Thompson was designated for assignment by the Angels to create roster space last week and, being out of options to return to the minor leagues, had to clear waivers in order to stay in the Angels' organisation. The waiver process in Major League Baseball allows all of the other 29 teams in the big leagues an opportunity to claim a player away from the side that designated him, and the Athletics did just that.
"Chopper" was nearly lights out for the Angels one year ago, appearing in a career-high 44 games in the 2011 season and posting a 3.00 earned run average while striking out 56 and walking just 20 in 54.0 innings. Over the course of his six professional seasons in Anaheim, Thompson pitched in 81 total games, putting up a 3-4 record and a 4.24 ERA. This season, the right-handed reliever had only appeared in two games and allowed four runs on five hits and a walk in two and one-third innings pitched.
Now 27 years old, Thompson originally signed with the Angels as an international free agent after spending time in the Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program on the Gold Coast. He inked his first professional contract in 2002, the year he turned 18. The St. Ives High School product made three appearances for his hometown Blue Sox during the Australian Baseball League's inaugural 2010/11 campaign and earned a win before being recalled to the States prior to spring training.
In Oakland, Thompson joins Sydney's Balfour, son of Blue Sox general manager David, who is in his ninth year and fourth organisation in the bigs. Balfour was tabbed Oakland's closer prior to the 2012 season, coming in to finish off games in the late innings with his team leading. So far, that decision has proved to be a smart one for the A's who have seen Balfour convert all four of his save opportunities in six appearances, clinching victories for his side. Balfour has allowed just one run on three hits in nine innings this season, striking out five against two walks. The 34-year-old originally signed with the Minnesota Twins as a 19-year-old back in 1997. He made his major league debut with Minnesota in 2001 at 23 and has pitched for the Twins, Milwaukee Brewers, Tampa Bay Rays, and now Oakland.
Thompson, who has made all of his big league appearances in a relief role, is expected to be a bridge to Balfour in the latter innings of games. In fact, 65% of Thompson's innings pitched for the Angels last year came in the seventh, eighth, and ninth. That number jumps to 88% when factoring in all of the righty's innings pitched from the sixth dig and beyond. The pair is the second duo of Australian teammates in the big leagues this season, following Minnesota's Liam Hendriks and Luke Hughes. The Twins designated Hughes for assignment last week in a similar roster move to Thompson's, and the infielder is currently going through the waiver wait period, as well.
Balfour, Hendriks, Hughes, and Thompson comprise the four Australians who opened the MLB season on big league rosters. Victoria's Josh Spence, who kicked off his 2012 in the minors, was recently recalled to the National League's San Diego Padres, giving Australia five big league players, now ninth-most of any nation on the globe. Dozens more Australian players and ABL imports are currently playing in the Japanese and Korean big leagues as well as in Minor League Baseball in the United States. Information on those players can be found in the ABL's Australian and Import player databases.