Josh Thole was a part-time catcher in the minors, who also dabbled at first base. So any defensive struggles upon reaching the majors could be explained away in part by suggesting Thole was still learning the position.
Now, though, the 25-year-old Thole said it’s no longer a valid alibi.
New York Mets
“The ‘young guy’ thing doesn’t work anymore,” said Thole, who hit .268 with three homers and 40 RBIs in 340 at-bats last season. “Sandy [Alderson] and the front office and TC [Terry Collins], everybody is trying to get things clicking on all cylinders. It’s not, ‘Oh, we’re going to give him time to develop.’ I’m to the point now where I have to be developed and I have to be ready to play on a daily basis. That’s the biggest thing for me is not to use that as a crutch.”
That said, Thole should be the No. 1 catcher wire-to-wire in 2012, if only because of a lack of other viable options. Projected backup Mike Nickeas, while defensively sound, has limited offensive upside. Fellow campers Rob Johnson, Lucas May and Vinny Rottino are backup types, too. And there is no prospect in the upper levels of the minors on a quick trajectory to Citi Field.
Still, the lack of a need for a rearview mirror for Thole does not have him complacent. He arrived in Port St. Lucie two weeks early to work with new bench coach Bob Geren, the former Oakland A’s manager, who spent five seasons squatting in the majors, primarily with the Yankees.
“I’ve been here for two weeks, so I’ve been able to have a lot of really good conversations,” Thole said. “And prior to this I was able to chat with him by phone multiple times.”
Geren’s last big league plate appearance came on July 26, 1993 with the San Diego Padres, when the Chicago Cubs’ Shawn Boskie walked him to lead off the 11th inning and none other than Tim Teufel bunted Geren to second base.
Thole, who was only six years old at that time, said he has no recollection of Geren’s playing career.
“No, I don’t,” Thole said. “We actually watched a film of him getting run over by [Ken] Caminiti the other day, just for fun. But I remember him being a manager and a bench coach.”
So far, at least, Geren has not overloaded Thole with info.
“I feel like I’m getting to a point where I know what I need to get myself prepared on a daily basis,” Thole said. “New information is great, but you have to be able to filter it. And the person relaying the new information has to understand where you’re at. He’s given me a couple of pointers about glove position, and I’ve taken it, and I’ve run with it, and it feels great. But there are some other things where we’ve talked and he’s like, ‘If you don’t feel comfortable, then do it your way.’”
Trying too many things may have sunk Thole from a defensive perspective in 2011. When Thole visited organization catching instructor Bob Natal in Dallas during the offseason and watched video, the two picked out Thole having four different stances in one two-inning stretch.
“That’s unacceptable,” Thole said. “Your glove is getting in a different position at all times. You’re not in a comfortable position all the time. When you get in the same stance every time, that’s when you get confidence in yourself. That’s ultimately what I feel like I accomplished over the wintertime. I want to say I was trying to do too much, and then I kind of lost where I was before.”