One of the nicest surprises of the 2009 minor league season has bee the play of C Josh Thole in AA. The Mets converted Thole, a high school catcher back to catching fulltime in 2008, when he hit his way into the lineup during the St. Lucie Mets' slow start. Promotod to AA Binghamton for 2009, Thole (.364/.436/.481 with16 2B, 1 HR, 21 BB and 20 SO in 162 AB) is leading the Eastern League in batting average and on-base percentage at this writing. Moreover, he's shown more aptitude behind the plate.
I ranked Thole as the 16th best prospect in the system coming in to the season, but he's surely higher than that now. Thole displays an outstanding approach at the plate, working counts and making contact. He and I discuss his attack below.
The following conversation occurred in mid-May after I named Thole Binghamton's Player of the Month in April.
(A quick scheduling note: I'll be posting my May reviews on Wednesday, and we'll do some more PoM interviews which will trickle onto the site in the following weeks.)
TH: … How’d you feel coming out of the gate in the month in April?
JT: I felt pretty good. It was a lot of work put into it in spring training and I just put my time in and getting off to a good start is very important to me.
TH: How was it different being around the big league club so much in spring training this year? Putting in that work, what was the big difference for you?
JT: The difference for me was the knowledge up there. Them guys – from Brian Schneider, to Castro, to
TH: How much of that have you been able to take with you, not just when you were in Florida, but to Binghamton, to the Eastern League, to Trenton, that you can look back on on a daily basis?
JT: I mean, honestly, from the get-go - from gamecalling, getting all the pitchers on your side from day one - all that stuff that we worked on, is starting to translate. I’m starting to see it now with how important all of that stuff is. That’s what I’m doing right now.
TH: Last night for example, for example, Michael Antonini, had what looked like, based on his numbers, his best start of the year. Talk about sort of being on the same page as him. Walk us through that process.
JT: His last start before this last one was a tough first inning we went through and I’ll take the blame – I didn’t give him a chance to throw many of his breaking pitches early in the first inning. It paid off for the other team. This last start he made some pitches, located his pitches and made his pitches when he had too – quality pitches down in the zone and that was the biggest thing why he was so successful last night.
TH: Did you and he talk about that – say, not throwing enough breaking balls early in the game and in counts last time? Say, “well, we really need to get back to moving that slider in and making that a bigger part of the attack?”
JT: Yeah, exactly. When we got that poor first inning, we came in, and I said, “Hey, it’s on me. We gotta start mixing our pitches better,” and then all of a sudden, he started cruising from there. We got him to the fifth. Yeah, that was a big key and I kept harping on it with him last time before the game. And he went out there and did it and pitched outstanding.
TH: How about your development as a hitter? I read an interview you did, I think it was metsfansforever, and you said that you made the adjustment last year to treat almost almost every pitch like it was two strikes. Did I remember that right?
JT: Yeah, exactly. That’s what I try to do. It’s been my approach since last May. And so far, I feel a lot more consistent than I was before. Obviously, there’s a lot more room for work there, but I spread out, choked up a little bit and just tried to hit the ball hard. I’m just constantly putting the work in with that.
TH: Did you get rid of a leg kick by spreading out?
JT: It wasn’t so much of a leg kick, just standing more upright. I was standing pretty much straight up and down and I had a lot of head movement and you know, I was all over the place. Sometimes I would have a long stride and then a short stride, and there was no consistency there at all. So now I feel like I can go up to the plate with a plan, and execute, as best as I can, the same swing every time.
TH: So by spreading out, you feel like you were able to stay more consistent, swing to swing, because there’s less movement involved overall. Is that fair?
JT: Yeah, exactly, right.
TH: Yeah, and one of the things that sticks out to me, having watched you play in St. Lucie last year, is that you weren’t afraid to go gap-to-gap, you went left-center, you went right-center, but is the plate discipline. Your first three years in professional baseball, you walked more than you struck out, which is just extraordinary. Where do you think that that kind of plate discipline comes from?
JT: Honestly, when I’m seeing the ball pretty good, I don’t have any fear of hitting with two strikes. That’s the big thing, being patient for me. Sometimes I have to be aggressive, and sometimes I have to be more aggressive, but the patience really helps me out in that part of the game. And not being afraid to hit with two strikes is probably the biggest key.
TH: Have you found that as you’ve moved up the levels, now to AA, that there are limitations to that kind of approach or is it still serving you well?
JT: No. So far it’s serving me well. Here [AA] is a little bit different: guys have a lot better command and you know they’re throwing 2-0, 3-1, 2-1 breaking balls. You still gotta be patient and make sure you get your pitch to hit. I think it’s served me real well….
TH: Yeah that makes sense. What’s the biggest change, in terms of going from advanced A to AA. You mentioned breaking balls in hittter’s counts. Is that the biggest change for you?
JT: Yeah, I think so. The arms – it’s not like these guys are throwing 100 here and 94 down in
TH: What do you look at, and say, I need to do these one or two things better to conquer AA and move up to AAA or the big leagues?
JT: I think it’s just the consistency factor. The more you talk to guys who have been in the big leagues, it’s what they is the difference between being in the minors and the big leagues is just being consistent. Obviously, both defensively and offensively, I have a lot to learn. Just being consistent, taking it one day at a time, now it’s focusing and not looking too far ahead.
TH: Yeah, staying in the moment.
JT: Yeah, exactly right. There’s no sense looking forward to what going to happen in June.
TH: As a catcher, last year was really your first year catching fulltime – last year I saw you throw, and I thought there was enough arm there – how you feeling in terms of your footwork behind the dish?
JT: I actually feel pretty good behind the dish. It’s a consistency thing for me – constantly getting my work in everyday whether it’s throwing or blocking. Everybody says, “what about his throwing?” well, you know what, if I can stay consistent and just have a quick release, I think my throwing is going to be just fine.