St. Louis Cardinals Prospects: Keep an eye on Zack Thompson in 2020

LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 09: Zack Thompson of the Kentucky Wildcats delivers a pitch against the Louisville Cardinals during the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Baseball Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium on June 9, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - JUNE 09: Zack Thompson of the Kentucky Wildcats delivers a pitch against the Louisville Cardinals during the 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Baseball Super Regional at Jim Patterson Stadium on June 9, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals’ first-round draft pick in 2020, Zack Thompson, will be a fast riser. The only question is how fast he will hit the MLB. He’s one player to watch in 2020.

In this post-apocalyptic wasteland we are now living in without any sports (specifically St. Louis Cardinals baseball), dreaming of a more pleasant future is one of the only things we have to get out of the unfortunate present.

In baseball, there’s nothing more fun when looking at the future than dreaming of prospects. For our focus today, we are going to look at the Cardinals’ first-round draft pick from 2020.

That’s a very bland and boring lead-in, but there’s a real chance that the pick, Zack Thompson, could rise and have an impact very similar to what Michael Wacha did for the Cardinals back in 2013.

Wacha was drafted in the first round of the 2012 draft at the age of 20 out of Texas A&M after throwing 113.1 innings with a 2.06 ERA and just a .228 batting average against him in his sophomore season.

In 2012, Wacha started at Rookie ball and threw 5.0 innings, then was moved up to High-A Palm Beach where he threw another 8.0 innings. To end his season, he was moved to Springfield for another 8.0 innings before he was shut down for the year.

In 2013 (somehow already seven years ago), Wacha began the year at AAA Memphis where he pitched until he was called up on May 30th after just 73.2 minor league innings at the age of 21. From there, Wacha put up a 2.78 ERA ERA over 15 appearances and 64.2 innings in the regular season.

In the postseason, Wacha went on to dominate and win the NLCS MVP, throwing 13.2 scoreless innings against the Pirates, propelling the Cards to the World Series. It was the best start to Wacha’s career that the team could’ve asked for, and there are certainly parallels to the player Wacha was at the draft and Thompson.

From Baseball Prospectus, Wacha was “Regarded as a polished college arm” out of the draft and looked like a pitcher that could develop into “a prototypical mid-rotation arm, with workload potential and a solid-avg-to-plus arsenal.”

When looking at Thompson, he fits the same “polished college arm” profile that Wacha did. In his Junior season at Kentucky, Thompson put up a 2.40 ERA over 90.0 innings while striking out an elite 13.0 batters per nine in the best conference in college baseball (the SEC (War Eagle)).

Thompson has a different pitch mix than Wacha, throwing a fastball, slider, curveball, changeup from the left side and from a different arm slot. They are different pitchers with different strengths, but that doesn’t mean their paths won’t be similar.

In his first season with the Cardinals, Thompson started at Rookie ball, throwing two innings before being pushed to High-A Palm Beach where he threw another 13.1 innings before he was shut down.

Thompson may be a step behind Wacha in terms of where he is going to start the year in his second season, likely starting at AA Springfield, but in the time that he was pitching, he showed that polish that the Cardinals loved when they drafted him.

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It was a super small sample, but his strikeout rate stayed right near 13 batters per nine while keeping his walk rate down.

In spring training, Thompson was showing a lot of potential as well as he was untouched (no hits or walks) in 3.0 innings, striking out three.

The biggest thing that may hinder Thompson’s potential rise to the Majors in 2020 (other than a short season) would be an injury. Two of his three college seasons he dealt with arm issues and while he’s gotten himself in better shape, it’s something that could come back and haunt the 21-year-old. It’s part of why the Cardinals were able to draft the lefty, but players like Walker Buehler were drafted with injury fears and is now a top pitcher on the Dodgers injury-free.

Thompson may never be an ace, but just like Michael Wacha, he has middle-of-the-rotation potential which is extremely valuable.

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All of this is assuming that the season is not delayed beyond reasonable repair because of all this we are going through. If it isn’t, Thompson could easily be a midseason call up after some time in AAA and could make a push to be the best left-handed pitching prospect the Cardinals have.

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