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BASEBALL: Indiana's Thompson signs with Virginia Commonwealth

by ELI NELLIS eli@indianagazette.net on August 14, 2013 10:40 AM

Sean Thompson isn’t looking too far ahead, but he’s confident enough in himself to set up for success.

A right-handed pitcher soon to be a senior at Indiana High School, Thompson has committed to play baseball at Virginia Commonwealth University with the idea of continuing to play the game beyond that.

“When I finally got down on campus, it just felt like that was where I wanted to go for my next three or four years of college,” he said.

Three or four — many college players that are selected in the Major League Baseball draft are taken following their junior year.

“Hopefully I can grow there as a better student and possibly go into the professionals if I get to that point, but I just want to go with who can give me the best chance to do that. … I feel like they would give me the best chance to really reach my peak of ability, and then, hopefully, if it comes to that, get a chance to play past college.”

Thompson was a key cog on an Indiana team that last spring won the WPIAL Section 2-AAA championship, its first section title in nine years, and went to the WPIAL playoffs, finishing with a 14-5 record. He hit in the middle of the lineup, playing mainly right field when not pitching, but his strength moving forward is clearly on the mound. He went 4-1 last season with a 1.59 earned-run average, posting four complete games in six starts and striking out 53 batters in 44 innings.

“It was obvious,” he said. “They came and saw me like four or five times this summer, which gave them a good look at what I could do with all my pitches. They saw me hit a little bit, but I definitely feel like I’m stronger on the mound.

“I’ve gotten a lot bigger so I have a lot more behind the ball. I can get to the upper 80s (miles per hour). I’m getting close to the 90 level, so I definitely have like a power fastball. Then I have three offspeed pitches that I can throw for strikes, so whenever I have all those working for me it helps a lot.”

The improvement for Thompson, who now stands 6-foot-4? inches and weighs 180 pounds, is a testament to the work he’s put in over the past few years to become the pitcher he is today — with the potential for more down the road.

“I’ve told Sean that he wasn’t the best player on that junior varsity team his freshman year,” said Ryan Davies, who was recently named Indiana’s head varsity coach after three years working as an assistant in the program. “He was a good athlete. He was actually probably more of a catcher than a pitcher. … He was around 6 feet tall as a freshman, but still really lanky. We knew he wasn’t really going to stick at catcher, and as the season went along, he really started to progress as a pitcher. But that kid worked his tail off at practices. After games he has a routine he does. He runs on his own. I’m out at the (White Township Recreation) Complex here 10 months out of the year between high school baseball, county league, coaching a 13-year-old travel team, practices. I see Sean three or four times a week with his dad, hitting, throwing. He does a ton of work on his own. You can’t ask for a better kid to coach than one that wants to work as hard as he does.”

Thompson is the first Indiana High School player to commit to a Division I baseball program since 2001 graduate Anthony Raglani, who went to George Washington, an Atlantic 10 school, as is VCU. Raglani was picked in the fifth round of the 2004 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and spent four years in the Dodgers’ minor league system.

“Between (former major leaguer) Mike Ryan, Raglani and now Sean, it hopefully gives the younger kids, maybe kids in Little League or Junior Legion, the idea — Hey, he did it. He worked hard. Maybe I can do it.”

Thompson said he also considered Kent State, West Virginia, Penn State, Morehead State, Radford and Marshall.

“I liked the ability to be down South and be able to throw all year long outside, get the good feel from being on the field,” Thompson said. “Shawn Stiffler, the head coach, he’s a Somerset native. He’s a Pa. guy. He likes to talk to his kids. I feel like he’s a guy you’re going to want to spend and learn from for the next couple years. And just basically the reputation of their school, they have good academics. I take that pretty seriously. That was another big factor in it.”

Thompson plans to pursue business and finance.

His first goal in baseball will be to crack the VCU starting rotation, whether in the main weekend lineup for conference games or in midweek non-conference games.

“They told me basically that they’re investing in me, so they’re going to want to give me a chance,” Thompson said. “They told me they’re going to give me every chance to fail, so I think I’m going to get plenty of opportunities to at least show myself in the fall and then hopefully I go in there looking more like a sophomore or junior. That way it will give me a chance to get some time on the mound.”

There’s also a chance Thompson will get tabbed in the MLB draft out of high school next summer. That would obviously open up other possibilities, ones he would look at if the time comes.

“I’m starting to get on the radar a little bit,” Thompson said. “I wouldn’t say I’m 100 percent definitely going (to get drafted), I don’t think anyone could tell you that. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, getting bigger and stuff, but I’m hoping I’m going to at least have a chance to pop up in the draft. … But if not, I definitely have a good plan with VCU, and then hopefully after another three years that would give me another chance.”

“I think it’s a real possibility,” Davies said. “I know that there have been some scouts that have seen him. If he stays healthy and keeps progressing year-to-year as he has, I don’t think there’s any question he’ll get drafted.”

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