News Column

Tigers' prospect Jake Thompson gets the victory in Futures Game

July 14, 2014

By John Lowe, Detroit Free Press

July 14--MINNEAPOLIS -- Two Tigers minor leaguers were invited to the annual Futures Game on Sunday: Double-A slugger Steven Moya and Class A starting pitcher Jake Thompson.

Thompson entered the game to face Moya with two outs in the sixth and struck him out.

"The strikeout pitch might not have been a strike," said Thompson, a pitcher giving an analysis usually rendered by a hitter. "But I'll take it."

The U.S. erased a one-run deficit in the bottom of the inning on a two-run homer by Texas prospect Joey Gallo, who has 31 homers this season. This blow put Thompson in line to be the winning pitcher.

Moya, one of six players who played the entire game, could have denied Thompson the win if he had led off the World team's ninth with a homer. Instead, he struck out to finish a day in which he went 0-for-3 with a walk. When the U.S. finished the 3-2 win, Thompson realized he was the winning pitcher when he heard it over the public-address system at Target Field.

Thompson and Moya know each other but had never faced each other. U.S. manager Tom Kelly, the longtime Twins skipper, summoned Thompson in the sixth just as Moya was coming up with nobody on. Kelly wasn't looking to create Tiger-vs.-Tiger drama -- just to divide the work for his many pitchers.

"I didn't know I'd be facing Moya until he got in the box," Thompson said.

Thompson struck out Moya on three pitches: a swing-and-a-miss on a 91-m.p.h. sinking fastball, a foul on an 84-m.p.h. change-up, and a strike-three call on the 83-m.p.h. slider that Moya said definitely wasn't in the strike zone.

The Futures Game, the most glamorous and visible of minor league All-Star games, is played annually at the site of the major league All-Star Game, two days before the main event. Moya, 22, had never played in a major league stadium before Sunday. He has 22 homers for Erie, the most by anyone in the Eastern League entering Sunday, and not just because he plays in a hitter's park.

"When he hits it in Erie, it's over the fence, it's over the street and into the house next door," Tigers assistant general manager Al Avila said. "That's his kind of power."

Moya led off the second in a left-left matchup against Daniel Norris of the Blue Jays. He grounded out to first with Norris covering. In his second time up, with a runner on second and two outs in the fourth, he did something he has done only 14 times this season. He walked. That total is overwhelmed by his 100 strikeouts. Then Moya fanned his remaining two times up.

"Sure people talk about the strikeouts and they're a concern, but sometimes with a power hitter, that's there," Avila said. "We're working through that to make him a little bit less prone to the strikeouts. He's working hard for that."

Thompson, 20, is from the Dallas area and had played at his local major league park, the Texas Rangers' stadium in Arlington, Texas. He pitches for the Tigers' Class A Lakeland team -- and it won't be a shock if he soon moves up to join Moya at Erie.

"He's a special talent," Avila said of Thompson last week. "Even though he's in Lakeland, he's really not that far away from the big leagues because of the way he's been able to command those pitches and the consistency."

Thompson is 6-4 for Lakeland with a 3.14 ERA in 16 starts. He had given up one homer all season until he gave up two in his most recent start.

Thompson felt a bit drowsy at the team breakfast Sunday until someone mentioned that in the 15-year history of the Futures Game, more than 100 of its participants have become major league All-Stars.

"When they read that, I kind of perked up," Thompson said before the game.

Afterward, he said, "It's cool to get the win, but it's not what this is all about. It's getting the experience and playing with all these talented guys."


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Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)

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