Joe Barbera has seen countless high school and college players throughout his time with multiple Major League Baseball organizations.
Now a first-year regional scout with the Mariners, Barbera was finally getting a crack at suggesting draft picks. The first one he’s responsible for was Dylan Thompson.
On Tuesday, the Socastee right-handed pitcher made history for his school and the area. After becoming the second-highest draft pick to ever come out of Horry or Georgetown Counties last week, Thompson signed his contract with the Mariners on Tuesday and will head to Peoria, Ariz., on Thursday to begin his professional career. He’ll join Seattle’s Arizona Rookie League team.
But it wasn’t just the low-90s fast ball or his frame that led Barbera to start pitching Thompson to his bosses.
“Talking to summer coaches, talking to high school coaches, and everyone else – great kid, and he’s got a desire to be great,” Barbera said after a signing event Tuesday at Socastee High School. “That’s everything we’re looking for.
“I never really considered [off-field problems] with Dylan after I got to know him. He’s got his head on his shoulders pretty straight. I’m not worried about any distractions getting in the way.”
It’s unclear exactly how much time Barbera or other members of the organization spent with Thompson. However, the sentiment is nothing new when talking about the 6-foot-2, 180-pounder.
He graduated from Socastee last month with a 3.7 grade-point average. He never caused problems for Braves coach Curtis Hudson, and other teachers at the school have described him as a “top-notch kid” over the course of his time there.
More importantly, it continued after he started to see some significant success on the diamond.
The three-year starter was 16-4 for the Braves, signed with Coastal Carolina last November and was looked at this year as a considerable talent worthy of a top-10-round draft selection.
Still, the slightly sheepish standout remained as he has throughout high school, even moments before he signed his contract.
“I don’t want to say I’m looked up to,” he said in a hallway adjacent to the school’s basketball court. “But it helps other kids look forward to stuff. Hopefully that gives them the determination to get better at everything, not just baseball.”
Thompson’s deal, which will be formally released in the coming days, includes a signing bonus north of the $448,000 slotted for the 125th pick in the draft. That is customary, given his options straight out of high school.
He said he’s already received texts from unknown numbers about everything ranging from congratulations to questions about money. Not wanting to be rude, he’s returned all of them.
There will be more, as Thompson is now carrying the banner of Socastee.
“We’ve never had kids signing contracts or even going to major schools a lot,” Athletics Director Tim Renfrow said. “I think this is another opportunity for our kids here to see it can happen if they put the work in.”
Thompson’s efforts now will have to be two-fold. He’ll have to continue to develop his skill set to move up the ladder.
All the while, he’ll have to make sure the money doesn’t become the focus, Hudson said.
“The best advice I could give him is don’t let the business part take the fun of the game out,” Hudson said. “I’ve got plenty of people, NFL, NBA and MLB, and that’s what we always talk about.”
Hudson’s high-school coaching career across two states has produced more than 100 college players. Thompson, though, is one of just five or six draft picks. The coach said he started to see it as a real possibility last summer between the end of the school year and the Palmetto Games in July in Columbia.
“He took off in that time,” Hudson said. “God touched him a little bit. He got a little bit stronger. He just took off a little bit. He was out there throwing 91-92 like he was walking in the park with his girlfriend. Throwing with ease, he had a plus breaking pitch with depth to it and he had a change up. He was throwing all three for strikes. It was like it clicked during that time.”
It led to last week’s memorable moment.
Has Thompson gotten used to the spotlight in that short amount of time?
“I try to stay under the radar still, but I’ve had to,” he said.
He reiterated several times that the draft and signing is only the beginning for him. He’ll be leaving the area behind while he chases his dream in the professional ranks.
The school will include him on their wall of fame, other honors are likely in the works and Thompson may be considered at the top of the list of Socastee’s most successful alumni in terms of athletics
Regardless of what the future holds.
“He’s got a long road ahead,” Renfrow said. “But this is a pretty good first step.”