There were high expectations for Josh Thole going into 2011. Thole posted a very respectable 2010 season for the Mets, owning a .277/.357/.366 line in 227 plate appearances. The then 23 year-old was tabbed as the Mets “future starting catcher.” While the young catcher’s 2011 season has been somewhat disappointing both offensively (.250/.338/.311) and defensively (league-leading 14 passed balls), compared to the Mets history of homegrown catchers, Thole might actually be “elite.”
Name: Todd Hundley
Acquired: 2nd Round, 1987 Draft
Without a doubt, Todd Hundley was the finest catcher to ever come through the Mets farm system. In the Majors, Hundley owned a career .240/.323/.438 line with 124 homeruns, 397 RBI, 340 runs, and 11 stolen bases. The slugging catcher owned five double-digit homerun seasons from 1993 to 1997. Hundley’s most memorable season came in 1996, when the 27 year-old smacked an amazing 41 homeruns (as well as a .259/.356/.550 line with 112 RBI, and 85 runs), which broke the then single-season record for catchers (by former Brooklyn Dodger, Roy Campanella).
Hundley followed-up his 41-homerun season with a 30 homerun season the next year, but it would also mark his last meaningful season in New York. In 1998, Hundley developed a crippling elbow injury, which limited him to just 142 at-bats, and prompted the Mets to stick him in leftfield. In late-May, the Mets acquired perenial All-Star catcher Mike Piazza from the Florida Marlins, all but sealing Hundley’s fate as a Met. After the season, the Mets traded the homegrown Hundley to the Los Angeles for Roger Cedeno and Charles Johnson (who was immediately flipped to the Orioles for Armando Benitez).
Despite his sever injury, Hundley trudged on, and played another five seasons in the Majors for the Dodgers and the Cubs. While the catcher enjoyed four more double-digit homerun seasons, four years after he retired, Hundley was named in the Mitchell Report as a user of illegal steroids. The inclusion of Hundley’s name certainly tarnished his accomplishments, but there will forever be a soft spot in Mets fan’s hearts for the hard-nosed, power-hitting catcher.
Name: Jason Phillips
Acquired: 24th Round, 1997 Draft
It took awhile for Jason Phillips to make it to the Major Leagues–and even when he did, it took two seasons of minimal “cups of coffee” to stick. But in 2003, the 26 year-old Phillips made the roster, and split time between first base and catcher. The goateed fan favorite posted a very promising .298/.373/.442 line with 11 homeruns, 58 RBI, and 45 runs in 453 plate appearances in 2003 for the Mets.
Going into 2004, the organization and fans were confident Phillips would become a good-hitting catcher, but unfortunately, that was not the case. In his second full-season in the Majors, Phillips posted an abysmal .218/.298/.326 line with 7 homeruns, 34 RBI, and 34 runs.
Phillips was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for Japanese pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii the following season. The catcher never posted anything near his miraculous 2003 season (.232/.282/.343 line from 2005 to 2007), and played for five other franchises after the Mets.
Name: Vance Wilson
Acquired: 44th Round, 1993 Draft
Unlike Phillips or Hundley, Wilson considered was more of a backup type. In fact, the only season Wilson “started” was in 2003 when Mike Pizza went down with an injury. In four more-or-less full-time Major League seasons with the Mets, the catcher owned a pedestrian .254/.308/.384 line with 17 homeruns, 92 RBI, and 68 runs.
While he started a good chunk of games in 2003, his finest season came the following season. Wilson owned a .274/.335/.427 line, marking career bests in the walk (6.5 BB%) and strikeout (15.28 K%) departments. After his solid campaign, the Mets dealt him to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for infielder Anderson Hernandez.
Wilson went on to post a combined .240/.289/.362 line in two seasons for the Tigers before succumbing to Tommy John surgery in 2007, and then Plantar fasciitis before the 2008 season. He was granted free agency by the Tigers, and hooked-up with the Kansas City Royals on a Minor League deal. Mid-way through the season at Double-A for the Royals, the catcher decided to hang-up his cleats.
Player: Barry Lyons
Acquired: 15th Round, 1982 Draft
With Gary Carter in-tow, Mets fans probably weren’t paying much attention to Barry Lyons and his dominance of the Minor Leagues. From 1982 to 1984, Lyons owned a sensational .301/.376/.425. After being named the MVP of the South Atlantic League in 1984 (.316/.380/.459 line with 12 homeruns, 87 RBI, and 59 runs), Lyons earned a promotion to Double-A in 1985, but it didn’t slow him down a bit. In fact, the catcher enjoyed one of his finest seasons, posting a .307/.345/.469 line with 11 homeruns, 108 RBI, and 69 runs.
Lyons got his first taste of the show in 1986, albeit very minimal exposure. The 26 year-old only garnered 10 plate appearances as the third-stringer behind the trusted Ed Hearns. The following season, the Mets traded Hearns to the Royals, paving the way for Lyons to become the Mets backup catcher to Carter. The prospect continued his sole backup duties until 1988, when the Mets acquired double-pumper, Mackey Sasser. Lyons immediately lost at-bats to Sasser, and in 1989–when Carter missed 2.5 months due to surgery–Lyons himself came down with an injury, paving the way for Sasser to become the full-time starter.
The once promising Lyons was released in 1990, and picked-up by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Lyons toiled in the Minors with only occasional Major League at-bats from 1990 to 1995 with six different franchises until he retired in 1995. In parts of seven Major League seasons, Barry Lyons owned a forgettable .239/.275/.358 line.
Player: Mike Fitzgerald
Acquired: 6th Round, 1978 Draft
Mike Fitzgerald was drafted at the young age of 17, but didn’t see much success until he was 22 and in Triple-A. In 1983, Fitzgerald posted an impressive .284/.403/.449 line with 14 homeruns, 65 RBI, and 64 runs for the Tidewater Mets.
The young Fitzgerald was seen as the eventual heir to long-time catcher, John Stearns. That vision came true in 1984, when the 23 year-old Fitzgerald took over the starting catcher duties. Despite the lofty expectations, the youngster floundered in orange and blue, posting just a .242/.288/.306 line with 2 homeruns, 33 RBI, and 20 runs in 394 plate appearances.
While Fitzgerald certainly did not impress the Mets with his full-time catching debut, he did catch the eye of the Montreal Expos. On December 10, 1984, the Mets traded Fitzgerald with Hubie Brooks, Herm Winningham, and Floyd Youmans in exchange for Gary Carter. Carter was already an elite hitter (career .272/.345/.461 line with 215 homeruns, 794 RBI, and 683 runs with the Expos), so surrendering Fitzgerald and future slugger Hubie Brooks was justified.
Fitzgerald stuck with the Expos from 1985 to 1991, but never garnered more than 383 plate appearances in a single season. His finest year came in 1986, when he posted a .282/.364/.440 line with 6 homeruns, 37 RBI, and 20 runs. His career totals (.235/.321/.346 line) would have been respectable for a backup, but needless to say, the Mets won the Gary Carter deal.
Player: Ron Hodges
Acquired: 2nd Round, 1972 Draft
With twelve seasons in orange and blue, Ron Hodges was one of the longest tenured Mets in history. However, as much of a fan favorite Hodges was, he was only a starter in 1983. Hodges was tapped after John Stearns, the Mets starting catcher from 1977-1982, endured a career-threatening (and eventual career-ending) elbow injury.
In 305 plate appearances for the 1983 Mets, Hodges posted a respectable .260/.383/.308 line with 5 homeruns, 27 RBI, and 26 runs. The 5 dingers was a career-high for the 34 year-old catcher. Hudges only lasted one more season in the Majors, before retiring after the 1984 season.
In his career Hodges owned a .240/.342/.322 line. Despite his sole season as a starter in 1983, Hodges was the definition of a backup–and a very well-liked one at that.
Player: Álex Treviño
Acquired: Purchased from Cuidad Victoria in 1974
Trevino hailed from Monterrey, Mexico, and the New York Mets decided to purchase the then 16 year-old’s services from Cuidad Victoria, a Mexican academy of sorts. The catcher struggled in the Minor Leagues until 1978, when he posted an encouraging .294/.351/.416 line with 5 homeruns, 37 RBI, and 44 runs.
The Mets promoted Trevino full-time in 1979, hoping the young right-handed hitter would push John Stearns for his starting job. The youngster was given majority at-bats in 1980, but didn’t do much with them. Trevino posted a mediocre .256/.281/.299 line with 0 homeruns, 37 RBI, and 26 runs in 376 plate appearances. Stearns was given back the reigns in 1981, limiting Trevino to just 165 plate appearances.
The Álex Treviño experiment came to an end in 1982, when the Mets traded him to the Cincinnati Reds with Greg Harris and Jim Kern for the infamous George Foster. The trade was seen as a major win for the Mets, considering Foster was an elite power hitter (52 homeruns in 1977). Even though Foster fizzled in New York, Trevino didn’t exactly explode on the scene. The catcher posted a .243/.311/.346 line from 1982 to 1990 with six different franchises–included a 9 game reunion with the Mets in 1990.
His most successful season came in 1986, when he posted a .262/.351/.386 line with 4 homeruns, 26 RBI, and 31 runs in 233 plate appearances for the Dodgers. Regardless, Trevino’s career .262/.307/.304 career line with the Mets more than illustrates his failure to ever build-on his promising 1978 Triple-A campaign.
Player: Duffy Dyer
Acquired: 1st Round, 1966 Draft
Despite having a fantastic name, there was nothing “fantastic” about Duffy Dyer’s baseball career. The Mets picked Dyer ninth overall in the 1966 draft, hoping that the Arizona State alumni would develop into the next great catcher. That hope never quite materialized.
After socking 16 homeruns in Triple-A in 1968, the Mets promoted Dyer to be their third-string catcher. While Duffy didn’t do much in his 79 regular season plate appearances (.257/.295/.446 line), the 23 year-old still somehow made it onto the Mets World Series roster, and collected an at-bat.
From 1970 to 1971, Dyer became the Mets sole backup to Jerry Grote. But in 1972, Grote came down with an injury, which prompted Dyer into the starting role. The former first rounder posted an abysmal .231/.299/.375 line with 8 homeruns, 36 RBI, and 33 runs in 363 plate appearances. Even though Dyer was just 26 years-old, it was safe to say he was a complete bust.
Dyer stayed-on with the Mets for another two un-miraculous seasons, before being traded to the Pirates for Gene Clines in 1974. The Mets didn’t eat any crow, however, as Dyer posted a forgettable .224/.322/.318 line from 1975 to 1981. If anything, Duffy Dyer will be remembered as one of the first–but certainly not the last–terrible first round pick by the New York Mets.