Apparently the first-base competition isn’t the only open one in Mets’ camp this year. According to Brian Costa at the Star-Ledger (with hat-tip to Matt Cerrone), Omar Minaya has deemed the Opening Day catcher’s job up for grabs between Omir Santos and Josh Thole.
Again, I don’t want to read too much into anything, since Spring Training hasn’t even actually started yet. But if I can hope that the first-base stuff isn’t true, I’ll hope that this catcher stuff is.
I know the conventional wisdom says Thole needs at least a half season more to learn the job in Triple-A. But I wonder why, if Thole is going to learn how to catch somewhere in 2010, he can’t do it at the big-league level.
After all, Cerrone has been reporting all offseason how he hears that Mets pitchers don’t much care for pitching to Extra-Base Omir. And while I don’t love getting into the buzz game nor put too much stock in the nebulous “game-calling abilities” so often credited to veteran catchers, I’ve heard the same thing (quite likely from the same people).
So if they’ve got one guy the pitchers don’t like throwing to after a full season behind the plate with little offensive upside, and another guy the pitchers haven’t yet thrown to with a little bit of offensive upside, why not opt for the latter and hope he can learn on the job?
A midseason call-up for Thole, while it would provide him with some time for Minor League seasoning, would also mean he’d have to get accustomed to the whims of all the Major League pitchers on the fly. And the Mets’ pitchers have a whole lot of whims.
Obviously that’s not all there is to catching, of course. Santos actually scored pretty well in Driveline Mechanics’ attempt to rate catcher defense earlier this offseason. In a small sample, Thole wasn’t as great, though he didn’t entirely embarrass himself either.
Joe Janish — a guy who knows a whole lot more about the position than I ever will — has maintained all offseason that Thole is nowhere near ready for prime time.
Still, I imagine Joe was holding Thole up in comparison to potential free-agent options and not just to Omir Santos. And since luminaries like Bengie Molina, Yorvit Torrealba and Rod Barajas are not walking through that door, it strikes me that Thole might now appear the Mets’ best option to start the season.
Moreover, Thole hits left-handed — something Jerry Manuel himself identified as important earlier this offseason. The addition of Jason Bay to a lineup that already included David Wright and Jeff Francoeur made the team’s batting order pretty heavily right-handed, especially if it will include Santos. Thole gives Manuel another option to break up the righties in the lineup, and, more importantly, another hitter who might not represent an automatic out.
That’s no guarantee, of course. Thole hit well in his brief audition with the big club in 2009 and can boast a .379 Minor League on-base percentage, but his 59 plate appearances in the Majors were his first above Double-A.
Still, it probably won’t be hard for Thole to offensively outperform Santos. Not only did the latter post a brutal .260/.296/.391 line last year, but since he actually bettered his career Minor League OPS, there’s reason to believe he was playing a bit over his head.
So it boils down to whether Thole will be able to hit enough to make up for the defensive difference with Santos. I don’t know that he can, but I’m sure it’s worth considering.
We shall see, I suppose.