I’m back with another Redbird Report, taking a look back at a performance of an individual Cardinal player in 2022, and what last season could tell us about the coming 2023 campaign.

NEXT UP: Lefty pitcher Zack Thompson, age 25.

Overview: The Cardinals selected Thompson with the 19th overall pick in the 2019 draft. After a good collegiate career for Kentucky, Thompson put in the obligatory development time in the minors. The Cardinals utilized the farm system to prepare him as starter but also used him in relief. Thompson is undoubtedly talented, but we must also note that he has a 5.96 ERA in 161.2 minor-league innings. The issues: (A) he lost some fastball velocity along the way and (B) he relies heavily on a four-seam fastball and a big curve and must cultivate a strong third pitch, and a usable fourth pitch, to have a full starting-pitcher arsenal. It’s possible to be a successful starter with two-plus pitches, but at least one more effective go-to pitch would enable Thompson to give hitters a variety of pitches to think/worry about. And he’d be able to mix it up and get hitters off guard. Thompson has been working on a cutter and a changeup, and if he can turn them into “plus” pitches he can expand his game.

Impressive in relief: Relievers are more capable of doing their thing – with high effectiveness – with a two-pitch repository, because they rarely face a hitter more than once during an appearance. Thompson showed that in his first big-league gig as a reliever in 2022. He made one start for the Cardinals last season and got blasted by the Pirates for two homers and five earned runs in five innings.

The Cardinals were smart to relocate Thompson to the bullpen, and he quickly earned their trust as a reliever. In 21 appearances and 29.2 innings in a relief role, Thompson had a diamond of an ERA at 0.91. He faced 112 batters and was touched for just one homer, a .130 batting average, .223 onbase percentage and .190 slug.

We would have liked seeing a higher strikeout rate than his 22.3 percent mark as a reliever last season. But Thompson’s one glaring flaw was a 10.7 walk rate that will cause him a load of problems going forward unless he can sharpen up.

Pitch quality: For the most part, very good according to the data at Statcast. The good news: Thompson’s velocity rebounded from 2021, averaging 95.5 mph and topping out at 98. The velo is there, and his four-seam and curve were both effective at getting ground balls, and as a reliever Thompson had a GB rate of just under 59% last season. That’s outstanding.

Thompson threw his four-seam fastball 54.3 percent of the time, used the curve on 31% of his pitches and mixed in a cutter (8.3%) and changeup (6.1%.) Hitters batted .400 against the cutter. His fastball was good overall but tended to be wild. (Twenty strikeouts, 16 walks.)  Thompson’s curve was a dandy companion for his fastball, and his changeup showed potential.

Opponents batted .172 with a .250 slug against his four-seam, and .108 with a .216 slug on his curve. But their expected .534 slug against his changeup exposed a potential vulnerability. At least Thompson knows what he must work on, and he can be even better as a reliever in 2023. Cutting down that walk rate is a priority. And using that fastball to pitch up in the zone can give him a bigger edge on the hitters.

The Cardinals were cautious: Making his big-league debut on June 6, Thompson pitched 22 innings in his first 12 appearances through July 24. But the Cardinals shut him down to rest his arm, and Thompson resumed pitching on Aug. 6 at Triple A Memphis. He got knocked around in his first three appearances but settled down after that, and the Cardinals called him up on Aug. 29. He served in their bullpen for the rest of the season, pitching to a 1.42 ERA over the final month.

Conclusion: All in all, a positive MLB debut. But the arm fatigue was a concern, and this raises at least some questions about Thompson’s endurance in a relief role. Then again, it could be nothing more than making the adjustment from starting, and making the adjustment to the majors — and Thompson could handle the physical demands better in 2023. We’ll have to see how all of that plays out.

As of now, we’d have to say that he’s their best lefty reliever, and Thompson could be a huge plus in the bullpen if LH Genesis Cabrera continues to deteriorate. But does Thompson have a brighter future as a starting pitcher? Could be. Especially if the rotation cracks again in 2023.

Thompson’s grade for 2022: Factoring in the shut-down time, A minus.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS-AM. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app.

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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.