Sometimes it is tough to be a Mets fan, isn’t it? You sit and you watch other teams, both big market and small, call up player after player from their minor league system who step foot on a major league diamond and instantly make an impact. Some of these players they had a chance to draft like Jered Weaver & Phil Hughes in 2004 (when the Mets selected Phil Humber at #3). Others they never had the opportunity, due to forfeiting their first round draft pick because of signing a Type A free agent.
If it is poor prowess (or lack of dedication and finances) in the draft or just simply trading away any player with a reasonable opportunity to produce, when you see a viable Mets prospect reach the major leagues fans just drool at their potential. We not only want to see him on the roster, but we want to instantly hand him a starting job, especially when there is a whole to fill.
Enter Josh Thole, who made the jump from Double-A last season to hit .321 over 53 AB in September. That came after hitting .328 with 1 HR and 46 RBI over 384 AB in the minor leagues.
His hot hitting has continued this winter in the Venezuelan League, going 21-54, good for a .389 average, while striking out just five times.
The 2005 thirteenth round draft choice certainly has proven that he can hit, though a few of the numbers can be a little deceiving. He is only a .292 career minor league hitter, with last season’s average being buoyed by a .359 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).
Is that something that is maintainable? Probably not, though he does put the ball in play an awful lot. For his minor league career he struck out just 165 times in 1,321 at bats, a strikeout rate of 12.49%. At Double-A last season, his mark was actually better at 8.89% and in the major leagues he was at 9.4%.
In the vast expanses of CitiField, putting the ball in play is paramount. There are a lot of holes to be found, so seeing him continue to post solid averages, even if it is lower than last season’s mark, should be expected (at this point I’d pencil him in for about a .285 average due to a decrease in luck and a few more strikeouts).
The power, however, is nonexistent to this point. He has hit just eight career minor league home runs, with his high at just five at High-A Ball in 2008. In fact, he hasn’t even shown the potential to hit for more power, with a career slugging percentage at .375.
He’s 23-years old, so you would expect him to gain some more power, but maybe not. You would’ve at least liked to see him reach 30 doubles at any level in the minor leagues (last season he did have 31, 29 at Double-A and 2 in the Major Leagues).
At this point, you have to consider him a singles hitter, something that is tough to stomach when you aren’t a speedy little outfielder (like Brett Butler in his hey day). While he stole eight bases last season, showing he has more speed than most catchers, there’s nothing elite about it.
In order to carry a catcher like that, you need to either be able to hit him second (thanks to his propensity to make contact) or bury him in the eighth hole because you have such a deep line-up. The presence of Luis Castillo makes that virtually impossible for the time being.
For the Mets to use him in their line-up would seemingly make the weak weaker, even if they were to add a Jason Bay or Matt Holliday in LF. This is a team that lacked pop last season, so carrying Castillo, Thole and the pitcher, whose spot in the line-up would likely carry less than five home runs total and 60 RBI, would be a mistake.
Unless the Mets completely revamp their line-up, even with a potential .280+ average, Thole just doesn’t fully answer their needs, at least not currently. He would be best to gain more experience in Triple-A, maybe learn how to pull the ball a little bit more (or at least find the gaps).
He has potential, but the Mets needs just don’t fit his skills. Obviously, unless the Mets import a catcher for the season, they will be forced to pair Thole with Omir Santos from the outset. My guess, they either trade for or sign a one-year stopgap, giving Thole more time to develop (and hopefully hit for a little more power), putting him a year away from making a fantasy impact.
What are your thoughts? Will the Mets turn the keys over to him in 2010 or will they let him mature more before handing him the job?
To read the previous article, click here.