First-round prospects get drafted to a ton of fanfare. “The future of the franchise.” “This guy is really going to be something.” “Can’t-miss-big-league talent.”
Then they disappear into the sausage factory that is a minor league system and we wait for them to come out the other side. And wait. And wait.
Baseball is totally unlike football and basketball where a drafted player is expected to go right onto the team and make an immediate impact. That’s because college football is the NFL’s minor league system and college basketball is the NBA’s minor league system.
And, to be honest, it’s because those sports are easier to master. Learning to hit major league pitching takes time.
So, way back when Bubba Thompson was selected in the first round by the Texas Rangers, way back in 2017, so far back that there wasn’t even a pandemic, Rangers fans have been hearing his name. Bubba Thompson was going to be special. He was going to be a difference maker. He was going to be, finally, a success story of the Jon Daniels era, which has had one fewer than the average large foam hand you can buy at a fan gift shop.
But learning baseball is hard. And Bubba Thompsons ascension to the next great thing—or in the Rangers case, the first great thing—was slow. He did fine, if not blow-the-doors-off-the-joint great, in Rookie ball in 2017 and in Low-A ball the following year. So, naturally, in 2019, he went to High-A. And fell flat, hitting just .178 with an on-base percentage of .261.
Shut down like the rest of the world in 2020, the then twenty-three-year-old outfielder moved to Double-A in 2021. Really, it was time to see if this kid had anything. He got better, combining power with his unbelievable speed. And putting himself back on the right trajectory and back on the prospect radar.
So, he was bumped up to Triple-A at Round Rock to start 2022. He excelled, hitting .304, smacking 13 homers, and leading all of minor leaguedom in steals, with 49.
The Rangers, desperate for offense, called up Thompson this week. He made his major league debut Thursday in left field at home against the White Sox.
In his second at-bat, he reached on an error. But his third at-bat was pivotal. He laid down a perfect bunt and with his speed he legged out a single that loaded the bases and set up the sac fly that would be the eventual game-winning run.
Not bad for a first game, going 1-for3.
Yesterday, he singled his first time up. Then promptly stole second for his first major league steal. He wouldn’t have to wait long for his second one. When he reached on an error in the seventh, he stole again.
Two games, two hits in seven at-bats, two stolen bases. Who knows where his career will go from here.
But after all those years of hearing about him, Bubba Thompson is here. He’s twenty-four. And he’s ready to be the Rangers next left fielder.