#5 – C Josh Thole

Bats/Throws: L/R

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.

G AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG BB% SO% XBH%
08 FSL 111 347 104 25 2 5 45 38 2 1 .300 .382 .427 11.19 9.45 7.96
08 AFL 19 69 22 1 0 2 10 6 1 0 .319 .400 .420 11.63 6.98 3.49
09 EL 103 384 126 29 2 1 42 34 8 4 .328 .395 .422 9.50 7.69 7.24
09 MLB 17 53 17 2 1 0 4 5 1 0 .321 .356 .396 6.78 8.47 5.08
09 VWL 44 155 59 16 2 3 25 13 0 1 .381 .470 .568 13.44 6.99 11.29

There are 7 comments

  1. SS

    Amen WC.

    I get the defense concerns. If he can’t become an average defensive catcher then maybe he’s a glorified pinch hitting backup, which is great for a 13th rounder and a nice commodity to have. But if he can be average, and he didn’t look overwhelmed in the 17 games he played with the Mets last year (33% CS rate isn’t bad and only 1 error, yes, tiny sample, but still not bad for a debut) then he’s an all-star for sure. I don’t get the “he has no power” debate. SO WHAT!?!?!

    MLB catchers can NOT hit. Why can’t he put up Paul LoDuca type numbers. Look at LoDuca’s 2006 line and tell me why Thole can’t do that, only add 30+ walks, which makes that line SICK for a catcher. 30+ doubles, a triple or two, 5 homers, .300+ BA and .380+ OBP. That’s a real good line for a catcher. I’d take that over Barrajas’ 19 jacks and sub .260 OBP.

    1. theperfectgame

      LoDuca was also juicing, so I don’t know if that’s really the comp you wanna use.

      But I agree with you about the lack of HR power being a non-issue. If his minor league numbers translate, he could be one hell of a 2-hitter.

      1. ihob

        Which makes him that much better. I’d like to think that more power will develop as he gets older and learns how to drive the ball more. I know this is a completely off base comparison, but look at Joe Mauer’s numbers before last season. He was mostly single digits in HR’s, but hit for a high avg. made a lot of contact hit on avg. around 30 doubles and walked more than he struck out.

        Is it crazy to assume he can at least up his HR totals to 15 or greater per year as he develops further? Even if it is, I’m happy knowing that he is not an automatic out like our past catchers and he can at least keep the line going by getting on base or withi his contact moving runners over.

      2. theperfectgame

        Maybe, but I think it’s his approach that’s limiting his HR totals more than his actual ability to hit for power or his development. He’s a contact, line drive, singles and doubles hitter. He’s hard to strike out, he hits for a high average, and draws enough walks to have a very high OBP. But the tradeoff is that this approach doesn’t lend itself to generating much HR power.

        He may never hit 5 HR in a season, but I think it’s entirely possible that he can consistently get on base 40% of the time, have more walks than strikeouts, and collect 25, 30, or more doubles each season. And I’ll take that and run with it, especially from a catcher. But yeah, with those anemic HR totals, he’s gonna have to keep hitting like he has been to survive at the ML level, especially as a below-average defensive catcher, which he will likely always be.

    1. Toby Hyde

      Just not going to happen, but yes. It’s going to be Barajas. Thole will go down to Buffalo and hit there. If the Mets are going to be a playoff team in 2010, Thole will start more often than not after June 1.

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