Texas Rangers

30 homers? 50 steals? ‘I think he’s got a chance to be an impact player’

Bubba Thompson took off last season at Low A Hickory and has some with the Rangers dreaming big.
Bubba Thompson took off last season at Low A Hickory and has some with the Rangers dreaming big. Courtesy of the Hickory Crawdads

The Star-Telegram’s list of the Top 10 Texas Rangers prospect has been awfully heavy on pitching.

Beginning with No. 10, the countdown has gone: Pitcher, pitcher, pitcher, pitcher, pitcher, pitcher. Who says the Rangers don’t have any pitching?

Well, none of them has pitched in Triple A, so that’s part of the problem. The Rangers aren’t exactly teeming with position players at the upper levels.

Willie Calhoun rates as either the No. 1 or No. 2 at Baseball America and mlbpipeline.com because has not exceeded his rookie limits. The Star-Telegram, though, didn’t consider him for this list because he has MLB experience.

None of the 10 on the list, which will be revealed in full by the end of the week, do.

No. 4 in the rankings just finished up at Low A Hickory, and he finished with a flourish.

No. 4: CF Bubba Thompson

Born: June 9, 1998

Height: 6-foot-2. Weight: 180 pounds.

How acquired: 2017 draft (26th overall).

Everyone refers to Leslie A. Thompson IV as “Bubba,” and until two years ago, everyone referred to him as “quarterback” this time of year.

Bubba Thompson was a really good quarterback at McGill-Toolen High in Mobile, Ala. He helped win a state title and was fielding scholarship offers from Division I colleges.

Baseball, though, won out, and now he is realizing the benefits of being all baseball all the time. The Rangers were betting that Thompson would take off without having to split time between sports, and they are covering the spread after his first full professional season.

“Oh yeah,” Thompson said shortly before the minor-league season ended. “It’s all-year around baseball. You get the hang of things. Routines. In high school in the summer, I’d be playing both trying to split everything up. This is way better. You get more repetition. I love both sports. But I’ve got a job to do, and I picked this.”

The Rangers moved Thompson from the rookie-level AZL Rangers last season to Hickory without having to stop in Spokane for short-season A ball. He didn’t debut in Hickory until early May, but the numbers he produced look as if he was there from Opening Day.

Thompson batted .289 in 84 games with 31 extra-base hits (eight homers) and 32 stolen bases. He struck out 103 times in 332 at-bats and walked only 24 times, but the .344 on-base percentage and .790 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) illustrate that he didn’t just survive the season.

He thrived, especially in the second half as he batted .300 and swiped 25 bases.

“It’s been a productive season,” Thompson said. “There’s some more stuff I can work on, like always. I’m never satisfied. I’ve always got to keep better. I’ve got to keep working hard.

“I’m very pleased. I’ve got to cut a little bit on the strikes out down. I’ve got to put the ball in play more. That’s what I’m most mad about. I’ve got to get on base more and produce more runs.”

The Rangers are hardly mad about anything Thompson did. They know where he needs to improve and are confident that is athletic ability and smarts will allow that to happen.

What’s his ceiling? It’s awfully high, said one Rangers official.

“He’s gotten better month to month,” assistant general manager Jayce Tingler. “To do what he’s done, you look at him, and I’m convinced, if he stays healthy, he’s going to be a 30-home run, 40- to 50-stolen base plus-defender in center fielder. I think he’s got a chance to be an impact player.”

So, why is Thompson only the No. 4-ranked prospect based on that projection?

There are ifs, as there are with all prospects. Baseball America didn’t have Thompson ranked in their top 10 Rangers prospects, noting “modest” offense performance and “not much power game.”

MLBpipeline.com has Thompson ranked 10th, down five spots from its preseason rankings, and notes that he needs to get better reads in the outfield and on the bases.

He appears to have conquered one of those, as he was caught stealing only seven times.

“I can get better reads in the outfield and a better arm,” Thompson said. “Just an all-round better game. As you move up you’ve got to keep getting better and better.”

Thompson has good bat-to-ball skills and a good understanding of the strike zone, which might be surprise based on his relative inexperience because of the time he devoted to football.

Those are basic necessities to be a good hitter. He’s going to get stronger, and he has gained an understanding of the rigors of a full minor-league season.

If Year 1 is any indication, Thompson might be a fast mover. But he’s not in any hurry.

“Whatever they want, I’m going to keep trying to get better every year — batting average, power, all that good stuff,” he said. “Just each year try to show something different.”

Star-Telegram Top 10 Rangers prospects

No. 10: Cole Ragans

No. 9: Tyler Phillips

No. 8: Joe Palumbo

No. 7: Taylor Hearn

No. 6: Jonathan Hernandez

No. 5: Cole Winn

No. 4: Bubba Thompson

No. 3: Wednesday

No. 2: Thursday

No. 1: Friday

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