Thole Finding His Rhythm

Josh Thole, St. Lucie's fourth-year catcher, began the season entrenched in a rotation of backstops competing for time. However, as the season has progressed, Thole's production at the plate and improvements behind it have earned him more and more time as the club's starting catcher and helped him find his rhythm.

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"So far, my season has gone pretty well so far. Our team is getting off to a better start in the second half and individually I'm getting my shot behind the plate so I just want to make the most of my opportunities," Josh Thole positively expressed.

As he and his club head into the second-half of the Florida State League season, the 21-year-old catcher has plenty of reasons to feel pleased about his season so far. Coming off his 2007 season in Savannah in which split time behind the plate [with Francisco Pena] and at first base, he came to St. Lucie hungry to elevate his game.

At the beginning of the season, the depth chart was rather full as Thole was listed alongside fellow catchers Sean McCraw and Jason Jacobs. However, as the first two months of the season went by, McCraw's offense was disappointing while Jacobs was relegated to more of a utility role. It was during that time that Thole demonstrated tremendous growth from last season in which he hit .267 with zero home runs and 36 RBI in 117 games.

After 67 games this season, Thole is already on the verge of surpassing last season's doubles total [17 in 2007, 15 in 2008 so far], his RBI total [34 RBI in ‘08] and his three home runs obviously top last year's mark. He is quick to attribute the across-the-board improvements to his coaches and the steadier approach they instilled in him.

"I definitely think my offense has got a lot better and I give a lot credit for that to our manager Tim Teufel and my hitting coach Mike Hart. They really worked with me on improving my two-strike approach and just trying to put the ball in play more. I think putting the ball and in play and trying to make things happen has really been the key for me."

As his bat has warmed, the more he found his name slotted in the starting lineup behind the plate and he acknowledged the comfort in that stability has played a role in his offensive progress.

"Knowing that I'll have a position every day has definitely helped me out at the plate. I think last year even, I played a lot of first base and I knew I had a good shot to play first base every day in Savannah, but catching regularly has helped me get my whole game in line," he explained.

"Having a regular spot in the lineup has really allowed me to understand the opposing pitching, understand the strike zone and really get comfortable in the box more and more. Once I got comfortable, I'm getting my hits and it's all snowballed from there."

After hitting just two home runs in his professional career prior to this season, the added power Thole has portrayed so far this season is big step in the right direction. With a strong combination of conditioning and a mature approach, he is starting to see the desired results.

"My off-season program, working with a personal trainer, really worked with me on a whole bunch of areas to get stronger and understanding what I need to more as a hitter has led to my power increase. I haven't changed my swing much at all, it's just knowing what to do in the right situation."

"When I'm up there, I'm just trying to see as many as pitches as I can, but I'm also being smarter about what I'm swinging at. Getting into a two-strike count is no longer a big deal for me, so I can battle my way through at-bats that has been leading to more hits and I think more walks. The approach I've been working, getting into good counts is what is paying dividends right now," Thole detailed.

While he may not fully disclose his pleasure in becoming the current everyday starter in St. Lucie, he realizes he currently possesses a tremendous opportunity. Now as he looks ahead to the rest of the season, his goal will be to build on the first-half's work and take advantage of each day out there.

"For me, I didn't really think about setting a goal to be a starter. Coming into the year, and even now, my thinking is if you put me in the lineup, I'll play anywhere. Obviously, I'd rather be a catcher as it's my first love so being in this position is something I've been striving for and it's coming together now."

"I really want to try and maintain the good things I've been doing and have a good run through the second half. It was a frustrating first-half of the season as a team but as a unit we are starting to gel and I want to make sure my play is an important part of any success we have," he closed.