ANAHEIM – When Dodgers outfielder Trayce Thompson was a senior at Santa Margarita High, he was invited to work out at Angel Stadium. Another invited guest was Aaron Altherr, now an outfielder for the Philadelphia Phillies. In Altherr, a tall and slender outfielder, Thompson saw a kindred spirit.
Thompson inherited the wingspan of his father, former Lakers big man Mychal Thompson. So did his brother, Golden State Warriors guard Klay. Long arms are an indisputable asset on a basketball court, but in a batter’s box they can be a burden. There are solid hitters taller than Thompson – Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees rookie Aaron Judge, Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger – but few have limbs as long as his.
That’s why Thompson studies all of them.
“I remember when I first got drafted, Stanton’s a Southern California guy so a lot of the scouts talked to me about him,” he said. “I watched a lot of video of Matt Kemp. A-Rod. Guys that are of that stature. I tried to pick up on some habits, some stuff that works for them. At the end of the day, I’m myself. I’m still learning what works best for me.”
For Thompson, that’s a process that takes time. After missing the entire second half of last season with a back injury, he suffered through a miserable April at the plate. Shuttling between the majors and Oklahoma City to begin the season, Thompson didn’t collect a hit until his 30th at-bat. He didn’t find any consistency until May.
The trick, Thompson said, was doing drills designed to corral his long swing into something more efficient and effective.
“We found a pretty good routine that’s helped me the last couple weeks,” he said.
Long arms make outside pitches easier to reach for Thompson than most hitters, but a good test is his ability to hit pitches on the inner half of the plate. The same holds true for baseball’s other long-limbed sluggers.
“When you have long arms, your levers are longer,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “To try and manage an entire strike zone with the velocity it’s tougher. To look at comparables as far as physique makes sense.”
That’s what made Thompson’s home run Wednesday – his first hit in the majors in nearly a year – so satisfying.
Angels pitcher Keynan Middleton pitched Thompson by the book, pounding a 96-mph fastball over the inner half. Thompson got around on the pitch quickly, launching it 413 feet to left field for a home run.
“You look at a lot of bigger guys…