Nate Thompson wrapped his third season as the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator for the Arkansas baseball team in 2020.
Despite a shortened season, the Arkansas bats were in a groove, racking up a .310 batting average through 16 games. The Razorbacks had racked up 118 runs on 175 hits, with 33 doubles and 21 homers, which was an increase in hits (166), doubles (32) and home runs (17) through the first 16 games of 2019, with Thompson’s hitters producing a clip of .310 with 130 runs during that span a year ago.
Thompson had arguably the best hitter in collegiate baseball in 2020 in Heston Kjerstad, who led the team in seven offensive categories, while also leading the SEC in hits (30), total bases (53) and slugging percentage (.791), finishing second in batting average (.448). Kjerstad as recognized as the conference’s best hitter by D1 Baseball following the shortened season, entering the year as a unanimous First Team Preseason All-American and a member of the USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award Preseason Watch List.
Over the last three years with Thompson at the helm of the Razorback offense, Arkansas leads the SEC in 11 offensive categories, ranking in the top two in 15 different statistics, while ranking in the top six nationally in 10 of those numbers. From 2018-20, Arkansas leads the conference in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, weighted on-base average, on-base plus slugging percentage, runs, homers, extra-base hits, runs batted in, total bases and sacrifice flies.
Following an impressive offensive showing in his debut season at Arkansas, Thompson’s hitters in year two were even better, racking up a .298/.489/.393 line at the plate in 66 games. The Razorbacks ranked 17th in the nation in scoring, averaging 7.4 runs per game, totaling 491 runs scored in 2019, good for ninth in the NCAA. The Hogs also ranked in the top-10 four other offensive categories: hits (seventh) with 679, doubles (sixth) with 142, homers (seventh) with 88 and slugging percentage (10th) at .489.
Arkansas had five starters hit above the team average, with designated hitter Matt Goodheart leading the way with a .345 clip with 70 hits. Four Hogs recorded 80+ hits, with outfielder Heston Kjerstad pacing the group with 87 hits, 31 for extra bases, including a team-high 17 home runs. Six of Thompson’s hitters landed on All-SEC teams, with Trevor Ezell, Casey Martin, Dominic Fletcher, Heston Kjerstad and Matt Goodheart all earning second team accolades, with Christian Franklin getting the nod on freshman All-SEC team. Jack Kenley was also recognized in the postseason by D1 Baseball as a third team All-America honoree.
The Razorback bats helped propel Arkansas to its second consecutive share of the SEC West Division behind a 20-10 conference record. The Hogs earned a No. 5 National Seed for their postseason run, which featured a 3-0 sweep of the Regionals and a Super Regional that featured two wins over SEC foe Ole Miss by a combined score of 25-3. For the second season under Thompson, Arkansas’ season culminated in Omaha with the program’s 10th overall trip to the College World Series.
Thompson’s first year with the Razorbacks was nothing short of extraordinary as he guided one of the best hitting lineups in the nation in 2018 to a national runner-up finish at the College World Series. Led by freshman All-Americans Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin, Arkansas, as a team, hit .296, its best season since 2010 and hit a school-record 98 home runs. The home runs were good for a tie for third-most in the nation as five different Razorbacks notched 10 or more long balls during the season.
As for Martin and Kjerstad, the duo combined for a .339 batting average, 27 home runs and 107 RBIs which led all freshman duos in the SEC. Martin led the team with a .345 average, while Kjerstad led in home runs (14) and RBIs (58). Those home runs also led all freshmen in the SEC.
Centerfielder Dominic Fletcher also turned in a strong sophomore season under Thompson’s tutelage as he recorded a .288 batting average with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs becoming the first Razorback with 10 or more home runs in his first two years since Rodney Nye in 1998. Fletcher went on to play for the Team USA Collegiate National Team become the fourth hitter (Jeremy Eierman, Jake Burger, Tate Matheny) in the last four years under Thompson to don the Red, White and Blue.
As a team, Arkansas ranked in the top-25 in the country in sacrifice hits (42, 2nd), home runs (98, 3rd), hits (695, 4th), runs scored (482, 8th), walks (324, 12th), slugging percentage (.475, 13th), batting average (.296, 23rd) and runs per game (7.0, 23rd). The runs, RBIs and walks were Arkansas’ best since 2000. In conference play, the Hogs were tops in batting average (.302), on-base percentage (.380), slugging (.486), hits (310), home runs (45), total bases (499) and sacrifice flies (19).
In 2017, his final season with Missouri State, Thompson helped it reach the NCAA Super Regionals as part of a 43-20 season and a Missouri Valley Conference championship. The Bears’ offense hit .274 as a team and hit 80 home runs for the second-straight year. With Thompson on staff, Missouri State hit .270 or better in each of his three seasons and averaged just under seven runs per game. In his three years in Springfield, Thompson helped the Bears average a slash line of .287/.391/.453, while breaking the school record for walks in 2015 (317) and again in 2017 (351).
Thompson was a key reason for the emergence of All-American third baseman Jake Burger, who recently was taken 11th overall in this week’s MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Chicago White Sox, and was the first player in Missouri State history to be selected in the first round. Burger led the Bears, offensively, last season, hitting .328 with 22 home runs, 65 RBIs, and a .648 slugging percentage. Burger was named a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy and Golden Spikes Award for the second-straight year. He ranked second among all active Division I hitters with 47 career home runs, while his 241 career hits is the 11th-best total in Missouri State history. In 2017, he was named a first team All-American for the third consecutive season, becoming only the second player in MSU history to earn that distinction.
Shortstop Jeremy Eierman, another pupil of Thompson, put together his own All-American season in 2017, being named a first team All-American by Perfect Game/Rawlings as a shortstop. He hit .313 with 23 home runs and a team-leading 68 RBIs. His home runs were good for fifth nationally and he and Burger formed the nation’s top home run hitting duo with 45 combined round-trippers. Eierman went on to get selected in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics in the supplemental second round.
In 2016, the Bears blossomed at the plate under the tutelage of Thompson with an MVC-best .299 team batting mark–their top single-season average since 2009. MSU led the Valley in nearly every major offensive statistical category, including slugging (.500), on-base percentage (.391), runs scored (440), RBIs (412), doubles (121), triples (26), home runs (80) and total bases (1027). The Bears’ 80 long balls ranked as the sixth-best total in club history, led by NCAA Division I home run leader Spencer Johnson (24), who earned All-America honors with Burger (21) after ranking No. 1 and No. 2 in the nation, respectively.
Three different position players signed professional contracts at the conclusion of Thompson’s first season with the Bears, including MVC Defensive Player of the Year Joey Hawkins and all-MVC performer Dylan Becker, who signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, as well as first-team all-conference pick Tate Matheny, who agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox after being selected in the fourth round of the MLB Draft. Johnson joined the group last year, signing with the Houston Astros after being selected in the 16th round of the 2016 MLB Draft. With Burger being drafted in 2017 and Eierman in 2018, Thompson has been responsible for the three highest draft picks in Missouri State history.
During the 2015 season, Burger became just the third Bear rookie, along with Mark Bailey (1980) and Bob Blakley (1974), in the 52-year history of the program to be selected for an All-America team (other than an all-freshman squad).
Additionally, Thompson’s first full year with MSU produced one of the top recruiting classes in program history. Anchored by a home-grown crop of standouts that included nine players rated among the top 31 high school recruits in the state of Missouri by either Perfect Game USA or Prep Baseball Report, the Bears’ 2015 recruiting class was ranked 35th in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. In 2016, Thompson was named the best recruiter in the Missouri Valley Conference by D1Baseball.com.
Thompson joined the Bears staff in July 2014 as MSU’s lead hitting instructor and recruiting coordinator. An assistant coach at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College for four years, Thompson filled the vacancy left by the retirement of Brent Thomas after 32 years of continuous service on the Bears’ staff.
Thompson served as Hutchinson’s primary hitting coach from 2011 through the 2014 season, over which time he helped lead the Blue Dragons to a pair of KJCCC West regular-season titles and two of the top five win totals in program history. This past spring Hutchinson broke 17 team or individual school records during a 43-17 campaign that saw it rank among the NJCAA’s top 20 nationally in 14 offensive statistical categories. In 2014 alone,
Thompson helped mentor outfielder Matt Jones, a 25th round selection of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 2014 MLB Draft, Jayhawk West Most Valuable Player Jake Schleppenbach and national pitcher of the year Kyle Simonds, who became the first player in Hutchinson history to earn first-team All-America recognition.
Over his four-year stint as an assistant coach in Hutchinson, Thompson helped steer a program that averaged 35 wins per season while posting a .613 winning percentage and producing 23 All-Jayhawk West Division selections, eight of which went on to earn NJCAA All-Region VI honors. In 2012, the Blue Dragons logged a 40-17 ledger, including a Jayhawk West Division crown with a 23-9 conference mark. Led by second-team All-American Tanner Lubach, seven Blue Dragons earned all-conference honors that season, with four players signing to continue their careers at the Division I level.
Thompson spent three seasons at Nebraska as the Cornhuskers’ volunteer assistant prior to his arrival in Hutchinson. In that capacity, he instructed the Husker outfielders and assisted with the infield group, playing key roles in the development of 2008 All-Big 12 performers and MLB draftees Jake Opitz (12th round, Cubs) and Mitch Abeita (19th round, Yankees), as well as future MLB player Cody Asche, who helped Nebraska log an impressive 41-16-1 campaign and earn the right to host an NCAA Regional in Lincoln.
Following the completion of his own collegiate playing career at Dallas Baptist, Thompson began his coaching career as a student assistant with the Patriots. A two-year letterwinner in the DBU outfield, Thompson helped the Patriots claim the 2004 NCCAA national championship after turning in a standout two-year career at Garden City (Kan.) Community College. He was a key figure on the Busters’ 2003 Jayhawk West Division championship team, earning NJCCAA Distinguished Academic All-America honors.
During the 2006 season, Thompson aided a Dallas Baptist coaching staff that included current Patriots head coach Dan Heefner, working with the DBU outfielders while assisting with hitting instruction and the implementation of the club’s strength and conditioning program. The Patriots recorded a .329 team batting mark en route to a 33-23 season and saw a school-record seven players taken in the MLB Draft. From there, Thompson moved into a graduate assistant role at Fort Hays (Kan.) State, where he served as the Tigers’ primary hitting and outfield coach during the 2007 campaign. A pair of Tigers earned ABCA All-Central Region recognition under Thompson’s tutelage as Fort Hays State finished with a 33-20 overall record.
Additionally, Thompson gained experience during the summer of 2007 as an assistant coach with the Mat-Su Miners of the Alaska Baseball League, where he was nominated for the league’s assistant of the year honor. Thompson also served as director of Nebraska’s summer baseball camps from 2008-10, overseeing program development and personnel while assisting with the instruction and skill development phases of the camps.
A native of Goodland, Kan., Thompson graduated cum laude with his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Dallas Baptist in 2006 and earned a master’s degree in sports administration at Fort Hays State in 2008. He married the former Anna Schardt in 2009, and the couple has three daughters, Nevaeh, Natalie and Nora.