Reliever Rich Thompson has been in the Angels' organization almost as long as Mike Scioscia has, but unlike the 11th-year manager, he is coming to a point of no return.
Thompson, 26, is out of options, meaning the Angels would have to get him through waivers in order to demote him to Triple-A Salt Lake this spring. The question might be: Why would they want to?
It took him nine seasons, but Thompson's talents seem to be blooming late. Last year, he had a 0.61 ERA in a full season at Triple-A, then came up to the Angels and nearly repeated that success, going 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA.
Could this be the year the Sydney, Australia native, who seemed to fit in the "Four-A" category for the previous three years, finally sticks?
"He's got really good stuff. Last year, he matched it with command at Triple-A and matched it when he came to the big leagues, which is -- hopefully -- the breakthrough that we're talking about," Scioscia said.
Thompson is competing with other less-experienced relievers like Jason Bulger, Francisco Rodriguez, Jordan Walden and Michael Kohn for three open bullpen jobs. Like Thompson, Bulger is out of options.
Thompson has been with the Angels since he signed as a 17-year-old, so he's hoping he can stick around.
"I don't really want to have to start all over again," he said.
But that's just what he did after the Angels cut him at the end of last spring. He reported to minor-league camp and began working to refine a pitch he had only tinkered with before, a cut fastball. Instead of relying on a low-90s four-seam fastball and a sweeping curveball, he was able to give hitters a different look and get quicker outs.
It became a crucial weapon. Nearly one-third of his pitches with the Angels last year were cutters.
"I've always been a 110-percent guy, going as hard as I can," Thompson said. "This kind of gave me a little extra feel for pitching. I could pitch instead of throw. If I fell behind in the count, I didn't feel like I had to blow a guy away and really beat a guy with all my might."