Josh Thole has been with the Major League Mets for nearly two weeks now, but has averaged less than a plate appearance per day in that time. He has made the most of the scant chances he has had, going 5-for-10 with a double and a walk. And in his two starts behind the plate, Thole failed to single-handedly destroy the Mets’ pitching with his purported inability to call games: He has a 3.00 catcher’s ERA over the tiny sample.
It would be reasonable to question why Thole is with the Mets at all since he’s a 23-year-old catcher that, by almost all accounts, needs more experience behind the plate. But who knows? Maybe the knowledge he can gain studying under old hands like Rod Barajas and Henry Blanco is more advanced than what he’d pick up playing everyday in Triple-A.
I can’t say, nor can I reasonably contend that Thole should be up in the Majors for a team with playoff aspirations and several banged-up regulars who aren’t catchers.
What I can argue, though, is that if Thole’s going to be with the big club, he should probably play more. Predictably, Barajas’ ridiculous run of early-season heroics ran up just as soon as everyone remembered how he swings at everything. His OPS has plummeted to an eminently Barajasian .730 thanks to his .502 rate since June 1. Henry Blanco has been great — and especially outstanding defensively — but it would be a lot to ask his 38-year-old body to hold up under more frequent play.
No one is accusing Thole of being the next Mike Piazza, but he can hit a bit. After a brutal start to the season in Triple-A, he posted a .410 OBP in May and June before his call-up. Though he lacks home-run power, it’s not unreasonable to suggest Thole is a better hitter than Barajas right now. He’s certainly more likely to get on-base. And he hits left-handed, which could add to the righty-heavy lineup a bit of that balance that Jerry Manuel loves so dearly.
The only things that should prevent Thole from playing more often are difficult ones to measure: Leadership, game-calling, defense behind the plate.
I don’t doubt that they’re important; Mets pitchers have been praising Barajas and Blanco all season for their approaches to opposing hitters. I just wonder how much they’re worth compared to an extra 50 points of OBP. In other words, does Barajas’ superior ability to handle pitchers overwhelm Thole’s superior ability to get on base?
Again, I can’t say. The Mets apparently think so.
My guess is that, barring another injury somewhere, Thole will be the odd man out once Carlos Beltran returns. But it wouldn’t kill the Mets to give him a few more chances to prove himself worthy of a Major League spot before that happens. If it turns out he can handle the job behind the plate, he’s another free offensive upgrade for the stretch run.