Height/Weight: 6’1”, 190 lbs
Acquired: 13th Rd 2005
Born: 10/28/86 (Breese, IL)
2009 Rank: 16
Why Ranked Here: Josh Thole has hit, and done so prolifically wherever he’s played.
As Mets fans know, Thole, who will be 23 in 2010, has an offensive game all about contact and controlling the strike zone. He chokes up all the time, and treats every pitch as though he has two strikes on him already in the at-bat. He’s struck out less than 10% of the time in each league he’s played in, including the big leagues, in the last two years. That’s a pretty special rate – only nine MLB hitters who picked up enough AB to qualify for the batting title struck out less than 10% of the time. While not striking out very much is laudable, it’s no guarantee of big league success. Among the ten toughest hitters to strike out in 2009 were some very good offensive players, like Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Lee and Alberto Callaspo, some who produced at a rate closer to league average (as measured by wOBA) like Miguel Tejada and Yadier Molina, and some who were simply bad, including David Eckstein and Yuniesky Betancourt.
Contact is just one of the two pillars of Thole’s offensive game, joined with strong plate discipline. He walked in almost 10% of his plate appearances in AA and almost 13.5% in Venezuela.
As impressive as Thole’s contact rate has been and his minor league walk rates were, there is a gaping hole his offensive game: power. In his last 250 games played in America - in A+, AA, the AFL and MLB, Thole hit eight home runs. His line drive stroke has produced doubles, over 25 each of his last two years, but Major League pitchers will challenge him over and over again if they don’t think he will beat them deep.
In addition to power, there are major questions about his defensive abilities behind the dish. Thole did not begin catching full-time until the spring of 2008, and essentially had to learn the position from scratch. Reviews of his work behind the dish this summer in Binghamton ranged from negative to scathing. One classic quote from a rival manager who saw him repeatedly points out exactly what’s going on, “He can flat out hit, that’s the best thing I can say about his defense… He catches the ball ok. He receives ok.” but “his arm’s not what you desire from a big league catcher.” Thole is by all accounts a hard worker who has improved defensively, but his arm could simply always be a liability behind the plate. The Mets were not ready to hand Thole the starting catcher’s job in camp based on concerns about his defense.
2009: In 2009, he hit .328/.395/.422 in 103 games in AA with Binghamton, .321/.356/.396 in 17 games with the Mets and then went down to Venezuela where he owned the Winter League to a .381/.470/.568 tune in 44 games before leaving early to prepare for Spring Training. He was second in both the Eastern league and the Venezuelan Winter league in batting average and led the VWL in OBP while placing third in the EL in the category.
Dr. Pangloss Says: Thole will put in the work to become passable, if never an above average catcher defensively, but that combined with his offensive gifts will make him a very valuable catcher and a two-time All-Star.
Debbie Downer Says: The Mets won’t trust Thole to catch everyday and he joins the exclusive ranks of the Back Up Catcher’s Club.
Projected 2010 Start: AAA Buffalo
MLB Arrival: Thole will spend most of 2011 as the Mets starting catcher, but it is an open question how much he gets to play with the big boys in 2010. If Rod Barajas get injured or the Mets get tired of his sub .300 OBP, or the Mets fall out of contention, Thole could spend much of the second-half at Citi Field.