Riley Thompson – Picture by Micah Manuel/Tennessee Smokies

For the last three months, we slowly have gone through our mail bag questions. Now that the off-season series are over, I’m starting to get through a lot of them over the past week, I’ve done a couple that have had three questions in each post but today I thought I would take an entire post to answer just one question because this question needs some serious dedication – aka Paul – asks, “How will Riley Thompson do next year at Iowa?”

Let me get out my crystal ball.

The last time I saw Riley Thompson pitch in person was in September 2019 in Clinton, Iowa. That night he threw five innings and struck out 10. He did not allow any hits as South Bend won the Midwest League championship, the first as a Cub affiliate.

Pic by Todd Johnson

For Thompson, I saw him pitch several times that summer and came away impressed with his mid 90s fastball and hammer curve. He also had a pretty good changeup and heading into 2023, it is said he has added a slider to his repertoire.

For Riley, 2022 was a make up year after missing two full seasons due to the pandemic and some injury concerns. The Cubs have since revamped his delivery after he started off last year at Tennessee.

He pitched well last April, as he threw 12 innings with a 2.25 ERA.

But after his May 5 start, the Cubs put him on the development list and reworked his delivery. They shortened his arm path which seemed to make him more accurate in the zone, and it also shortened up his delivery time.

When he returned in mid June, he only lasted 1/3 of an inning and gave up five runs. At that point, you had to wonder what he was mentally going through but a new delivery is going to take time. And Riley showed the patience that was needed to make it work.

In July and August, the Cubs kept him on a short leash as they continued to stretch him out to ease into the new delivery. He made four starts in July with a 2.53 ERA. In August, he had a 3.60 ERA in 20 innings where he also struck out 20. He did not allow an earned run in two September starts and it looked like he was ending the year on a high note. 

He did make two starts in the postseason where he threw 9.1 innings with an ERA just above six. In total, he went out throwing 66.1 total innings with a 4+ ERA. Keep in mind, that his last half of the year was outstanding. It was probably one of the most under reported stories in the system

Now that all that is said, the fact that he has a new pitch heading into AAA is going to be very interesting because he really has not taken it out for a test run and game action yet. He’ll have all spring training to work on it and to fine tune the best grip for his release point so that it blends in with his curve and change and gives him a really nice four pitch mix.

Riley could be this year’s Javier Assad. And by that I mean he’s a guy who could kind of come out of nowhere in terms of not being on prospect list, but I think he’s been a top prospect all along. I have him ranked number 12 on my top prospect list that I put out back in November. I wrote:

12. Riley Thompson – STUD. Big game pitcher, pitched great the last 6 weeks of 2022.

And I’ve always thought of him that way.

So, with all those things in mind, the key for him doing well is going to be him controlling that slider and being able to mix-and-match what he needs in certain situations at Triple-A. It’s a lot different than Double-A, but if you can make it at Tennessee, you can make it in Iowa as long as you are able to adjust to each hitter. He’s gonna be facing guys that have major league experience, or are on a 40-man roster, and they’re going to be doing everything they can to get to the major leagues as soon as possible.

For Riley, he’s going to be doing the same thing.