By Tom Joyce
Nathan Thompson’s career is flourishing as the Santa Ynez Valley native is in his second year of professional baseball, pitching for a minor-league affiliate of the Houston Astros.
Thompson graduated from Santa Ynez Valley Union High School in 2012 and spent a few years at Hancock College before transferring to Oklahoma Baptist University.
As a senior at Oklahoma Baptist in 2016, the Santa Ynez native and left-handed pitcher shined against Division 2 competition; he went 8-3 with a 2.81 ERA and struck out 126 batters in 96 innings. His performance attracted the attention of pro scouts and because of that, he was selected by the Astros in the 27th round of last year’s MLB Draft.
“It was incredible,” he said. “I really worked hard my senior year to make that possible. To hear my name called over the draft, it was an incredible feeling.”
Thompson has spent this summer — his second year in professional baseball — with the Tri-City ValleyCats, the Astros’ Short-Season A minor league affiliate.
He has been pitching out of the bullpen, primarily throwing three innings at a time. In seven outings totaling 20.2 innings, he had struck out 30 batters and posted a 1.74 ERA.
The long relief role might not be one Thompson is accustomed to, but he has excelled in it nonetheless.
“In college I used to start a lot, so I went really deep into games,” he said. “The role I’m seeing now is a shorter role and I’m fine with that. I’ll get my innings when I’m out there even if it’s only two or three at a time. I just want to go out there and show them I can pitch.”
This is not the first time Thompson has been a long reliever. Last year, he pitched for the Greeneville Astros (a Rookie Ball affiliate) and he came out of the bullpen in seven of his 10 appearances.
“Last year in rookie ball was fun,” he reflected. “It was competitive, but I would say up here is a little more competitive.”
Before he got the scouts’ attention at Oklahoma Baptist, he started his college baseball career at Hancock College. Thompson said he was thankful for the opportunity to showcase his ability at a smaller school because his success there translated to more success at higher levels.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Even from a young age, I always had a good opportunity to show myself off. I got into the right place at the right time. When I got to junior college, they were looking for a starter when I walked in and I was a starter. At Oklahoma, they needed left-handed pitching and I’m a left-handed pitcher. It was perfect timing throughout my college career.”
Going from his junior year to his senior year at Oklahoma Baptist, Thompson had to adapt once again because his team transitioned from the NAIA to being a Division 2 NCAA program. Ultimately, he made that adjustment without issue.
“The jump from NAIA to Division 2 was a little different,” he said. “I don’t want to not credit NAIA though because it can be very competitive. It was a jump, but it was an even bigger jump from my senior year to where I am now. I think I’ve been doing well at adapting to that.”