Last weekend the Mets dumped Rod Barajas, their starting catcher for basically the entire season, on the Dodgers when they claimed him off waivers. They saved themselves a little more than $100,000 over the rest of the season with the move. Barajas quickly endeared himself to the Dodger faithful, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and a homer in his first game with the club. Of course, he owns a .283 career OBP (.274 this year) and by all accounts is an atrocious offensive player, but he certainly started his Dodger career off on the right foot.
For the Mets, the deal wasn’t so much about saving that extra $100,000 as it was opening a full-time spot for 23-year-old Josh Thole. A half-dozen or so games out of the playoff spot, it was time for the Mets to see what they had in Thole and whether or not he could be part of their future.
Baseball America ranked Thole as the team’s eighth best prospect before the season, saying he “essentially takes a two-strike approach on all counts, choking up on the bat to punch line drives to both gaps. He hits for average and is difficult to strike out.” They also acknowledged his lack of power and some throwing deficiencies, but the latter doesn’t matter in fantasy. They project him as more of a platoon player long-term than as an everyday backstop, but for now the Mets are going to run him out there and hope he impresses. Hard to blame them, really.
Before Barajas was jettisoned, Thole performed admirably in spot duty, hitting .289/.361/.351 in 108 plate appearances. Before that he had hit .261/.347/.424 in just shy of 200 plate appearances with Triple-A Buffalo, and last year he went .321/.356/.396 in a September call-up. The power numbers are obviously nothing to write home about (.092 ISO in over 1,700 minor league plate appearances), but his approach and contact skills have allowed him to walk (209) more than he’s struck out (206) in his career, and I’m a sucker for guys that can do that.
Overall, Thole is hitting .303/.377/.367 as a big leaguer this season, exceptionally good AVG (and OBP) for a catcher. The counting stats aren’t there – he has just one homer, nine RBI, and six runs scored in over 120 plate appearances – but with the position so devoid of offensive production, getting help in the rate stats is a pretty big coup at this time of year. The long-term production probably won’t be anything special, but if you’re desperate for catching help, there are worse options than riding Thole’s BABIP-fueled batting average the rest of the way.