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Monday, March 21, 2011

Tempering expectations for Thole

Now that public enemies number one and two, Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, have been shipped out, Mets fans will be ravenous for a new scapegoat to despise.

Mets fans can be so harsh, if Mother Teresa was alive and she was invited to throw out the first pitch at Citi Field, we might boo her if she doesn’t paint the outside corner with 90 mph heat.

For some reason which is hard to pinpoint, it feels like expectations might be ballooning a bit quickly for one Met. So we don’t accidentally lynch him for not being the next Joe Mauer, now might be a good time to outline some reasonable expectations for our young catcher Josh Thole, from which we can use as a measuring stick for his season.

Let’s first take age. Thole is entering his age 24 season. He is still a few years away from his physical prime, and he has played less than 100 games at the big league level so he is still quite inexperienced. If Thole does not have a big season, it does not mean he is not going to be a solid big leaguer. Jorge Posada only played eight games during his age 24 season and look what he turned into.

Sure, studs like Mauer and Mike Piazza were already putting up big numbers by this point in their respective careers, but Thole just does not possess the same physical gifts. Mauer is 6’5, 230 lb and has an eye like Ted Williams. Piazza was pure muscle; the guy had some of the strongest hands to ever grip a baseball bat. At 6’1 and 205 lbs, Thole is built more like a Jason Kendall, but he is even less athletic than Kendall who was a versatile player in his heyday.

With this in mind what can we expect from Thole in 2011? Let’s not get into the advanced metrics normally used to project performance. Just from watching him over the past two seasons, at this point in his career it seems reasonable to think Thole is a .280 hitter. If he reaches double digits in HR, that would be a big plus, but it is highly unlikely.

At the plate, Thole needs to keep doing the little things that he has shown the ability to do thus far. He needs to work the count to wear out pitchers, not swing at bad pitches, advance base runners and not swing for the fences.

Though fans may judge him on what he does standing next to home plate, the Mets organization probably focus on what he does when he’s behind the plate. He has a very interesting task with this particular pitching staff. Thole is going to have to somehow hone in the skills of a head case with a hard sinker, a young talented lefty looking to take the next step in his career, a 35 year old knuckleballer with a penchant for prose and two reclamation projects with the same first name.

Let’s not even get started with the bullpen.

All in all, Thole has a pretty big task staring him in the face, so why don’t we cut him a little bit of slack at least for this year. Realistically we’re going to be looking at .275, 8 HR, 45 RBI season. Let’s not let that hamper our enthusiasm for Thole.

The reason why we like him so much is because he is scrappy and competitive. He doesn’t seem like the type of player who repeats the same mistakes, and if we keep him around long enough he will be a solid major leaguer. Who knows maybe he’ll even continue to exceed our expectations, so long as our expectations remain reasonable.

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