It’s season preview time! Each Saturday I will analyze each position, looking at the quality, as well as the depth of the Met roster, and how players at each position could perform this season. Enjoy.
Young catcher Josh Thole is the future of the catching position for the Mets. After playing 73 games in 2010 and 114 in 2011, Thole will hopefully get his first full workload as a catcher in this upcoming season. The Mets will be very patient with him, however because he is so young and so new to the position. He really only started playing catcher often in 2008, so he isn’t very experienced at the catching position, and needs time to develop his skills behind the plate. He has made some major strides, though at catcher. His fielding percentage has risen each year he has played in the big leagues. He certainly isn’t there yet, but he is on his way to becoming a solid major league catcher.
At the plate, however, Josh Thole has the potential to become a big hitter. Not a home run hitter, but a solid, .300 hitter. We’ve gotten glimpses of his potential quite a few times since his debut in 2009, including last June when he hit .327 with a .450 on-base percentage. He is a very, very good contact hitter. In his career, Thole has a contact percentage of 89.4%, which is about 10% above the league average. There is no doubt that those month-long streaks in which Thole hits greater than .300 could become more and more frequent as his career goes on.
What I like most about Thole, however, is his ability to call a game. Young catchers tend to have trouble calling games early on, but Thole has gotten very comfortable in this role very quickly, which is unusual, and is a testimant to his “baseball smarts.” He has gotten nothing but compliments from pitchers and coaches about this. Having a catcher that works well with pitchers is something that is often overlooked by baseball people. Sometimes, it can make or break a staff. In a year where the Mets will certainly need pitching help, having Thole behind the plate could make things a little bit easier.
Nickeas, who will be 29 when the season starts, has been with the Met organization since 2006, but has failed to break out with his bat at every level. He has a career batting average of just .190. He is the bet defensive catcher in the Met system, but not much else.
Johnson, who will likely be the primary backup, played 67 games for the Padres last year, hitting .190 with three homers and 16 RBI. He is a slightly better defender, with a .993 fielding percentage in over 200 games at the catching position. His arm isn’t great. He throws out 28% of runners stealing, which is very slightly above average.
Neither of these two are spectacular. If it were up to me, I would put Nickeas down in Triple-A or just put him on waivers, and have Johnson be the backup to Thole. Neither of them will get too much playing time, though as Thole is projected by many to play about 130 games. The Mets better hope he can stay healthy.
Overall Grade: B-
Thole just has so much potential at the plate. It wouldn’t shock me if he broke out this year and hit .300. However, even if he hits .280 to .290, he can make a big jump and help this team. The grade would be higher, but the lack of depth hurts, despite Thole’s probable jump in playing time. Thole has been very durable since becoming a catcher, which hopefully means he will be with the team in July and August, helping to carry the offense.