Toolshed: Thompson makes diamond choice

Rangers first-rounder shows no regrets after dropping football

Bubba Thompson will likely become the second-best outfield prospect in the Rangers system behind Leody Taveras. (Julio Cortez/AP)

By Sam Dykstra / | June 14, 2017 12:30 PM ET

NEW YORK -- Bubba Thompson had just about made up his mind. Then, on Feb. 23, in the second game of his senior season at McGill-Toolen High School in Mobile, Alabama, he homered -- and that's when he knew for sure. 

He was going to be a baseball player.

"I got a hold of one pretty good, and I thought, 'Dang!'" he said. "My junior year I didn't hit any. So I worked on it, got stronger, started developing and there it was."

On Monday, the Rangers made it official by taking the 19-year-old outfielder with the 26th overall pick in the 2017 Draft. He's expected to sign for somewhere around the $2,450,100 value for that selection.

Flash back to Feb. 7, when Thompson announced he was committing to play baseball at the University of Alabama for the fall of 2017. In a vacuum, that decision would've made perfect sense for a player whom Baseball America had ranked as the No. 76 high-school prospect in the country back in November. But Thompson wasn't an ordinary athlete.

Not only was he a speedy outfielder who'd hit .469 with 11 doubles and 19 steals as a junior, he was also a three-star quarterback recruit who had thrown for 3,173 yards and 38 touchdowns as a senior, leading his Yellow Jackets to a state championship in the fall of 2016. That performance caused Thompson to drop a previous baseball commitment to Auburn as more schools -- like Ole Miss and Tennessee -- inquired about his desire to play NCAA football.  

Having those two routes is desirable for any young talent, and Thompson wrestled with the idea of being a two-sport star in college or choosing one over the other. When it came time to decide, he settled on the sport that could keep him playing for years, or even decades, more.

"Really, I kept my options open the whole year," he said at a pre-Draft luncheon in New York on Monday. "I was going to play football and baseball the whole year, and I just made the choice. I weighed the pros and cons, and this would give me a longer career."

If Thompson had been a sure-fire first-round pick in baseball in the spring, these decisions likely wouldn't have been even a conversation topic. The right-handed-hitting center fielder would've chosen a school for baseball early, while planning all along for the start of his pro career. But he wasn't quite in that territory as late as this winter. He was known to be especially fast -- flashing some of the fastest drill times on the showcase circuit -- and his gunslinger's arm could play well in any spot in the outfield. But could he hit against tougher competition? Would he have any power? Those tools could determine whether Thompson would be a supplemental or second-round pick or whether he'd be among the first 30 names read by commissioner Rob Manfred on June 12.

"In the summer, I was kind of up there [in the rankings], but it was back and forth," he said. "Really, my main goal going into my last high school season was getting stronger, showing the power that I have and really just making hard contact. I knew a lot of [scouts] would come, and they did. It was me making adjustments and doing well while they were there. I didn't try to let that get to my head. Just have fun and focus on the game."

The 19-year-old finished with 11 total homers after that initial blast in February and added a .429 average with 18 steals for McGill-Toolen. He describes his hitting approach as trying to get his foot down early to get a full view of the pitch and then using his added strength to muscle the ball where he can.

"Staying middle away, and if I get the inside pitch, I pull it," Thompson said. "Really just go gap to gap. Try to stay the hitter that I am. As I got stronger, I was hitting some balls out, and it just started feeling natural to me."

Despite the results on the field, Thompson wasn't sure how far it'd get him in terms of the Draft. He noticed how many more scouts were showing up to his baseball games to catch a look at the potential SEC quarterback who could also hit, but it took an official invitation to attend the Draft in person at the MLB Network Studios in Secaucus, New Jersey, for it to sink in that the industry believed he was worthy of an early pick. Indeed, had moved Thompson up to No. 26 in its pre-Draft prospect rankings, giving him a 65 grade for his run tool and plus 60 grades for his arm and fielding abilities. His power graded out at a tick below average with a 45 on the 20-80 scale, but the trajectory for that tool is certainly on the uptick and has room to grow in the pro ranks.

Thompson had to wait a bit Monday to feel justified. He was the last of the three Draft attendees to be taken -- behind Hunter Greene (No. 2, Reds), Jo Adell (No. 10, Angels) and Trevor Rogers (No. 13, Marlins). When he heard his name, knowing he was going to the Rangers at No. 26, it was Feb. 23 all over again.

He was going to be a baseball player.

"Since I got invited to this and I see everything's really ahead of me, I'm really trying to look to baseball," he said. "High school football was great. I had great opportunities to play college football almost anywhere I wanted to. I think I chose the right sport."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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