Who’s The Real Top Prospect; Flores, Martinez Or… Thole

An article by posted on August 20, 2009

This season shortstop Wilmer Flores seems to have overtaken outfielder Fernando Martinez as the Mets top prospect. That said, there are many scouts out there who don’t think either of them are all they are cracked up to be.

Yesterday, Tim Bontemps of the NY Post reported on what one scout had to say regarding the Mets number one prospect, Wilmer Flores.

“I was not impressed at all. . . . In fact, I was kind of shocked,” the scout said. “I was expecting an outstanding player, and I saw the exact opposite. I expected to go in there seeing a superstar player, like when I saw Jose Reyes playing in the minors.

“He’s a long way off, let me tell you. For me, when I watched him, he’s the fringiest of fringy prospects, and I’m not the only one thinking that. I thought I might not be looking at this kid right, but other people are thinking of him the same way.”

“When I sent in my report, I had no qualms about it,” the scout said. “I purposely watched that kid, and from what I saw he was not the player he is hyped up to be.”

The buzz on Flores started last season when he hit .310 with eight homers and 41 RBI for the Kingsport Mets in rookie ball. This season he has been unspectacular at Low-A Savannah, where he’s hitting .270 with three homers and 30 RBI.

In the same article, Bontemps balances it with some comments from the Mets’ director of minor league operations Adam Wogan, who says,

“Wilmer has performed pretty well in most areas,” Wogan said. “The most impressive thing for him is his control of the strike zone (56 strikeouts in 394 at-bats). . . . Regardless of age, he’s a really difficult player to strike out. He’s kept his ability to make contact, and he keeps getting stronger.”

Toby Hyde of the excellent Mets Minor League Blog writes the following regarding Flores’ five tools,

Lets review the five classic tools and Flores’ rough current grade in each: Speed: well below average;  Fielding (hands & range): well below average; Arm: average at best; Hitting: below average; Power: below average

I’ve read several instances where Flores is already being considered for a position switch to third base or the outfield. Flores just turned 18 years old, and of course there still is plenty of time for him to start flashing some of that potential that impressed Omar Minaya to sign him for $800,000 in 2007 as an international free agent from Venezuela.

After Flores first signed, there were many comparisons being made between him and Miguel Cabrera, based mostly on his impressive size and his hitting. That may have been a little premature. In his defense though, it’s important to note that Flores has been competing with players who are 1-2 years older than him at every level he’s played in. Another person I spoke to thinks the age thing is way to overrated and believes that you either have it or you don’t. Tim Lincecum is 5-10 years younger than the hitters he has been dominating since he arrived at the big leagues he said just to cite one example in a field of hundreds. So take that for what it’s worth. 

What I find most troubling is how almost everyone of these Mets top prospects, numbers 1-5, have really done nothing very impressive as of yet. There are no stats I can point to that really jump out at you. Just this tremendous hype that has been generated around them which mostly comes from the Mets. When you scan across all the league leaders across all the minor league levels, you wont find any of our top prospects leading in anything. Brad Holt is struggling in AA, Jon Niese and Fernando Martinez are both out for the season with injuries. In the case of F-Mart, he had a terrible major league debut and his numbers in the last two seasons have been nothing to write home about. Wilmer Flores and Jenrry Mejia (4.34 ERA in AA) have been average which makes one wonder, is this really the best we have?

There is one player who has been grabbing my attention for a couple of years now, and that is catcher Josh Thole who has yet to crack the Mets Top 10, but I bet he gets in come November. I asked Brian Moritz, the beat writer for Binghamton, about Josh Thole back in June.

JD - What’s the story on Josh Thole? Is he the catcher of the future for the Mets and do you care to make any comparisons so we can get an idea of what to expect?

BM – Thole’s having a great, great season so far. He’s as good a hitter here as Murphy was last year, and you know my feelings on Murphy. He doesn’t have the power that Murphy did, but he’s just as good an average hitter. His defense is coming along – he’s getting better both calling the games and making the throws to second. Plus he’s got a fantastic attitude – total team-first guy, very positive attitude. I’m not good at comparisons, but just know that Thole’s going to be a very good player for a long time. 

Deciding who a top prospect is can be so speculative with a lot of guess work, hunches and not much else. I on the other hand, consider myself to be a numbers guy. If you got a top prospect, show me his numbers and prove it to me. Don’t start telling me he’s got a cannon for an arm and runs like a deer. None of that matters if you can’t get it altogether and begin to compile some impressive numbers.

I included Thole in our Mets Merized Top 10 back in November and wrote,

10. Josh Thole - Thole has an enthusiasm for the game that makes him a quick study and able to adapt at each level. He does not have any prodigious power numbers to boast of, but he gets better each year and he could be counted on for 20-25 homeruns a season in time. He is not afraid to get his uniform dirty and has shown an ability to be a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. He had a solid year at Port St. Lucie, batting .300 and earning an All Star nod at catcher.

Also, in response to a mailbag question in May I wrote,

As for Thole, he was recently converted to catcher a little over a year ago and has a way to go in refining his defensive skills before making the jump to the Majors, however he’s a quick study and has impressed. His bat has been explosive so far in AA, batting a blistering .370. In 2008, Thole had an all-star year for St. Lucie, hitting .300/.382/.427 in 347 at bats. Thole has always shown a good eye at the plate and great patience. He has 133 walks and 131 strikeouts in his minor league career. He may still be a year away, but the Mets believe in him and he looks like a keeper to me. Baseball America ranks him at 23 among Mets prospects, but I suspect he’ll soon be in the top ten if he’s not already.

As you can tell, I’ve been high on Thole for quite a while. Not because he impressed me with his hype or potential, but because he puts up outstanding numbers that I can read and decipher myself.

Maybe someday Flores and Martinez will fulfill some of their potential and do it with their bats and by exceeding in their leagues, but until that day comes, I’ll take Josh Thole. Not because of what he’ll do, but because of what he’s done. That might seem a little too simplistic, but when I was a kid trading baseball cards, I could always tell the good players by flipping the card over and reading their stats. I guess some habits die hard.

About the Author ()

I'm a lifelong Mets fan who loves writing and talking about the Amazins' 24/7. From the Miracle in 1969 to the magic of 1986, and even the near misses in '73 and '00, I've experienced it all - the highs and the lows. I started Mets Merized Online in 2005 to feed my addiction and interact with other passionate Met fans like you. Follow me on Twitter @metsmerized.

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