Thole hit .267 in 117 games this season
Through hard work and consistent playing time, the Savannah first basemen persevered through a season in which he pushed himself to achieve more success at the plate. Now down in St. Lucie for the Instructional League, he is working at something new: catching. Inside Pitch spoke with Josh Thole about his work so far.
Only two teammates appeared in more games for the Sand Gnats this season than Josh Thole, Leivi Ventura and D.J. Wabick. In 117 games this season, Thole hit .267 with a .372 on-base percentage as he started virtually everyday at first base.
With nearly four times the amount of at-bats this season in comparison to his rookie year in Kingsport in 2006, he hoped to advance his capability at the plate. All season he worked to increase his power numbers, but at the end he still finished the year without a home run or a triple, and 17 doubles out of his 104 hits.
”My power numbers were down, and I know I wasn’t ever a big power guy, but I was hoping to get a few more doubles and some home runs this year, but that just didn’t come. But I had a great opportunity to play everyday and playing on a daily basis was more important to me than anything,” said Thole.
His lack of power does not root from a lack of discipline at the plate. His 61 walks not only led the team by 22, but he was the only Savannah player to register more walks than strikeouts. Although he has been predominately a singles hitter in his career, earning walks has really aided in his consistency as he does not get overly aggressive at the plate.
”Getting more walks than strikeouts was a goal of mine from the beginning of the season. I started the season that I wanted to be at a one-for-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. I think having that mental approach and edge; it really made me a lot more disciplined. I really didn’t swing at many first pitches this year which was pretty abnormal compared to my first couple years when I would get really aggressive and swing early in counts,” he explained.
He recognizes that with added strength he should see the results he aims for, more gap and home run power. This work makes up one half of his mission while in St. Lucie.
”Strength is something that definitely needs to come for me. Down in instructs, I’m working with [hitting instructor] Lamar Johnson, trying to get more power and a little more carry on the ball,” he said. "I think strength is a big part of it, but so is maturity, and I think strength will come with maturity.“
The second half of his work at the Instructs is his development as a catcher. After Sean McCraw’s promotion to St. Lucie in August, Thole shifted from first base, where he played the majority of the season, to behind the plate. He did make spotty appearances this season as a catcher, but now it could be a long term change in his career.
”Working as a catcher has taken over for right now,” he said. I’m not sure if it will be a long term switch, but I’m going to keep working on it and I think only time will tell where it leads. I think that if all goes well with it down here in the fall, and I can repeat some success in the spring, it could be a big change for me.”
“I’m getting older and stronger from when I came into pro ball, so I’m working on my technique and all those other aspects. But during instructional camp, for now it’s going to be all about my throwing and receiving the ball,” he continued.
Now that Sean McCraw has seemingly moved up from the South Atlantic League, and the likes of Francisco Pena and Yasmil Bucce (both of whom are at Instructs as well) still a long ways away in their development, the new role could suit Thole. However, as far as his skills develop as a catcher, it is equally important for his bat to get going as he enters his third year in the system in 2008.
”I think I had a real strong last two weeks of the season. I feel refreshed and I’m really building confidence,” he said. “Right now, things are going well down [at Instructs], and obviously instructs will have its ups and downs because I’m down here working on things I don’t do well.”