On Dec. 1, 2021, the Pittsburgh Pirates continued their rebuild by trading catcher Jacob Stallings to the Miami Marlins in exchange for three players. Two were Minor League prospects Kyle Nicolas and Connor Scott, while the other was a pitcher who was a familiar name to the organization.
That pitcher was Zach Thompson.
Thompson was originally drafted by the Pirates in the 48th round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, but opted not to sign and returned to college. Then, in 2014, Thompson was drafted in the fifth round by the Chicago White Sox and signed his professional contract on June 10.
He signed with the Marlins as a minor league free agent in November 2020.
Despite not signing with the Bucs, Thompson knew he would somehow find his way back to the Steel City. He said:
“Baseball always finds these cool scenarios that guys end up in. My first team I ever played for when I was 5 was the Pirates, then once I was drafted by them, I knew I would somehow end up with them again.”
As he mentioned, everyone gets their start in baseball somewhere. For Thompson, his love for baseball was influenced by family members, most notably his father and brother. He said:
“My dad is the one who taught me the game and kept me going. However, my older brother, Matt, is the reason I kept playing in high school. I always wanted to play on the same team as him and in 8th grade I had the choice to continue playing baseball and play with him (we knew he was going to be drafted) or pursue golf. Thankfully, I chose baseball.”
Thompson’s MLB career started after he was called up by the Marlins for their road series in Pittsburgh last June, but unfortunately, he wasn’t utilized until the team’s series in Boston a few days later. But while he wasn’t able to get involved on the field, Thompson took the opportunity to soak in the atmosphere and become acquainted with the Pittsburgh faithful.
One thing he learned was how passionate fans were for their hometown teams. He said:
“Everyone I’ve known from Pittsburgh has told me once you are a Pittsburgh fan, you never love any other team. It’s so cool for me to play for people who love their team that much. Hopefully I can meet a lot of people, make a positive impact on people’s lives, and win as many games as possible.”
Despite having to wait a few days before making his debut at Fenway Park, Thompson said it’s a memory he will never forget as his family was in attendance and that the Boston crowd was “incredibly welcoming” of him. He said:
“It was an incredible day. Every kid dreams of getting the call that you are going to be a big leaguer, but I never imagined it would be at one of the most historical stadiums in baseball.”
Thompson made his mark during his fourth MLB start on June 26 at Marlins Park, where he struck out 11 hitters over six innings.
Zach Thompson strikes out 11 batters in his 4th MLB Career start. pic.twitter.com/ZQGJZcvhud— Miami Marlins (@Marlins) June 27, 2021
Aside from his MLB debut, Thompson reminisced on some memorable moments throughout his baseball journey, which included a moment that locked in his desire to win at all levels. He said:
“I’ll always remember the Minor League grind of living with five guys in a two-bedroom apartment and all the travel. A positive note would be the first half championship we won in 2018 in High-A. It gives you that craving to want to win and nothing less.
“I saw that again in Tampa this year when the Rays clinched their division title. Up until then, I was just on cloud nine in the bigs, but that hurt. [Miami] was already out of the playoff race, but I remember telling one of my teammates ‘this makes me hate losing. I want to be in their position.’ I changed a little that day. I’ve always had a desire to win but that just did something different.”
Losing, as Thompson mentioned, brings players down and can often force them to lose focus on improving and winning. With this being said, players often have motivators that keep them on track.
In Thompson’s case, that motivator is faith. He said:
“For baseball, it’s so easy to be on an emotional rollercoaster. God is my rock, my foundation that keeps my emotions in check. I’m not perfect, I still mess up and sin, but as long as I’m striving toward God, everything else works out.”
With faith being the driving force behind his work ethic, Thompson set some goals for the upcoming season, should there even be one. Overall, he said he would like to appear in 30 games and pitch at least 150 innings.
Regarding his on-field performance, Thompson hopes to garner enough consistency on the mound to find his comfort zone. He said:
“I was on a solid pace for strikeouts/walks in my first few starts, then I started trying to get too fine, which messed with me competing. I’d also like to continue developing my arsenal to hopefully have five above average pitches consistently. There were flashes of every pitch working last year, and hopefully with consistent starts, everything else gets better. “
Zach Thompson, Nasty Curveballs...and Swords. ⚔️ pic.twitter.com/izcD2TS8vu— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 26, 2021
While the current lockout has players questioning whether the MLB season will start on time, Thompson has stayed prepared throughout the offseason by taking mobility/Pilates classes in the gym, as he looks to improve his strength, balance, breathing and mobility.
Thompson also said he’s hopeful that an agreement between the MLB and MLBPA will be reached prior to Spring Training.