The Cubs drafted Riley Thompson in the 11th round of the 2018 MLB Draft on the strength of a high-velocity fastball and devastating curveball. He had showcased those pitches as a reliever college baseball powerhouse Louisville, but the Cubs hoped they could smoothly transition him to a professional starting rotation.
That move has gone just about as well as anyone had imagined. If not for Tyson Miller, Thompson’s season might be worthy of earning him Cubs Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors. He has a beautiful stat line of a 2.50 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 23% strikeout rate in his 54 innings for the South Bend Cubs.
I was able to catch up with Thompson earlier this season to discuss everything from adjusting to a starting role and what he’s working on now to his favorite character from The Office.
CI: You’ve come out of the gate hot. Is this how you expected your first full season of pro ball to go?
RT: I didn’t really have many expectations. All I know is that I’m just trying to compete and play as hard as I can. That’s just kind of how my expectations go in the season. I’m just trying to play as hard as i can.
CI: Has there been anything specific that the coaches have been helping you with here? Any pitches you are looking to add or work more on?
RT: First thing is trying to work at getting better with sequencing pitches. Coming in from college, [I was] not really doing much of calling my own game or anything like that, so trying to get in to seeing how my pitches play and thinking the game better has been one area. And then developing a changeup for this year has been my go-to pitch and up until this year I hadn’t really had a changeup so it’s been two things I’m really working on.
CI: You were a reliever most of the time in college, what has been the biggest adjustment to starting full-time now?
RT: Not a huge change. I do like knowing when I’m going to pitch and I like getting into my routine, that’s nice. And just as everything goes along, now I’m going to pitch this day so I get to mentally prepare. A lot of times in the bullpen you’re just on pins and needles wondering if you’re going to pitch that day or not so I definitely like it. It’s easier on the nerves to start.
Being in the bullpen is nerve-wracking especially when it’s a tight game and it could be you, it could be another guy. You’re reading the situation and you have to prepare like you are going to pitch every single day.
CI: People who do not follow the Cubs system as closely have been quick to point out that they have not had a success story from the pitching side of things in Chicago. Does that motivate you at all?
RT: To be honest, no, I’ve never thought about that. Obviously it’s been my dream since I was a little kid to pitch in the big leagues and be a big league starter, but I will do whatever they want me to do. I’m just happy to be here and be pitching.
CI: Who are your favorite and least favorite characters in The Office?
RT: Favorite? Definitely Jim and Michael for sure. Least favorite? Worst character? That’s a hard one. Gosh I don’t know, that’s a hard one. I can’t say Toby. I was going to say maybe Angela. I get tired of Angela. I have watched The Office four times through.
While his decision to not include Kevin and Dwight may be questionable, something that can’t be questioned is Thompson’s skill and potential. He will look to continue his success down in South Bend for the time being, with the possibility of getting the call to High-A Myrtle Beach before the season comes to a close.