A fan of Byung-Hyun Kim growing up, righty and Oregon native Ryan Thompson realized he was more comfortable throwing sidearm, leading to success at Cascade High School but not much interest from colleges or MLB teams. Several years later, he was drafted in the 23rd round of the 2014 draft by the Astros after starring at North Carolina’s Campbell University.
By the summer of 2017, Thompson was a 27-year-old sidearm reliever struggling with a brief taste of the Triple-A level. It turned out Thompson needed Tommy John surgery that year.
Thompson later commented in an interview with Brett Friedlander of the North State Journal, “I found out I had a lot of complacencies I was neglecting. When your mind is so focused on baseball and competing and getting guys out, you don’t really have that time to think about who you are and where you’re going in your relationships, your diet and all these other things. So I had a full year to not think about baseball. I became a better human being. I lost 30 pounds and when I came back, that was the year that made my career. If I didn’t have that surgery, I don’t think I’d be here right now.”
Thompson missed the entire 2018 season recovering from the procedure, but then the Rays swooped in to nab him in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft. He got back on the mound in May of 2019, pitching at the Double-A level.
In 2020, the Rays brought Thompson to spring training and the subsequent July summer camp. He made the team’s Opening Day roster, debuting with two scoreless innings against Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the Blue Jays. In a later interview with his alma mater’s magazine, Thompson said, “I always thought when I got the call to the big leagues, I’d break down into tears. But when I got the call, it was just relief. I’d given up the past 10 years of my life for this. I was living in my mom’s basement at 28 for this. And now I made it, and I wasn’t going to lose it.”
A few weeks later Thompson served as an opener against the Yankees, also putting up two scoreless frames. The 28-year-old rookie wound up getting into nine postseason games for the Rays in 2020. Thompson again served as the opener against the Yankees in ALDS Game 4, and even tossed three scoreless innings in the World Series against the Dodgers.
Thompson was racking up holds in the 2021 season until hitting the IL in June with shoulder inflammation. By September, Thompson required thoracic outlet surgery. He recovered successfully from that procedure, pitching well in 2022 until he was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his right elbow in September. Thus far he’s made one spring training appearance in 2023.
In his young big league career, Thompson has made 108 regular season appearances, with another nine in the ’20 postseason. He’s punched out sluggers such as Mike Trout and Pete Alonso. So far, Thompson sports a 3.50 ERA, a 52.5% groundball rate, a 6.5 BB%, four saves, and 25 holds. His scoreless work in the 2020 World Series includes a strikeout of Mookie Betts.
In February, Ryan caught our eye with an interesting Twitter thread about his experience going to an arbitration hearing against the Rays, which he lost. Thompson broke down the comparables, stats used, and arguments made by each side in a way I haven’t seen before, and it’s well worth a read. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @R_Thompson15.
Ryan kindly agreed to chat today with MLBTR readers after the conclusion of today’s spring training game against the Tigers. Click here to view the transcript!