Competitive spirit drives Cubs' third-rounder

Competitive spirit drives Cubs' third-rounder

CHICAGO -- Auburn baseball coach Butch Thompson has helped several pitchers reach the Majors, so when he says Keegan Thompson -- a right-hander the Cubs selected in the third round of the MLB Draft on Tuesday -- might be the most competitive pitcher he's ever had, it means something. He has the perfect example, too.

The coach sets the scene. Thompson is in the eighth inning of his start. It's been a good day, the kind of day he likes. He might get nicked for a run or two, but as long as he's going deep into the game and getting outs, it's all OK. It's here, in a road regional, that Thompson's true colors come out.

"He's thrown 7 2/3 innings, he's looking for one more out," Butch Thompson says of his pitcher. "There's a foul ball in front of our dugout. He leaves the mound and dives head-first into the railing."

That competitiveness is a large part of Thompson's makeup. He also has a pretty good arm, making him one of eight pitchers the Cubs selected with their first 11 picks.

The Draft concludes on Wednesday, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 11-40 beginning on MLB.com at 11 a.m. CT.

Thompson can get his fastball up to 95 mph and has strong control over a variety of pitches. His curveball is his go-to pitch when he gets into a jam, but that didn't happen too often, as he posted a 2.41 ERA through 93 1/3 innings last season.

The righty has also dealt with adversity. He missed his junior year while recovering from Tommy John surgery but came back stronger than ever, adding a new pitch to his repertoire and turning down a 33rd-round 2016 Draft selection by the Detroit Tigers to go back to school and improve his stock.

"We've all seen somebody have this surgery and go through this experience," Butch Thompson said. "I don't know if I've ever seen anybody attack it the same way."

Butch Thompson noted his pitcher never took a day off while rehabbing, feeling that he didn't want to waste any days. For that, his presence in the clubhouse was mighty, even if he wasn't able to get on the mound.

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"Through his rehab and everything, he just competed so much," Butch Thompson said, adding a laugh before continuing. "He was the leader of our ballclub last year and couldn't even play."

And now that Keegan Thompson has made up for lost time, his coach doesn't expect there to be much more.

2017 Draft: Keegan Thompson, RHP

Reaffirming Thompson's maturity, Butch Thompson said he wasn't even sure how much he was able to help his pitcher improve because he was already such a strong competitor with a perfect mindset. The coach doesn't think he'll need much more help along the way, either.

"I don't like using the word ready-made, but I don't know how much the Cubs have to do with him," Butch Thompson said. "This young man has pitched in the SEC. This young man has pitched for his country. This young man has won state championships.

"I think he's a Major League pitcher. And I think it'll be sooner as opposed to later."

Scott Chasen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.