Literally. Mets catching prospect Josh Thole (pronounced Toe-Lee) honed his skills in the southern Illinois second floor loft of the barn of his friend, Jason Rakers, a friend of his that was going off to play minor league ball.
Up in Rakers loft, he had an L screen, a black protective net and a hitting T, where he and Thole practiced hitting.
When Thole was drafted by the Mets in the 13th round of the 2005 draft, they knew he could hit, they just didn't know where he might play defensively. The Mets haven't had many catching prospects turn out to be pro caliber players, the last being Todd Hundley.
Thole began his career as a first baseman, but didn't think he would make the Mets as a 1B, so he concentrated on catching. Bob Natal, the Mets catching coordinator worked with Thole on his catching skills. When recounting, Thole said, “At that point, I needed someone who I could relate to. We just started from ground zero, with my stance, and then kept building on it. I’d still play first base, but I truly felt like if I wanted to get to the big leagues, it was going to be behind the plate.”
Tony Bernazard, the Mets VP of player development, said of Thole, “We’re going to spend a lot of time and effort on developing a catcher, and this is the guy who’s ahead of everyone.”
Minaya's feelings: “He can hit, that much we’re sure of.” His defense needs some work.”
The Mets also have a prospect with more 'pedigree' in Francisco Pena, who is the son of Tony Pena. But at only 19, he is behind Thole, 22, on the Mets depth chart.
Over the last couple of years Thole has really turned some heads. He had a solid year last year, and was rated very highly with his performance in the AFL (Arizona Fall League). So much so, he was invited to Mets camp this spring.
Thole continued, “The one thing I’ve always said is that I’m going to give the organization every reason to like me. I’m going to work my butt off. If things don’t work out, that’s part of life, part of baseball.”
Another irony, Thole was born October 28, 2006 – the day of the Mets Championship Parade - “A nice little coincidence,” Thole said.
Along with Jon Niese's birth date of October 27, 1986 – the day the Mets won the World Series, maybe there is some great days ahead with these young players.
Source: Ben Shpigel - NY Times