By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
More than two years after verbally committing to play baseball at Auburn University, Keegan Thompson finally received the opportunity to put his plans on paper Wednesday afternoon at Cullman High.
With his parents, Jerry and Phyllis, by his side and a swarm of family members, coaches, teammates and administrators looking on, the
Bearcat’s highly touted prospect officially signed his national letter of intent to join the Tigers in 2013.
“I’ve been looking foward to it for the past two years now,” Thompson said. “It’s just exciting that it’s finally here.”
The reigning Class 5A Player and Pitcher of the Year is likely to be selected early in Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft next June based on his body of work with Cullman, the Alabama Seminoles and USA Baseball’s 16- and 18-and-under baseball teams. Thompson, however, said Wednesday the likelihood of him actually signing with a big-league ballclub is slim.
“There’s a 90 percent chance I’m going to Auburn because I want to go to college and experience the college life while I’m still young and just have fun with it,” he said.
When asked what the 10 percent was left open for, Thompson laughed and said he wasn’t entirely sure. He was only willing to agree he’d entertain foregoing college if he was drafted “really high.”
Bearcat coach Brent Patterson has yet to discuss the matter with his team’s ace, saying it’s a personal decision Thompson will need to make with his family.
He added he’ll only offer his opinion if it’s asked for.
“I’m here if they need me,” Patterson said. “And if not, I’m just going to be his high school coach.”
No matter what choice Cullman’s only two-time Super All-State Team member eventually makes, it couldn’t affect how pleased Patterson was to see Thompson ink his intentions to play for and attend Auburn.
“He made a commitment almost three years ago and stood by it, so I’m really proud of him,” the coach said. “It’s well deserved.”
Many top-level prospects often bounce back and forth between commitments, but it’s been no surprise that Thompson has stood by the decision he made the summer before his sophomore year. Even though him and many of his family members are Alabama football fans, he said everything about Auburn “just felt right” during the recruiting process.
“I enjoy the coaches there, and the personalities were really good.
They were really nice to me.” Thompson said. “The campus is beautiful down there, and the field is really nice.”
As far as his loyalty to the Tide is concerned, that won’t falter once he heads to Auburn next fall. Thompson just said he’ll root for Bama when it plays football, and he’ll cheer for the Tigers when he attends their games. He added the heated rivalry never really factored into his selection process.
“I just went with whatever was best for me and my future,” Thompson said.
His immediate future involves playing his final season for the Black and Gold come next February. As a national prospect, Thompson is expected to receive plenty of attention from scouts, the media and fans who want to see the phenom for themselves before he heads off to the SEC or the major leagues.
That increased pressure wears on most players. Luckily for the Bearcats, though, Thompson isn’t most players.
Among his most memorable performances, he was on the mound for the final outs in USA Baseball’s 16- and 18-and-under world championships the last two summers and dominated Hartselle with Cullman’s back to the wall in the second game of last year’s second-round matchup.
Thompson has never caved into the high expectations placed upon him in the past, and he doesn’t think that will change with all the additional attention he’ll get this spring.
“Just continue to have similar years I’ve had the past couple of years,” he said. “If I just keep doing what I’ve been doing, I should be fine.”
Thompson certainly isn’t the first exceptional player to come out of the Bearcat baseball program. Just to name a few, Ben Moore (Alabama) and Matthew Britton (Mississippi State) are currently making waves in the SEC, Caleb Clay is still in the Boston Red Sox farm system, and
Josh Rutledge (Colorado Rockies) recently became the first person from Cullman County to play at the major-league level.
Thompson is confident Rutledge will have company before too long.
“I hope to play professional baseball later on in the future, hopefully pretty soon,” he said.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.