2009 Analysis: Josh Thole
Josh Thole made the improbable jump from A-ball in 2008 to MLB in 2009 — making a pit-stop in AA Binghamton in between. After hitting .321 in his 17-game September debut, and delighting fans with his youth, energy, and choked-up line drives, there’s at least a little buzz pushing for Thole to assume the starting catching role in 2010.
But is Josh Thole ready for full-time, prime-time action behind the plate?
Two years ago, Thole caught 11 games in low-A Savannah. He was primarily a first baseman who could catch “in a pinch”. Because his bat was not projecting enough power for a first-base prospect, the Mets shifted him to catcher for 75 games at Port St. Lucie in 2008, and he caught another 89 behind the dish in Binghamton this year. All told (Tholed?), he’s caught a total of 190 professional contests.
Such inexperience wasn’t an issue for Thurman Munson, but aside from that freak of athletic nature and Butch Wynegar (who was a minor leaguer for 199 ballgames) there haven’t been many men capable of becoming of MLB backstops after so little experience. Even Johnny Bench needed 265 games in the minors, and Joe Mauer caught over 280 before settling in as Minnesota’s receiver — and those two men were catchers for most of their lives, and were outstanding, “can’t-miss”, once in a lifetime talents.
So to think that Thole — a converted first baseman who was a borderline prospect before changing positions — is ready to catch regularly for the Mets is something of a pipedream (or irresponsible).
Can Thole catch for the Mets at some point in 2010? Maybe. Can he be a backup? Maybe. Would either be the best thing for him, or the Mets? Not likely.
It’s hard to make a fair and educated judgment based on 17 games and 53 at-bats, but I’ll try.
Josh Thole looks like someone who could one day be a decent to average catcher. He shows good athleticism and fairly quick feet, and usually receives the ball well (moving laterally and evenly to the ball, then catching and “sticking”). His footwork on throws to 2B looks OK, but can use improvement. His arm strength appears adequate; nothing to write home about. Blocking balls and recognizing bad pitches are an issue; he committed 3 passed balls and allowed 4 wild pitches in 127 innings — not good. But again, he’s athletic and he can move his feet well, so he has the potential to improve in all these areas — he simply needs more time behind the plate and some instruction to develop.
Offensively, Thole proved he could put the bat on the ball. His old-school choke grip and wide stance make him a defensive, “punch and judy” hitter — which is fine if you’re batting over .300 and catching. He seemed to display a sharp eye at the plate and good patience. But, so did Daniel Murphy in three times as many games and ABs as a 2008 rookie — and see how quickly that eroded after a few times around the league? Despite my skepticism, the minor league numbers suggest that OBP and contact hitter are Thole’s strengths. If he can translate that to the bigs, he may not have to be more than an adequate defensive catcher.
Bottom line? I like Josh Thole, and would like to see him catching for the Mets at some point in the future. But he’s only 22 years old, and still learning the position. He’s not Thurman Munson, Johnny Bench, nor Joe Mauer — but with more work and a little luck he might be another Butch Wynegar, or Jason Kendall. In 2010, I think it’s best for everyone if he spends another year in minors, to continue honing his craft. I’d prefer that Thole force the Mets to promote him to the big club, rather than the other way around.