Double-threat Cory Thompson weighs
his options

By Marc Katz

Babe Ruth entered the major leagues as a pitcher, not a slugging outfielder. Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron were shortstops before they were outfielders. Trevor Hoffman signed as a shortstop and made it to the Hall of Fame as a pitcher. Rick Ankiel made it to the big leagues as a pitcher. When his control went south, he made it again as
an outfielder.

Baseball, more than most other team sports, requires multiple proficiencies. Sometimes a player can do everything. Sometimes a player can do only one thing. Sometimes the choice is made for the player Sometimes the player makes the choice himself.

I get the idea Hunter Greene could have lobbied the Cincinnati Reds to play him exclusively at shortstop, or as a hitter anywhere in the lineup. He didn’t, and played a few games last season in rookie ball as a DH and a few games as a pitcher. At the end of the season, they asked him to at least begin his career exclusively as a pitcher.

After all, he’s still 18 and throws a fastball at 100 mph or better.

It’s a little early to be canonizing Greene, but there’s also no reason to delay praise for an 18-year-old who can throw a baseball that fast, even though his third start last week was rumpled by a grand slam and seven earned runs in two-thirds of an inning.

He’s got the ability, and he gives a certain major league team struggling to win one game a week something to dream about.

Greene is playing with the Dragons, where he is carefully monitored, especially during this cold early part to the season.

There is no talk of moving him back to shortstop, at least at this point of his career, especially since the Reds have seen several of their minor league shortstops promoted to the big leagues. Pitching is different. Pitching is always mentioned at the bottom of Help Wanted signs.

Another pitcher/shortstop on the Dragons’ roster answering that need is
Cory Thompson.

For now, Thompson won’t be judged in the same breaths as Greene, because Greene was a first-round free agent draft pick, the No. 2 player overall selected last summer.

Just a radar ring or two under that was Thompson, a fifth-round selection by the Reds in 2013. In draft years, that’s a long time ago, but there were complications.

Like Greene, Thompson signed out of high school playing the two primary positions. He never hit 100 mph on the radar gun, but hit 93, which was good enough. Several teams wanted him as a pitcher, while a few were comfortable taking him as a shortstop.

The Reds got him in the fifth round—prospect territory. Wanting to play every day, Thompson began his pro career at short.

Most of baseball has yet to embrace using a good-hitting pitcher at another position as well, although the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani is giving some scouts pause.

Thompson serves as an example of why there aren’t more Ohtanis.

He has already suffered two significant injuries, a dislocated shoulder while diving for a ball at short in 2015, and a torn ligament swinging his bat in the on-deck circle in 2016. He played for the Dragons in both seasons, hitting miserably around
rehab assignments.

At the finish of spring training 2017, the Reds asked Thompson if he could still pitch.

Dragons manager Luis Bolivar helped tutor Thompson as a hitter and thought he had promise, especially at shortstop, a position Bolivar played. However, hitting usually takes longer to develop, and Thompson had just missed most of two seasons in
the process.

It was decided he could be developed as a pitcher sooner, and, after all, he was a prospect as a pitcher out of high school. “As a hitter, you’ve got to see a lot of pitches,” Bolivar said. “There’s a lot more to do. You develop faster as a pitcher.”

Thompson initially balked, but went along.

“They told me they wanted me to pitch because I was kind of behind schedule in at-bats and everything,” Thompson said. “At first, I wasn’t happy about it, then I made up my mind I would pitch. My injuries kind of put me behind.”

He pitched well at Billings last season, but was old to be starting a new-position career.

He has been better so far this season, not allowing an earned run over his first six appearances covering 6-2/3 innings.

“I don’t want to talk about it and jinx myself,” he said with a smile.

He hasn’t jinxed himself, and he’s showing the Reds he can pitch, maybe not with the same high ceiling as Greene, but with a high enough ceiling to advance to the majors.

Like Greene, he may have a useful bat as well.

Babe Ruth did.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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