A.J. Preller has taken a bunch of criticism from the national media recently.
Though some might question his prior techniques when it comes to medical records and such, there will never be a question about his ability to evaluate talent. He has the scout’s eye when it comes to judging players and their abilities, and for that, he should be commended.
The Padres held the 85th overall pick in the June 2016 draft, and selected a big Texan with their 3rd round selection. Mason Thompson only threw one game in his senior year of high school, but every major league team was well aware of who he was come draft day. Tommy John surgery robbed Mason of his senior year, and all the accolades he could have received, but if you ask him, everything happens for a reason.
I recently sat down with Mason and we had a chat about his pro career to this point. I found him very respectful and quite pleasant to talk to. There is just something about him when discussing the game of baseball, and you can see why the Padres were so excited to be able to land him with their selection so late in the draft.
If it wasn’t for his arm issues, Mason would have surely been a top-10 pick, if not the first overall selection. He has a huge arm and had been on every scout’s radar. When the opportunity arose for the Padres to select him, they dug deep and signed him away from his commitment to Texas. The young right-hander just turned 19, and has a great future in the game of baseball. We sat down and talked about his first taste of the pro experience and what he expects from himself this coming baseball season.
Since he is a year removed from his surgery, he was able to work out this off-season, as normal, and told me he has been throwing for the past two months. Since the beginning of December he has played long toss and catch regularly, and for the past three weeks has had thrown a series of bullpen sessions off a mound. His arm is progressing nicely and the Padres have to be happy with his recovery from such a serious injury.
Mason has vast experience as an amateur. He played in many nationally recognized tournaments, like the 2013 Pan-American Games, where he threw six innings of one run ball (against Cuba) at the age of 15, for the Gold-Medal winning U.S. 15-and-under squad. In tournament style settings like that, he cut his teeth on the competitiveness of the game at the highest level. “It was an experience where you really had to grow up quick. Fill in your role whatever that may be. That’s exactly what pro ball is like and that helped me translate pretty easily (to pro ball).” Mason is a prepared young man and having gone through what he has definitely made him a better pitcher and, most importantly, a better man.
We spoke about his elbow injury, as I was curious about his mindset following the injury. “I was very emotional in my initial reaction after I was told I needed the surgery. I gave myself one day to break down and be upset. I could not change it from there. From there, it was go time. It was time to get going and focus on rehab and coming back stronger than I was ever before. My high school senior season actually benefited me. Of course, I’d rather be out there playing, but not being able to play and being able to sit back gave me the chance to enjoy the opportunities I had gotten to that point. I also saw the little things about the game that you don’t necessarily see while you are playing. It was really beneficial for me.” A very mature way to approach the hardship, and you can see why the Padres are so high on this young man.
I was curious if Mason had reached out to any players about his injury– if any other pitchers he knew went through Tommy John surgery and were an advantage to him in continuing his progression towards pitching again. “The main person I talked to was Morgan Cooper who is at the University of Texas right now. He went through it before me, and his perspective helped with the ups and downs of the recovery. Once I got into the organization, Cal Quantrill was a big help. I believe he had his surgery the day after I did. We could compare things we went through and what helps and what doesn’t. We could also share our stories with each other.” Having a pitcher like Cal to mentor him a bit is a great thing. Don’t think that A.J. Preller did not have this in mind when he selected Thompson with the team’s third-round pick.
I went on to ask Mason about his arm and if he has changed anything pre and post surgery about his mechanics. He paused a bit and this is what he communicated to me: “I wouldn’t say I have made any drastic changes or anything. My biggest thing has been strength. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and a lot bigger since I had the surgery. I think I was probably around 180 (lbs) when I had the surgery and today I am at about 220. My biggest thing has been building strength. The stronger your legs are and the stronger your core is, will help take some strain off of the elbow and arm. I didn’t change anything with my mechanics. A lot of people told me my mechanics were clean prior to the injury.” He does have a smooth motion and the Padres are surely not too concerned about his future health. He will be monitored, but there are certainly no red flags when it comes to this young man and his mechanics.
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