Had the White Sox rebuild started a year earlier than it did, there’s a good chance that Trayce Thompson would have factored heavily into the front office’s long-term plans.
He certainly wouldn’t have been swapped for Todd Frazier in that win-now three-team deal before the 2016 season. And with his age what it was, he might’ve been viewed as a key cog in those now-so-omnipresent 2020 lineup projections.
At least, that’s where Thompson always wanted to be.
“Getting traded from here, I was devastated,” Thompson said. “Playing for the Dodgers was special, but I wanted to be with the White Sox. I was drafted by this team when I was a teenager. I wanted to be here for as long as I could possibly think of. … These guys took a chance on me when I was a teenager and they stuck with me when I was not good in the minor leagues. They always believed in me, so I always hope for the best for this organization.”
More than two seasons later, Thompson is once again with the White Sox, acquired in a Thursday trade with the Oakland Athletics. But this time he’ll have to work his way into talk of the team’s bright future. Though he’s still a young player at 27, he’s not named Eloy Jimenez or Luis Robert or Micker Adolfo or Luis Alexander Basabe or Charlie Tilson or Ryan Cordell or Daniel Palka or Luis Gonzalez.
But none of those guys have the opportunity Thompson does now: to impress this coaching staff and this front office at the major league level.
“I think like that anywhere I go,” Thompson said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m in Chicago or L.A. or Oakland. I always thought that I had the ability to play every day. I feel like I showed that when I was here in ’15. I know it was brief, small sample size. I know that. But then in ’16 I thought I did the same thing in L.A. There was a point there in the middle of that season where I was hitting in the middle of the order for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was 25 years old, and I know it was a small sample size, but I know I’m that same player. It’s up to me to go prove myself again.”
In this developmental season, where contenting for a championship isn’t expected, why not?
Of course in order to earn that consideration, Thompson will have to play much more like he did that last time he wore a White Sox uniform than how he has since he left. In 44 games with the South Siders in 2015, Thompson opened a lot of eyes with a .295/.363/.533 slash line and 16 extra-base hits in 122 at-bats. After getting dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers, however, he slashed just .225/.302/.436 in 80 games in 2016 and was much worse in 27 games last season: .122/.218/.265.
“Last year I was terrible,” Thompson said. “I was terrible last year. I have to prove that I’m the same guy I was before that, and I think I’m ready to. I had a full offseason to work out and get ready, so like I said I’m ready to go.”
Thompson is likely to get plenty of opportunity. After a red-hot spring, Adam Engel is looking much like he did last season, entering action Friday with a .179 batting average in 14 games. Nicky Delmonico has quietly been one of the team’s more reliable hitters, with a .283 average and a .377 on-base percentage, but as expected his splits are heavily skewed: He’s hitting .316 against righties and is just 1-for-8 against lefties.
“I think he’s going to provide an option at all three outfield positions,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “Certainly, at the bare minimum, he’ll provide some defensive assistance late in ballgames like we’ve used Leury Garcia for that purpose a few times.
“I think now with Trayce in that role could potentially give Nicky a little time against certain lefties. I think we’re real pleased with the way Nicky battles against lefties and righties, and he’s not necessarily screaming out for a platoon partner per say, but there’ll be a couple of matchups where Trayce could help with that. And he plays a very strong center field, and we’ve got a guy in Engel right now who’s sort of struggling to get back to where he was all spring, and hopefully he can find that soon and in the interim Ricky now has another option to go along with that out there depending on how he sees the set lineup.”
Thompson can increase that opportunity by playing well, obviously, and if he plays well enough, perhaps he can work his way into the discussion for what’s looking like a real crowded outfield of the future.
Before the rebuild, Thompson captured the imaginations of White Sox fans looking toward the future. With all eyes focused there now, Thompson’s task becomes putting himself in that picture once again.
“I think it’s an extremely exciting time,” Thompson said of the rebuilding White Sox. “You get to see a lot of the guys that are going to be here for the next hopefully decade or so. I think it’s a really exciting time to see a lot of the talent that’s out on the field, not just here but also in Charlotte or in Birmingham, wherever all those young guys are that I got to see in spring training a lot. It’s pretty impressive.
“I’ve known those guys, like I said, since I was 18 years old and they’re pure baseball people. So it’s an exciting time and everybody’s going to do their absolute best to go out and win a game that day. Fans have to be patient, but like I said, I think it’s exciting because look what happened in Houston or look what happened a couple years with those Royals teams. It took them a little while to get going. So I think it’s the start of something great here.”