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Zach Thompson: Another gem found by the Marlins

The 27-year-old righty has been lights out in his first five major league starts.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Some of the big-time pitchers in the Miami Marlins organization right now come from great prospect pedigree. Trevor Rogers is a former first-round draft pick; Sandy Alcántara and Sixto Sánchez were the centerpieces of blockbuster trades.

But many of these arm came out of nowhere. Pablo López was unheralded when he arrived from Seattle. Elieser Hernández was a Rule 5 draft pick, left unprotected by the Astros. Most recently, right-hander Zach Thompson has turned a modest minor league deal into a very successful first month in the Majors.

The 27-year-old Thompson didn’t grow up as a pitcher with the Marlins. He was drafted and signed by the White Sox in 2014 and was part of Chicago’s farm system until electing free agency after the 2020 season. Thompson performed well at times, but most often when he specialized as a reliever or faced younger competition. Last November 23, the Marlins grabbed him with an invitation to spring training. They took a flier on him.

Well, this signing already looks like a win for the Marlins’ pro scouting department. Thompson—forced into the Marlins rotation by injuries to Sánchez, Hernández and others—is thriving.

Entering Friday, Thompson has a 2-2 record with a 2.25 ERA. Even though he hasn’t gone deep into games, the righty has looked pretty good against the Braves (twice), Cubs, Nationals, and Red Sox. After losing his first start (at Boston on June 7), he’s pitched 21 innings of 13 hits, four earned runs, 30 strikeouts, a 1.71 ERA, and a .173 opponent batting average.

He attacks hitters mainly with a three-pitch repertoire, sometimes trying a changeup and a sinker but mostly using cutters, four-seam fastballs, and marvelous curveballs. The latter has become his two-strike pitch and has brought incredible outcomes to this point, including a .095 BAA and a 50.0 whiff percentage.

Devan Fink of FanGraphs analyzes Thompson’s cutter in greater detail here, even suggesting that “Thompson’s cutter might already be one of the best in baseball.”

Star-caliber hitters such as Juan Soto (1-for-3, 2 K), Josh Bell (0-for-3, 2 K), Ronald Acuña Jr. (1-for-6, HR, 1 K), Freddie Freeman (1-for-4, 1 K), Ozzie Albies (0-for-5, 1 K), and Kris Bryant (0-for-2, 1 K) have struggled to do damage against Thompson in the early going.

Acuña, Freeman and Albies will get a third look at Thompson on Friday in Miami. But regardless of how that goes, he should be getting an extended opportunity through the rest of 2021 to establish himself as an important part of the Marlins rotation.