This is a significant package for the relatively thin Detroit farm system to part with. Both Thompson and Knebler ranked among the Tiger’s top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America’s pre-season list, and both have had successful campaigns this year.
Knebel, a star closer for the University of Texas, was the 39th overall pick in last year’s draft. The 22 year old signed quickly and dominated immediately, pitching to an 0.87 ERA and fanning 41 batters across 31 innings for the Class-A West Michigan in his first professional summer. He was just as untouchable to start 2014, posting an 0.95 ERA and 12.7 K/9 over 19 innings between Double and Triple-A, and on May 24th Detroit made him the first 2013 draft pick to play in the majors.
Knebel lasted only six games before he was sent back to Triple-A, but he returned last Saturday. Over 8 major league appearances, Knebel owns a 6.23 ERA but solid peripherals – 3.1 BB/9, 11.4 SO/9.
That superb strikeout rate is a product of his dominant stuff. Knebel works off of a biting fastball that has averaged 94.3 MPH in the big leagues (per Fangraphs.com) and can touch 98. His primary secondary pitch is a hard, biting curve, a plus pitch that Baseball America called the best in the Tigers system before the season. He can also capable of tossing a decent change-up, but he is not wont to use it, tossing it on only 3 out of every 100 pitches he’s thrown in the majors. Baseball America ranked him seventh best prospect before the season and MLB.com currently has him at number five.
Thompson, on the other hand, came in at #5 on BA’s list and #3 on MLB.com’s rankings, partly because of the simple fact that he is a starter. After a strong campaign in rookie ball in 2012 in class-A last year, the 20 year old made 16 starts for High-A Lakeland in 2014 and looked solid in almost every one of them. He went 6-4 with a 3.14 ERA and noteworthy peripherals: 2.7 BB/9, 8.6 SO/9.
That success prompted a recent call up to Double-A Erie, where Thompson has made but one start thus far, giving up two runs, two walks, and whiffing two batters in six innings of work. But he was taken in the second round out of high school in 2012, and for a prep pitcher to reach Double-A in this short amount of time is a statement in and of itself.
Baseball Prospectus writer Jordan Gorosh recently profiled Thompson for the Detroit Free Press. He gave a glowing scouting report, stating that the young prospect has good command of 90-94 MPH two and four seam fastballs that he can throw to any part of the plate. Thompson’s backs it up with a “wipeout” slider, his out-pitch, and he mixes in a curveball and chang-up that are still developing.
Gorosh notes that the 6’4 235 pound starter has an odd delivery in which he lands stiff on his front leg, but the primary concern for Thompson is fastball and change-up command, as well as his ability deep into games. He ultimately labels him as a future No. 3 or No. 4 starter, with a lot riding on the latter issue.
Detroit had to part with two of their most talented young pitchers to acquire Soria, but their bullpen arguably left them no alternative. The Tigers have had the fifth worst bullpen ERA (4.41) in the majors this season, as well as the second highest batting average against (.272). Their Now former closer, veteran Joe Nathan, had been particularly ineffective, with a 5.89 ERA in 36.2 innings this year.