What would you think if I told you the following: there is a player in the midst of his sixth minor league season – with his second organization – who has played at every level from rookie ball to Triple-A. This player, a left-handed starting pitcher drafted in 2005, has never won more than half of the games he has started in a full season at any of his myriad professional stops and has a career win-loss record of 25-45. He has only once posted an ERA below 3.50 (3.37 in 2007 in High-A ball) and has a lifetime ERA of 4.22 and 1.48 WHIP. His K/BB ratio is just 2.25:1 and in five seasons opponents have hit .310, .270, .266, .323, and .265 against him.
Fast forward to 2010. After being acquired by his second professional organization in a straight-up swap for arguably the team’s most attractive trade chip, he began the season and made 11 starts in Double-A. In those appearances he was 2-8 with a 6.87 ERA, a 1.69 WHIP, and opposing teams batted .336 against him. Yet in his lone start in Triple-A earlier in the season, this player recorded a win, lasting five innings and allowing just one run on five hits; however, he soon returned to Double-A.
The player? Washington Nationals’ minor leaguer and current Harrisburg Senator Aaron Thompson.
Questions abound with regard to Thompson’s career. Why has a player with such unspectacular lifetime numbers continually advanced throughout the minor leagues (though he has yet to make a major league appearance)? Why were the Nationals content with a trade that returned Thompson in exchange for on-base machine Nick Johnson? Why did he make only one Triple-A start when he seemed to perform well?
In his first stop in the Gulf Coast League in 2005, Thompson was 2-4 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.63 WHIP in eight starts, after which he was promoted to the Marlins’ low-A squad. There, while going just 1-2 in five starts, he lowered his ERA to 3.10, though his K/BB ratio decreased by nearly 2.5. The 2006-2007 seasons progressed more logically, when a .500 record and 3.63 ERA in A-ball led to a promotion to High-A where Thompson logged a 4-6 record and 3.37 ERA all while lowering his WHIP over 0.3. Beginning the 2008 season in Double-A, Thompson struggled for the next two seasons. From 2008-2009 (all of which was spent in AA, albeit between the Marlins and Nationals organizations), the lefthander was 7-17 with a 4.54 ERA.
Not surprisingly, Thompson began the 2010 in Harrisburg with the Nationals’ Double-A club. After struggling in his first start, Thompson had two superb outings in which he allowed a combined seven hits and four walks while recording eleven strikeouts and holding opponents scoreless over twelve innings. This earned him a promotion to Syracuse where he was fine in one start but quickly returned to Harrisburg. His one start, while impressive compared with his Double-A statistics, is far too little data on which to base a substantive evaluation; however, Thompson’s situation remains a very interesting one to monitor for Nats fans and baseball enthusiasts alike. He is scheduled to start Harrisburg’s game tonight against Bowie.