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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Thole’s a good catch, but will he stay with Mets?

Josh Thole throws the ball to pitcher, Nelson

Josh Thole throws the ball to pitcher, Nelson Figueroa in the fifth inning. New York Mets vs. the Chicago Cubs at Citifield. Photo Credit: Kathy Kmonicek

Josh Thole does not Google himself.

“No, I don’t,” Thole said last night. “That’s about the worst thing I think I could do for myself right now.”

If he did, the Mets’ 23-year-old catcher would find, among other things, a YouTube video set to music featuring the words, “A tribute to the promising future of Josh Thole as catcher for the Mets.”

But what is that promising future?

Is it going to be with the Mets, or is Thole simply in the big leagues to audition for the Seattle Mariners, who are said to covet a catcher as the centerpiece of a deal for Cliff Lee?

“Thole’s really doing a good job,” Mets general manager Omar Minaya told Newsday’s Ken Davidoff on Monday. “He’s catching much better. We’ve always liked his bat. He looks very good . . . He’s calling a good game, and he’s showing leadership skills.”

There’s no reason to think Minaya is not being sincere. Thole really does look much improved behind the plate from his debut last season, and he’s a natural lefthanded hitter, though not with much power yet.

Minaya could be trying to pump up his prospect, but the Mets seem truly excited about Thole. He was supposed to start on Monday but was scratched when the Reds switched to a lefthanded starter because of Aaron Harang’s sore lower back.

Another lefty pitched for the Reds last night, so Thole will have to wait until tonight, when he will catch Jonathon Niese.

The Mets are trying to accomplish two different yet potentially important things: looking at Thole in the middle of a pennant race for themselves as well as for a potential trade partner before the July 31 deadline.

"He’s much improved as far as the receiving, from what we saw here last year,” manager Jerry Manuel said. “I know offensively, he can be a really, really big help for us. I've got to take this opportunity to take a good look at him, see how he fits."

Thole has five hits and four RBIs in 10 at-bats. In 2009, he hit .321 in 17 big-league games. At the plate, he’s a force. Behind it, he’s a work in progress, having only started catching full-time in 2008. He worked this winter with Mets catching coordinator Bob Natal.

“Defensively, I feel like I’ve come a long way, as far as the relationship with the pitching staff,” Thole said. “I guess a trust thing, maybe. In that part of it, it’s almost light years.”

Thole had problems with the basics of the position – “catching the ball,” as he put it, which is not a good weakness for a catcher to have. He also has been working on the mental aspects and is honest about the troubles he had in his brief big-league stint last September and October.

“Every series we go over a scouting report,” he said, “and last year I would have problems retaining information. Went down to winter ball and worked on it, spring training I worked on it. You’ve just got to keep drilling it in your head.”

Mets fans are torn on this one — would love to see Thole develop, would love to get Lee — but the organization has “acknowledged privately that Thole would have to go in a Lee trade,” Davidoff reported yesterday on his Newsday.com blog.

All of which Thole is trying to ignore. He chuckled when the Lee business was brought up.

“I had one text message the other day about it,” he said. “Other than that I haven’t looked too far into it.”
 

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