LHP Zack Thompson
Towards the end of the 2023 season, Zack Thompson returned to the majors in a starting capacity. Up until the 2022 season, Thompson was always a starting pitcher, but he saw significantly greater success out of the bullpen, especially in the major leagues. As a starter in Memphis in 2022, Thompson had a 4.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and he struck out 56 batters in just over 44 innings. As a reliever in the same year, he had a 5.00 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, and struck out 11 batters in 9 innings. Batters had a .222 batting average against him.
Thompson began phasing out of his role as a starter that year, but he did have stronger numbers as a starting pitcher. His pitch mix featured a 4-seam fastball that would touch 96 MPH and floated closer to 94-95 MPH. His curveball was his second-most used pitch, and the cutter was a pitch he was starting to develop in 2022. The cutter had a stellar whiff rate at 43.8% and an expected batting average of .199.
However, things changed in 2023 for Thompson. He began the full-time shift to the bullpen, and his statistics began to tumble, especially in the minors. As a starter in 2023 in Memphis, Thompson had a 9.73 ERA, 2.51 WHIP, and struck out only 32 batters in 28 innings; batters hit .322 against him. As a reliever for the Redbirds, Thompson had a 3.18 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, and struck out 9 batters in 5.2 innings. Thompson was much better as a reliever in 2023 in the minors.
All of this brings us to the fact that Thompson was settling into the bullpen in 2023. He has jostled around in 2022, and the stats show that. Thompson's cutter usage increased mightily in 2023, and the effectiveness of that pitch was maintained. His numbers as a starter and a reliever in 2023 are comparable, and he settled down mightily in St. Louis (4.37 ERA as a starter vs. 4.29 as a reliever, 1.32 WHIP as a starter vs. 1.62 WHIP as a reliever. His strikeout rates in general dropped this past year).
Should Thompson maintain his stamina and continue to improve his third pitch, he could very easily slot into the 5th spot in the rotation in 2023. Thompson is my personal choice for the 5th rotation spot should the front office only acquire two starters this year.