Shaq Thompson and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Baseball Career

A couple weeks ago, I was scrolling through the ol’ Twitter feed when I came across this:

Shaq Thompson? I recognized that name from somewhere. I haven’t really ever followed college football so I knew it had to be something other than football. Eventually, it came to me. Shaq Thompson, the most versatile college football player in the nation, had the worst statistical career in professional baseball history.

In high school, Thompson was a football and track standout. He played in the 2012 U.S. Army All-American Bowl and specialized in the 200-meter dash. After his senior year, Thompson was the no. 1 safety recruit and the no. 4 overall recruit in the nation. He committed to play football at the University of Washington. Thompson, now a junior linebacker for the Huskies, has thrived on the gridiron and has earned national recognition as one of the best all-around players in the country. So where does his baseball career fit in?

Back in 2012, Alex Speier documented Thompson’s incredible journey from his middle school days to his last at-bat in pro ball. It’s especially worth the read now, knowing of Thompson’s immense success on the football field. The Red Sox took a chance on Thompson in the 18th round of the 2012 Draft, with the hope that he could turn his raw athletic gifts into actual baseball skills. Thompson had only played baseball in senior year, and fared well against weak competition, but teams love to gamble on freak athletes with the hope that they can actually learn how to play baseball. Thompson was still committed to playing football for the Huskies in the fall, but wanted to give baseball, a sport he loved as a kid, a try before heading up to Washington. Thompson played in 13 games for the Red Sox in the Gulf Coast League (the lowest level of the minor leagues) over the span of a month–from June 20th to the July 20th. This is how it went:

Game 1

1st plate appearance: strikeout swinging

2nd plate appearance: strikeout looking

3rd plate appearance: walk

4th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

5th plate appearance: walk

Game 2

6th plate appearance: strikeout looking

7th plate appearance: strikeout looking

8th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

Game 3

9th plate appearance: walk

10th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

11th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

12th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

13th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

Game 4

14th plate appearance: strikeout looking

15th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

16th plate appearance: strikeout looking

Game 5

17th plate appearance: strikeout looking

18th plate appearance: strikeout looking

19th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

Game 6

20th plate appearance: RBI ground out to 1st (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

21st plate appearance: strikeout swinging

22nd plate appearance: walk

Game 7

23rd plate appearance: strikeout looking

24th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

25th plate appearance: strikeout looking

Game 8

26th plate appearance: strikeout looking

27th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

28th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

Game 9

29th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

30th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

31st plate appearance: walk

Game 10

32nd plate appearance: strikeout swinging

33rd plate appearance: walk

34th plate appearance: walk

Game 11

35th plate appearance: strikeout looking

36th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

37th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

38th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

39th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

Game 12

40th plate appearance: walk

41st plate appearance: strikeout looking

42nd plate appearance: strikeout looking

43rd plate appearance: strikeout looking

44th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

45th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

Game 13

46th plate appearance: strikeout swinging

47th plate appearance: lineout to right field

Shaq Thompson went 0-39 with 37 strikeouts. His career line was .000/.170/.000. 

Over his 47 plate appearances, Thompson put the ball in play twice while striking out 79% of the time. He had a .170 OPS, which was also his OBP. Even if you lower the minimum plate appearances threshold to 40, only two position players in baseball history have had a lower OPS for their careers. The next closest (and most recent) is Cincinnati infielder Neftali Soto, who has hit .071/.091/.095 in his first 44 plate appearances. Of course, that’s in the big leagues. Unfortunately, there is no Play Index for the GCL or any level of the minors, so I’m only 99.99% certain that Thompson holds the title for Worst Professional Career Ever. Thompson’s eight walks can most likely be attributed to some combination of the inexperienced pitchers he was facing and the presumed occasional strategy of just not swinging at all. Thompson had the 6th most strikeouts on his team and the 16th most plate appearances. I could go on, but I already feel kinda bad. It doesn’t take advanced stats to know how bad he was. Although, let’s give him credit: he did have one RBI.

Barry Petchesky of Deadspin did a great piece on Thompson right after he unsurprisingly declared his baseball career over. The end of the piece really sums up how I feel about Thompson’s epic struggles:

“Ted Williams always maintained that the hardest thing to do in sports is to hit a baseball. That quote plays well with the crowd who holds up “The Green Fields of the Mind” as great American literature, but it’s surely meaningless. Hitting a ball is hard. Memorizing a football playbook is hard. Sticking with the receiver on an out route is hard. Everything in sports is difficult in its own way, and something like hitting a baseball is so divorced from any other skill set as to be an almost irrelevant marker of athletic talent. Shaq Thompson’s minor league struggles don’t have to mean anything, other than the objective fact that he went 0-for-39, with 37 strikeouts. We’ll always have that.”

I agree: Shaq Thompson’s failures in the GCL don’t definitively tell us anything about professional baseball or Thompson himself. And yet, his brief stint in pro ball can give us some perspective. If you take a not-so-scientific look at the Crazy-Athlete-Trying-To-Play-Baseball Spectrum, you’ll see that most of those attempts to play pro ball end in failure. Thompson certainly represents one end of the so-called spectrum, but there are countless other examples of ‘lottery ticket’ athletes flaming out in the low-minors, much to the chagrin of their respective organizations. However, teams — some more than others — will continue to gamble on these super-freaks with the hope that just one of them really does evolve into a franchise-type player.

More than anything, I’m genuinely happy Shaq Thompson has rebounded so well from his briefly cataclysmic baseball career to become one of the best college football players in the country. ESPN’s Todd McShay recently projected Thompson to be a mid-1st round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, citing him as a “unique talent with an outstanding combination of size, speed, and athleticism”. Thompson’s success on the gridiron only further proves Petchesky’s point that his struggles in pro ball don’t really tell us anything about Thompson or baseball. It was just a remarkably ridiculous thing that happened. Thompson tried one professional sport and failed spectacularly. He’s about to try another professional sport, and has a much better chance at succeeding. That’s pretty awesome! Two professional sports!

There have been plenty of other great football players drafted by baseball teams based on their athletic abilities and performance in high school. Most of them never step foot on a minor league field. You know who else was drafted out of high school in the 18th round? Tom Brady! Tom Brady could have been the one to go 0-39 with 37 strikeouts. We’ll never know. I’m obviously not faulting Brady or any other athlete that chose to forego baseball for other sports, but give Thompson credit: he tried! Just because he turned to be the one to go 0-39 with 37 strikeouts doesn’t mean he’s the only one that could have gone 0-39 with 37 strikeouts. In fact, I’m almost positive Jon Heyman would’ve gone 0-47 with 47 strikeouts if given the opportunity.

Shaq Thompson may hold the title for Worst Professional Baseball Career Ever. But he also briefly held the title of Professional Baseball Player. Soon, he’ll hold the title of Professional Football Player. That’s more than you or I can say. Unless Bo Jackson is reading this, in which case, hey Bo Jackson!

 

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Failed Prospects Throwing Dessert

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For those of you that don’t know there was a little incident last night involving Jesus Montero, a Mariners cross-checker, and an ice cream sandwich. You can read about the details here, but due to Montero’s act of decadent defiance, something more important is sweeping the nation. Failed prospects around the country, nay, around the globe, are taking up arms against baseball’s scouting aristocracy. These are pictures of said failed prospects throwing desserts:

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Former Rockies prospect Greg Reynolds chucks some chocolate milk

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Matt Anderson, Tigers savior of the late 90’s, whips a chunk of peanut brittle

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Two-way superstar Adam Loewen says “Happy Birthday”

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Devil Rays righty Dewon Brazelton heaves an entire fondue fountain at an unsuspecting area scout

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America’s favorite failed prospect, Brett Jackson, unleashes America’s favorite dessert, the firecracker.

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Former Pirates top prospect Bryan Bullington serves up some bananas foster

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Tim Beckham throws some…… brownies.

Our Very Own Triple-A All-Star Teams

MIKE HESSMAN, HOME RUN KING

The Triple-A All Star Game rewards players who have had a particularly notable first half of the season. Participants are selected for a combination of production at the Minor League level and for the faintest glimmer of prospect status. The former qualification results in the addition of players of a slightly older demographic. Players whose names make you spit out whatever craft beer you have in your mouth while you have heatflash nightmares of top prospect lists from 2006. These are players whom you know not because you want to know them, but because sometime in the past they forced their way into our consciousness. The Triple-A All Star Game is not designed for these players, but screw that. We decided to pick our own Triple-A All Star Game rosters based on nothing but name recognition and derp-factor.

Rules: We each had to compile a 25-man roster using players from our respective leagues (I did the International League, and Jordan did the Pacific Coast League), and present a starting lineup. Unlike the actual all-star games which require one player from each team to be represented, we chose the best 25 names we could find.

International League 

by Jake Mintz

Starting lineup:

C – Ronny Paulino (DET/Toledo): There is not a single player in the history of Major League Baseball who sounds more like a character on Jersey Shore than Ronny Paulino. Ronny Paulino struck out 4 times in 7 plate appearances against Jason Isringhausen.

1B – Dan Johnson (TOR/Buffalo): Yes. This is that Dan Johnson. We all owe Dan Johnson for being an important part of the greatest night MLB has ever seen. What we can learn from him, however, is that a guy who hits a clutch home run after hitting .119 all year was hitting .119 for a reason.

2B – Mike Fontenot (TB/Durham): Mike Fontenot is still the reason Mike Fontenot gets up every morning. Mike Fontenot is 0-5 against Randy Wolf with 4 strikeouts.

SS – Emmanuel Burriss (WAS/Syracuse): I love Emmanuel Burris, but I am biased. When I was 7, Emmanuel Burris was my coach at baseball camp. Now I coach Emmanuel Burris’ niece and nephew and they are the most pleasant and fastest children at camp. Emmanuel Burriss hit his only major league home run and it was off Bronson Arroyo and it was a bomb.

3B – Wilson Betemit (TB/Durham): Wilson Betemit is only 32, which is crazy because he’s been in the league since 2001. Betemit has one career postseason home run and it was off Aaron Heilman. The only pitcher to intentionally walk Wilson Betemit twice was Tony Armas Jr.

RF – Julio Borbon (BAL/Norfolk): Scott Boras has many famous clients. One of those clients is Julio Borbon. If the stories about Boras creating extensive binders for his free agent clients are true, I’d like to see the one he made for Julio Borbon that landed him such a sweet deal with the Orioles.

CF – Andres Torres (BOS/Pawtucket): Andres Torres has ADD and I know this because on FOX during the 2010 World Series Joe Buck talked about how once the Giants gave Torres Adderall, he was able to focus better at the plate. I knew that was bullshit because I take Adderall and I can’t focus anywhere. Andres Torres is older than both Adam Levine and Usher.

LF – Clete Thomas (PHI/Lehigh Valley): Clete Thomas sounds like a fictional Greek superhero from a children’s book who can magically turn into a shoe at any moment. Unfortunately for Clete Thomas, Clete Thomas is a boring, no-hit, quad-A outfielder.

SP – Jason Marquis (PHI/Lehigh Valley):  Since 2010, Marquis has been worth -2.9 WAR as a pitcher and 0.5 WAR as a hitter. You might wonder why a 35-year-old guy who’s made over $50 million in his career would want to spend any more time pitching for a baseball team called the IronPigs. Then again, that sounds like a pretty sweet gig.

Bench:

  • C  Corky Miller (CIN/Louisville)
  • 1B Brent Morel (PIT/Indianapolis)
  • 2B Cord Phelps (BAL/Norfolk)
  • SS Jayson Nix (TB/Durham)
  • 3B Russ Canzler (PHI/Lehigh Valley)
  • OF Adron Chambers (TOR/Buffalo)
  • OF Melky Mesa (TOR/Buffalo)
  • 2B Ryan Roberts (BOS/Pawtucket)

Bullpen:

  • LHP Mike Zagurski (TOR/Buffalo)
  • RHP Shaun Marcum (CLE/Columbus)
  • RHP Matt Capps (CLE/Columbus)
  • RHP Carlos Marmol (CIN/Louisville)
  • RHP Chien-Ming Wang (CHW/Charlotte)
  • LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith (CIN/Louisville)
  • RHP Alfredo Aceves (NYY/Scranton Wilkes-Barre)
  • RHP Josh Roenicke (WAS/Syracuse)

 

Pacific Coast League

by Jordan Shusterman

Starting lineup:

C – Eli Whiteside (CHC/Iowa): “Jealousy/Turning saints into the sea/Swimming through sick lullabies/Choking on your alibis. But it’s just the price I pay, destiny is calling me. Open up my eager eyessssssssssss…CAUSE I’M ELI WHITESIDE.”

1B – Lars Anderson (CHC/Iowa): Lars Anderson has 80 career minor league home runs and zero career major league home runs. Lars Anderson has one career extra base hit in the big leagues and it was off Doug Fister.

2B – Jason Donald (TEX/Round Rock): The despicable enemy who beat out the infield single to ruin Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.

3B – Pete Orr (MIL/Nashville): Pete Orr is Canadian and has the same last name as hockey legend Bobby Orr so he must have liked Bobby Orr growing up. Pete Orr is two weeks younger than Tracy McGrady.

SS – Ronny Cedeno (ARI/Reno): Recently traded to Arizona from Philadelphia for a minor league catcher named Raywilly, Cedeno has hit .302 in his first 12 games with Reno. If you’re a Venezuelan who can play shortstop at the major league level, you’re gonna stick around for way, way too long. Ronny Cedeno has made over $7 million in his career.

LF – Brian Bogusevic (MIA/New Orleans): It seems ridiculous, but Brian Bogusevic somehow looks exactly like what you would imagine a Brian Bogusevic to look like.

CF – Jason Pridie (COL/Colorado Springs):  Turns out Jason Pridie was the guy the Orioles called up from Triple-A when Manny Machado’s leg exploded last year. I can’t imagine why that move didn’t get any attention. Why mourn the loss of your future superstar when you could celebrate a current legend’s return to glory at the major league level? Very strange. If anything, I’m sure Jason takes pridie in that specific call-upBOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

RF – Jeremy Hermida (MIL/Nashville): Before the 2004 season, Baseball America ranked Jeremy Hermida as the 28th best prospect in baseball. Before the 2005 season, Baseball America ranked Hermida as the 18th best prospect in baseball. Before the 2006 season, Baseball America ranked Hermida as the 4th best prospect in baseball. In the middle of the 2014 season, Cespedes Family Barbecue ranks Jeremy Hermida as the best right field prospect on the 2014 Nashville Sounds.

SP – Jason Berken (SFG/Fresno): While Berken may not be the craziest name I found (hello, Todd Coffey ON THE SEATTLE MARINERS APPARENTLY), I chose it almost entirely to break Jake’s Oriole-loving heart. Jason Berken! Berken is world-renowned for his 6.54 ERA over 119.2 innings in 2009, and even more well known for allowing Jacoby Ellsbury to hit .700/.800/1.100 against him in 15 plate appearances.

Bench:

  • OF Trayvon Robinson (LAD/Albuquerque)
  • OF Travis Buck (SDP/El Paso)
  • 3B Chris Nelson (SDP/El Paso)
  • 1B Brandon Allen (NYM/Las Vegas)
  • 2B Eugenio Velez (MIL/Nashville)
  • 3B Andy Marte (ARI/Reno)
  • 3B Brent Lillibridge (TEX/Round Rock)

Bullpen:

  • LHP Brian Burres (COL/Colorado Springs)
  • RHP Brett Tomko (COL/Colorado Springs)
  • LHP Tsuyoshi Wada (CHC/Iowa)
  • RHP David Aardsma (STL/Memphis)
  • LHP Pedro Feliciano (STL/Memphis)
  • RHP Brad Penny (MIA/New Orleans)
  • RHP Kameron Loe (ARI/Reno)
  • RHP Philip Humber (OAK/Sacramento)
  • RHP Todd Coffey (SEA/Tacoma)

How To Eat Fried Piwnica-Worms

As you might know, we enjoy going to Hagerstown Suns games. They are the Low-A affiliate of the Washington Nationals. There is a fantastically awesome outfielder on their current roster named Will Piwnica-Worms. No, seriously.

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Twas a glorious book from our childhood and was later turned into a movie. It’s How To Eat Fried Piwnica-Worms.

 

 

Trip Preview: Day 2

As some of you know, Jordan and I will be embarking on our crazy trip next week. We will drive over 1,900 miles in the pursuit of whatever it is we are pursuing. We shall chronicle all our adventures on the blog and on the new podcast we plan to start on the trip. In anticipation of these shenanigans, this week I’ll be previewing each of our stops along the way. Hope you enjoy.

Monday, July 8th

Start Point: Somewhere near Toledo

End Point: Somewhere near Clinton, Iowa

Approximate Milage: 386 Miles

Driving Time: 6 Hours and 2 Minutes

Baseball Stuff: Cedar Rapids Kernels @ Clinton Lumberkings

  • Prospects: Gaby Guerrero, Tyler Pike, Victor Sanchez, Guillermo Pimentel, Niko Goodrum, Jose Berrios, Adam Brett Walker, Max Kepler.

Notes: We missed Buxton by 2 weeks. It was the reason we were driving all the way to Iowa. We were downtrodden and heartbroken. It was the end of the world. There are still a mess of prospects to catch in Clinton however, our favorite of whom being the Twins’ German outfielder Kepler. Born and raised in the motherland, Kepler is a crazy athlete who has a chance to be the first German born outfielder to make the major leagues. The Lumberkings boast Gaby Guerrero, Vlads just-as-free-swinging nephew. After the game we will drive an hour north towards our next day’s destination: The Field Of Dreams.

Buxton Watch: The End of Buxton Watch

Welp, that didn’t take long. Yesterday, after going 2-5 with his tenth triple of the year, Byron Buxton, who clearly doesn’t care about our prospect viewing needs at all, was promoted to High-A Fort Myers. Twins GM Terry Ryan was apparently in attendance for the entirety of this past weekend’s series, and he liked what he saw. This won’t change our plan to see Cedar Rapids in Clinton, and there is still a plethora of talent on the two squads that we can’t wait to see. But the timing of this is just painful.

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