Texas Rangers

Why all was not lost for Rangers prospect Thompson during injury-filled 2019

The hamate bone is the appendix of the human hand. A ballplayer can live a fully healthy and productive life without one, just like the appendix.

Once a hamate bone breaks, the best remedy is surgery to remove it. The recovery time is typically four to six weeks, though Texas Rangers All-Star Joey Gallo didn’t play over the final nine weeks this season after having the hamate bone removed from his right hand July 25.

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Giancarlo Stanton and Ken Griffey Jr. were sideline by the pesky bone in past seasons. The same thing happened to Delino DeShields in 2018 in the second game of the season.

So, the No. 4 player in the Star-Telegram’s countdown of the top 10 Rangers prospects finds himself in good company.

No. 4: Bubba Thompson, CF

Age: 21 (June 8, 1998)

Bats/throws: Right/right

Height: 6-foot-1

Weight: 180 pounds

How acquired: 1st round, 2017 draft

Chris Woodward’s eyes were opened wide one March day this year after seeing Bubba Thompson unload on a pitch for a home run to dead center field at Surprise Stadium.

The Texas Rangers’ manager was intrigued, to say the least, with the former first-round draft pick who had only improved since the Rangers selected him in 2017.

The Rangers, meanwhile, were hoping to see one of their three center-field prospects take off and force the Rangers to promote him. One did, Leody Taveras.

Bubba Thompson, though, found himself on an operating table in April because of a broken hamate bone in his left hand. He returned in mid-June four games with High A Down East, but crashed into an outfield wall and needed a month to recover.

By the time he was ready in mid-July, the swing Woodward saw was gone and so was half the season.

But don’t feel too sorry for Thompson, because he doesn’t feel sorry for himself. He is rescuing his season in the Arizona Fall League, a haven for advanced prospects who need a challenge or a lifeline.

It’s serving as both for Thompson.

“How I did this year didn’t really make me satisfied,” he said. “Just stay positive and keep working, and know your worst. It can happen to anybody. Just stay focused and keep grinding through it.

“I feel like I’m getting better each and every day as my at-bats come and I’m building more confidence going into the next season.”

The final regular-season numbers for Thompson were fairly gruesome. He batted .178, posted a .573 OPS and struck out 72 times in 202 at-bats, but some good was sprinkled in there.

Fifteen of his 36 hits went for extra bases, and his 21 walks in 57 games were only two shy of his 2018 total in 84 games. Thompson said that part of what helped him get going again was a better understanding of the strike zone.

As of Tuesday in Arizona, Thompson was hitting .288 with an .878 OPS. He was still striking out too much (19 in 52 at-bats), but he had drawn eight walks in 15 games.

The Rangers have asked him to be short and quick to the ball, and Thompson said that is helping his strong fall. They also want him to get his foot down early and not drift too much.

“When I came back, it was just finding my swing and not thinking anymore,” Thompson said. “When I walk up to the box, having a plan and having my confidence back. By the end of the season I started feeling that and heading into the Fall League. I just keep working on stuff, stay confident in myself, stick with my plan and have my swing down pat.

“I’m squaring up the balls I’m supposed to be squaring up.”

Taveras reached Double A Frisco this season after starting alongside Thompson in Down East. The Rangers promoted Julio Pablo Martinez in mid-April from Low A Hickory to replace Thompson, and the Cuban struggled mightily.

All three play center field, which appears to be a logjam in the making. Thompson, though, played more games in left field this season than in center and is splitting time between the positions in Arizona.

“I’m not worried about that, man,” Thompson said. “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do. Everything is going to play itself out.”

The Rangers consider this season a learning experience for Thompson. Players have to deal with adversity throughout their careers, and Thompson now has an understanding of what it takes to cope with an injury.

He remains imminently coachable, and his athleticism allows him to quickly make adjustments. Thompson is still only two years into his baseball-only life after splitting time between football and baseball in high school.

The Rangers are waiting to see what they can tap into next with his swing.

“One thing about Bubba is he has high aptitude and a big-time work ethic,” assistant general manager Mike Daly said. “I think the goal for everybody is to get him healthy and be able to continue to help him develop a quality major-league swing.

“It’s a really good learning year for Bubba. It’s unfortunate that he had to fight through all those injuries, but we’re still really, really high on him.”

Top 10 Rangers prospects

No. 10: Sherten Apostel, 3B

No. 9: Nick Solak, 2B

No. 8: Joe Palumbo, LHP

No. 7: Ricky Vanasco, RHP

No. 6: Leody Taveras, CF

No. 5: Cole Winn, RHP

No. 4: Bubba Thompson, CF

No. 3: Friday

No. 2: Monday

No. 1: Tuesday

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This story was originally published October 17, 2019 6:00 AM.

After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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