Minors Only: Florimon and Thole

June 2, 2009

A Vote For Pedro

Pedro Florimon wasn't a hot name before the season.

Baseball America didn't rank the 22-year-old shortstop as one of the top 30 prospects in the Baltimore Orioles organization.

It wasn't just Baseball America – John Sickels put 38 Orioles farmhands in his book, but Florimon wasn't among them.

It wasn't much of a surprise that Florimon wasn't getting much attention.

He was coming off back-to-back miserable seasons with Low-A Delmarva – a .234 wOBA in 2007 and a .270 wOBA last year. He wasn't a power hitter, posting IsoP's of .074 and .075, and he was a little too easy to strikeout (25.6%, 31.8%).

Instead of sending Florimon back to Delmarva for the third straight year, the Orioles bumped him up to High-A Frederick.

“They said he could play shortstop, go and hit .220, bat ninth, make some plays and that would be fine,” Frederick manager Richie Hebner told The Frederick News-Post.

Those were reasonable expectations, but ones that are being shattered. Florimon, a native of the Dominican Republic, has been one of the best stories through the first two months of play in the Carolina League.

His .417 wOBA ranks third in the league and his .291 IsoP – especially outstanding for a shortstop – is second in the league behind Cody Johnson's .347. Florimon's strikeout rate is down 11.5% from last season and his walk rate is up 1.2%.

Hebner credits adjustments to Florimon's swing as the key to his surge.

“He’s shortened his swing up. I guess in the past he took wild swings, but he’s very compact right now. The home runs he’s hit are real bombs.”

Whatever the reason, it's caught the team by surprise.

“He's been a pleasant surprise, we didn't expect him to do that," Frederick Keys field coach J.J. Cannon told The Frederick News-Post.

If he can continue to hit, Florimon could position himself as the organization's shortstop of the future. The Orioles have little in his way at the position at the major league level or in the minors.

The Thole Package?

A couple winters ago, New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya made the mistake of leaving catcher Jesus Flores unprotected for the Rule V draft.

The Washington Nationals scooped Flores up and now he's seen as the long-term answer behind the plate for the Nationals. Minaya said leaving Flores unprotected is “the one” regret he has as general manager of the Mets.

Despite that, Minaya left another young catcher, 22-year-old Josh Thole, unprotected in last winter's Rule V draft.

Luckily for Minaya, nobody drafted Thole, who is making a case to be organization's future catcher while honing his craft with Double-A Binghamton.

Thole, a former first baseman, moved behind the dish on a full-time basis last season when he was with High-A St. Lucie, and it was a big adjustment.

“Getting back into the catching, it’s a lot different here than what I had to go through in high school. It’s kind of like starting from scratch. I kind of redid everything, from the stance to throwing to second base to blocking. Everything has just been a whole big change for me,” Thole told The New York Daily News last fall.

It's a big change that's gone smoothly – his defense has made strides in his first year as a full-time backstop.

“He’s developing into very good defensive catcher. He’s a good leadership type, who is calling good games,” Mets vice president of player development Tony Bernazard recently told Baseball America.

Offensively, Thole makes a lot of contact – his 11.3 K% is sixth-lowest in the Eastern League. He draws his share of walks (10.7%) and his .417 wOBA is sixth-best in the circuit, though his sky-high .417 BABIP is due to regress.

Thole isn't going to hit many home runs – he only has eight in 1,282 plate appearances in the minors – but he's more than a singles hitter. His 16 doubles are tied for second in the Eastern League and his 25 two-baggers ranked within the top 15 in the Florida State League last year.

Opportunity could knock in the near future as the Mets long-term catching situation is unclear.

Veteran Brian Schneider and minor league journeyman Omir Santos currently share the duties. Schneider is a free agent after the season and has little chance of being retained, and while Santos has been a nice story, he's not someone an organization looks at as a long-term option. Thole figures to be ready sometime in 2010 and could end up as a table-setter thanks to his strong on-base skills.


Contact Ryan Fay