Now that Rod Barajas has been claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets fans have finally gotten their wish: Josh Thole is now the team's everyday starting catcher.
That’s right—the team has given the keys to the pitching staff to the 23-year-old youngster while Henry Blanco moves to the backup role.
So for non-Met fans, who is this Thole guy?
Well, Thole is a pretty solid catching prospect. He hits for average but not much power, and he’s all right defensively. He’s enough of a prospect, though, that even Barajas knew he’d eventually be cast away for the kid:
(per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York) “When you have a guy as talented as Josh—a young guy who you see as part of your core nucleus going into the future—if he’s up here and he’s playing well, you’re going to want to keep playing him,” Barajas said. “And I understand that. I’ve been around the game long enough to know what direction teams are trying to go.
“For me, if that was going to be the case and there was an opportunity for me to go somewhere else and get some playing time, then that would probably be the best-case scenario for everybody involved. ... Now Josh has a chance to not look over his shoulder.”
When it comes to hitting, Thole looks like he could be an on-base machine. Currently he’s hitting .292 with a .364 OBP. He’s a throwback-type hitter; he’s one of the few hitters in the game that still chokes up on the bat no matter the count. That of course sacrifices his power, but he obviously cares more about getting good at-bats.
His manager Jerry Manuel believes that even with his batting style, Thole will eventually be a 10 to 15 home run guy. Before you go "That’s all?" remember that’s not bad for a catcher.
(per Adam Rubin of ESPN New York) “Right now we see a good, young spray hitter,” Manuel said. “I think he will develop a little power. For a catcher to hit for a high average, you’ve got to be a pretty good hitter, because you ain’t going to get no infield hits—that type of thing.
“He’s a left-handed hitter. That’s always good to have a left-handed-hitting catcher, I think. I think there will be some power there. I don’t know how much. I think at some point you might see a season where he might hit 10 to 15 home runs.”
The most impressive thing so far about the kid, though, isn’t his ability to hit for average but his defense. Thole began as a first baseman but switched to catching three years ago, so he’s pretty much a work in progress but is progressing quite rapidly. He’s had two stays in the big leagues this year, and the difference in his defense was night and day.
In his first go-around this season, he wasn’t that great at calling a game, receiving the pitches, and definitely not the greatest at throwing runners out. Most scouts actually consider his arm to be below average. After the Mets sent Thole back to the minors, though, he took the role more seriously.
Once being recalled, the team instantly made him R.A. Dickey’s personal catcher; we all know those knuckleballs need a dedicated catcher. But other than that, Thole started working with all the team's pitchers during bullpen sessions.
Between those sessions and occasional starts, the team's comfort grew in the youngster, enough to where Manuel feels comfortable with Thole calling a game. He’s even gotten slightly better at throwing runners out attempting to steal.
With such a turnaround in a short period of time, you could see why the Mets feel so comfortable giving the kid the keys to the pitching staff. With more time behind the plate at the Major League level, he’ll get even better.
With his ability to hit for average and being a quick study behind the plate, Thole should become a serviceable starting catcher—maybe even a little better than that.
I hate the Mets, but I’m glad they’re giving the kid a chance to play. When your team is as bad as the Mets, you should rid of the dead weight, give the kids a chance to play, and see which of them can stick.