The 26-year-old was originally signed by Oakland after they drafted him in the 23rd round in 2010. He played two years in their farm system, advancing as far as double-A, before being part of another deal when the A's moved him to the Bucs following the 2012 campaign. After joining the Pirates, the Los Angeles native demonstrated the control and command that has become his trademark since his collegiate career at the University of Oregon. In 2013, Thornton was outstanding at three levels, issuing only 12 walks in 75.1 combined innings from A+ Bradenton to 3A Indianapolis, with a 2.63 era.
Now, as a member of the Mets chain in triple-A, he continues to demonstrate a marksman's control and hopes an expanding repertoire will help get him a big league opportunity.
Brender: This is the second time you’ve been traded in your career. What was the experience like this time?
Thornton: This time being traded was a little bit easier. The first time it took a little while to settle in but this time it all happened so quickly and the next day I was leaving. Being traded is a good thing if someone wants you more than the team you’re on. It’s a good feeling.
Brender: Your control over the past several years has been incredible. What pitches do you throw and how have you been able to command them so effectively?
Thornton: I’ve always had good control, except for one year in college. I throw from a low three-quarter slot, a little different than most people are used to and most people see. Pretty much my whole life I’ve been a guy who controls the ball well. I’m a sinker, slider guy basically. This year, I’ve also developed a cutter which helps me out but for the most part sinker, slider. I try to keep the ball down at the knees and hopefully get ground balls.
Brender: How difficult has the adjustment been moving from the International League to the Pacific Coast League, which can be tough for pitchers?
Thornton: You can’t let that creep into your head because if you do you’re going to give up that mistake. They’re definitely totally different leagues, especially coming from Indianapolis, a park which is very pitcher friendly and completely opposite from Vegas. I have to go out there, control what I can control, which is making pitches, and hopefully get guys out.
Brender: How much more comforting was it to join the 51s and have Vic Black, a former teammate of yours with the Pittsburgh organization, on the roster?
Thornton: Yeah, it’s funny because I know Vic, Ryan Reid, Dana Eveland and [Danny] Muno. Going there and knowing someone who’s been in the same bullpen with me made it a lot more comforting and seeing those familiar faces. This team gets along really well and they accepted me really quickly as one of them. It’s really comforting.
Brender: You have a chance to be the first University of Oregon player to make the major leagues since their baseball program was reinstated in 2009. How special would that be for you?
Thornton: It would be a great honor being the first because I played with some guys who were drafted higher than me and who are not as far along. Especially since they brought back the program and didn’t have baseball for 27 years and it’s the fan base that pushed to have the program come back. To go back and visit there and spend time with all the fans would just be a dream come true.
Brender: You grew up in Los Angeles. How much do you know about New York and what excites you about the potential to pitch for the Mets?
Thornton: My mom is from Manhattan, so I actually grew up watching them. I used to go back there in the summer because my mother’s whole family lives in New York, New Jersey and Philly. The more I hear and what I see, it looks like a really cool place to play. They have a really good group of guys there. I’m just waiting for when my name is called so I can go up there and contribute.
Brender: How much have you enjoyed playing for Wally Backman so far?
Thornton: He’s a great a great guy to play for. My manager in Indianapolis coach with Wally in winter ball so they had a chance to talk about me after the trade. It’s a relaxed but get your work done atmosphere. For baseball, that’s what you need. It really is.