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Thompson Has a Tra(y)ce of a Chance

It would be understandable if you didn’t notice when the Mets signed Trayce Thompson to a minor league deal this past December. Teams sign myriad players to minor league deals, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, or even a lightning bug in a jar, and often the players spend the season in the minors, or get released. Some get called up for a cup of coffee with the big-league squad, and even then, their impact is limited.

Still, one of the most enjoyable aspects of Spring Training baseball, is the fantasy that a few good games can ignite. Year after year, there are players with impressive showings in March that are never quite replicated when the actual season starts. In 2015, John Mayberry Jr., whom the Mets had signed as a free agent a few months earlier, had a spring training OPS that hovered around 1.200. It was enough to enable fans to think the Mets would have an unexpected run-producer in the middle of their lineup. Sadly, after 59 regular season games, his OPS was about half that (.545). He was designated for assignment before the end of June, and released a month later. He never played in the majors again.

That same season, Trayce Thompson had a solid major league debut with the Chicago White Sox, batting .295 with 5 home runs in 122 at-bats. It was enough to pique the interest of the Los Angeles Dodgers who included him in their return in a 3-team trade with the ChiSox and the Cincinnati Reds. Thompson made Los Angeles’ Opening Day roster in 2016 and hit 13 home runs in partial playing time over the first 80 games. A sore back put him on the injured list, and an MRI revealed multiple fractures in his back, which kept him on the list for the rest of the season. The following year he played in 27 games for Los Angeles, and the results were brutal with only 6 hits in 49 at-bats (4 of them were for extra bases though).

Over the next six seasons, Thompson bounced around to a remarkable degree, playing in the minors and/or majors for the Oakland A’s, the White Sox again, Cleveland Guardians, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers (again), and the White Sox (for a third time). If consistency was what teams were looking for, they got it. If success was their goal, then not so much, with only a strong 2022 in Los Angeles (a .901 OPS in 205 at-bats) as the outlier. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate – in 2021 he had a strong showing for the Cubs after getting called up in mid-September.

Nevertheless, there was something about Thompson’s game that intrigued the Mets enough to sign him to a minor league contract this past December. And now, a quarter of the way through Spring Training, Thompson has given the Mets something to think about. In his first (and so far, only) 8 at-bats this spring, Thompson has 4 hits: a single, a double, and 2 home runs (one of which was a grand slam). Okay, the sample size couldn’t be much smaller than 8 at-bats over 5 games. Believe me, I realize this. Still, with an outfield group that’s still being configured, a DH role that remains a mystery, and a bench that’s far from solidified, Thompson is doing what he can to be considered.

In a year of uncertain expectations, and a couple of early injuries, an unexpected competitor for a role is certainly noticed, and welcomed, and something to keep watching as we get into March.