When Tyler Saladino spent his first week's worth of games looking like a big leaguer, it was an utter novelty.
Now, Trayce Thompson has taken Saladino's strong first impression idea and hoisted it to crazy statistical heights. After going 3-for-4 with a triple, double and three RBIs against the Red Sox on Tuesday night, Thompson is hitting .522/.560/.957 in his first 25 plate appearances.
It comes with a stipulation of course: 18 of his 25 plate appearances have come against left-handed pitching. While Saladino was thrown into the deep end as an everyday player batting second, Robin Ventura has deployed Thompson cautiously with a soft launch. Thompson has only started consecutive games once, mostly because Ventura hasn't yet let him start a game against a righty.
He's made the most out of the platoon advantage, going 10-for-17 with a double, a triple and two homers against southpaws, one of which prompted MLB.com to give it the StatCast treatment:
In an even smaller sample, Thompson hasn't thrown any flags with his limited looks against righties, going 2-for-6 with a walk. But he hasn't faced above-average heat from that side since his very first plate appearance, which resulted in a four-pitch strikeout by Chris Archer.
Eventually, it will make sense to get him a block of starts regardless of handedness. It's just hard to tell how just how eager Ventura is. From this quote, it seems imminent:
"It's going to get there," said Ventura of Thompson facing more righties. "We talked about improvements you've seen with guys from Spring Training and then you get to see them again. His has been a big jump. He belongs here and he knows that. The way he's taking his at-bats, he's going up there being aggressive and confidence is high with him right now."
From this one, not so much.
"I think that's something new for him," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said of Thompson's start-stop schedule so far. "He's been able to do it so far, having a couple of days off, come in there, produce and play well. To be up here and doing what he's doing is part of adding to your résumé. Eventually, I'm sure he'll get some starts in there against some righties, and we'll see how that goes."
Thompson says he's ready for more righties:
"I know I can hit righties, but it's manager Robin [Ventura's] call," said Thompson, who is the No. 14-ranked prospect in the White Sox organization. "I don't think about that at all, just try to do my thing and prepare like I'm playing. Even before the lineup comes out, I still prepare like I'm playing. There's kind of a lot of situations where I come into the game later anyway, so I'm always ready, I'm always ready to help contribute."
But his confidence notwithstanding, I like the way Ventura is handling the exploratory phase. With questionable defenders in the corners, a left-handed hitting center fielder and a left-handed void at DH, Thompson has a natural spot on next year's roster doing exactly what he's doing now. It's also allowing Ventura to whittle down Adam LaRoche's role to include only pitchers he stands a puncher's chance at putting good swings on. If the Sox can figure out a use for LaRoche by the end of the year -- and they're going to need a left-handed hitter to show up one way or another -- maybe they won't have to live through so much trial and error during his rebooting, assuming they don't give him the boot over the winter.
There's also the matter of Saladino, who is a good example for tempering early enthusiasm:
First eight games: .355/.355/.613 over 33 PA
- Since: .217/.261/.279 over 139 PA
Saladino kinda has to play every day, because he's a better use of those starts than Gordon Beckham, even if he's facing steep odds for survival. There isn't the urgency with Thompson. Maybe he can look better against righties than Avisail Garcia, but Garcia needs reps just as much -- if not more -- to inform the Sox about his own future, as it's a more pressing question. After watching Micah Johnson, Carlos Sanchez and now Saladino spend their early days swimming upstream out of necessity, Ventura may as well use the luxury to keep Thompson precocious for just a little longer.