created significant buzz among the scouting community. Noting his exceptional athleticism and raw potential, the Chicago White Sox drafted Thompson in the second round in 2009 before signing him to a bonus reported to be $625,000. He wound up playing 32 games of Rookie ball that summer and batted .198 while getting a chance to experience postseason play in the Pioneer League with Great Falls.
A solid showing in Spring Training led to Thompson earning a spot on the Kannapolis roster to open the 2010 season. He struggled at the plate during the first two months before he suffered a broken right thumb upon being struck by a pitch in late May. The injury required surgery and wound up costing Thompson approximately two and a half months of playing time.
"Between the surgery and the cast and then the soreness in my wrist because of being in a cast for a month and a half, I missed about half the season," said Thompson, who wound up hitting .229 with eight home runs and 31 RBIs in 2010. "I had to brush my teeth and eat left-handed. With baseball being such a skill sport, I found myself feeling helpless. But I try to look at life believing everything happens for a reason. And during those two and a half months, I was able to observe the game and learn."
The combination of observing and playing led to Thompson devoting much of the offseason to improving his approach. He saw some early returns again in Spring Training and has shown flashes of brilliance throughout the current campaign. While his batting average has hovered around .230 for much of the season, his power numbers have been impressive. Forty-three of his first 85 hits went for extra bases, leading to a team-best 17 home runs along with 24 doubles, two triples and 61 RBIs.
Consistency has been his greatest hurdle to clear. Thompson fanned 123 times in his first 370 at-bats this season. And though he has pounded left-handed pitchers at a .308 clip, he has struggled versus righties, batting just .204. His plate discipline, meanwhile, has improved, producing 46 walks, and he knows he has been making better contact by barreling the ball with greater frequency.
"I'm not worried about the numbers," Thompson said. "I might go 0-for-4 with three line-outs. That's why the numbers don't tell the entire game. I try to go out and treat every day like it's a new day, play my best, play my hardest and have fun. When I have fun, my stats take care of themselves."
Thompson also has become a much better defender in center field. Deemed too conservative by some scouts last year, Thompson has shown impressive range with his above-average speed and athleticism. His routes to fly balls have improved, and his throws are strong with good carry and excellent accuracy.
"I love playing center field," Thompson said. "I will play wherever the White Sox want me to play, but I've worked very hard in center field with our roving coach, Daryl Boston, and would like to stay there for the rest of my career."
Thompson and the White Sox realized the learning curve would be more pronounced for the outfielder than for some other high-round picks when he signed two years ago. That has proven to be the case, but the potential he displayed as an amateur is parlaying into productivity as a pro. The progress is subtle but significant, and Thompson is pleased with the direction he's headed.
"For the most part the Minor Leagues have been what I thought they would be," Thompson said. "The White Sox have been real diligent with me. I feel like I've learned a lot about the game since I signed. My goals right now are to play hard and to try to help this team make the playoffs. I just want to be the best player I can be, and I'm willing to work as hard as I can to get to that level."
Angelic performance: Savannah LHP Angel Cuan allowed only a bunt single in six innings of work on July 26 to lead the Sand Gnats to a 2-0 victory over Lexington. Cuan struck out nine without walking a batter while improving to 9-1 on the season. Cuan, who joined the rotation at the All-Star break after tossing 18 games in relief during the first half, is 4-0 in seven starts and tied for third in the SAL in wins while ranking fifth with a 3.02 ERA.
Clark the clouter: July has been good for Hickory 1B Andrew Clark. He entered the month with a .288 batting average, three home runs and 25 RBIs in his first 64 games with the Crawdads before discovering his power stroke in the heat and humidity of mid-summer. In his first 24 games this month, Clark is batting at a .341 clip with eight round-trippers and 26 RBIs. With their 3-0 win over Delmarva on July 26, the Crawdads improved to 60-40 on the season, which is the best record among the 30 teams at the Class A level.
Garneau steps up: The Asheville Tourists still possess one of the SAL's most potent lineups despite losing C Bryce Massanari, owner of the circuit's second-best batting average, to a broken thumb July 4. Dustin Garneau has filled the void behind the plate and with the lumber by hitting .286 with six home runs and 12 RBIs in the 16 games since Massanari went down. Garneau also has reached base in 20 consecutive home games, the longest active streak in the league.