Josh Thole becomes third catcher Yankees signed this offseason
Despite the Yankees stating that they have complete faith in Kyle Higashioka to backup everyday catcher Gary Sanchez, the club signed its third free agent backstop of the offseason in Josh Thole.
It’s safe to say the Yankees NEED Gary Sanchez to have an injury-free in 2020. And while that’s easier said than done considering Sanchez has never played more than 122 games in a season (2017), general manager Brian Cashman has stated multiple times that the organization is more than comfortable with Kyle Higashiolka as its backup catcher.
However, on Wednesday, the Yanks signed 33-year-old Josh Thole to a minor league contract that could be worth $600k should he make the 26-man roster.
Including Erik Kratz, Chris Ianetta and now Thole, the Bombers have inked three catchers to minor-league deals — you know, just in case the homegrown Higashioka can’t cut the mustard as Sanchez’s apprentice.
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The issue is that there won’t be ample at-bats for all three signees at Triple-A Scranton — nor do I see a 14-year veteran like Ianetta waiting for an opportunity down on the farm. Not only does Ianetta have a career .751 OPS, but his .995 fielding percentage is good enough for 18th in MLB history, and his 68 career passed balls ranked him sixth among active catchers.
Despite hitting just .222/.311/.417 with six homers and 21 RBIs in only 52 games due to injury last season, Ianetta still has a big-league pedigree that many clubs could use in a limited role. Therefore, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see Ianetta ask for his release should he fail to break camp with the Yanks.
Thole, who hasn’t played in a major league game since 2016 with the Blue Jays, spent the first four years of his career with the Mets.
During his stint in Queens, Thole hit .261/.331/.333 with seven home runs, 87 RBIs, and a 127:93 K:BB ratio across 1,026 plate appearances.
Traded to Toronto as part of the R.A. Dickey for Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud deal, Thole’s offensive production wained, but he’s stood firm behind the plate.
Over eight seasons (429 games — 3301.1 innings), Thole has produced a .994 fielding percentage while throwing out 24 percent of would-be base stealers.
In 2019, Thole started the year at Double-A Tulsa (Dodgers). After 22 games, he was promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma — only to be traded to the Angels in July. He spent the remainder of the season with the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees, compiling a .243/.352/.327 slash with three home runs, 26 RBIs and a 25:16 K:BB ratio in 226 at-bats.
With any luck, Gary Sanchez will set a new career-high for games played this season and when El Gary does need a day off, Higashioka does just enough on both sides of the ball to remain a viable complementary piece.