With their first round pick of the 2016 draft, the Angels selected Matt Thaiss with the 16th overall pick, to the universal dismay of Angels fans everywhere. The Angels had just drafted Taylor Ward with their 2015 first round pick the year before, and sorely needed to “hit” on draft picks in order to boost both the minor league system and the major league product. Drafting another catcher in the first round did absolutely nothing to quell fears that the Angels are “throwing” away the opportunity to win in the Trout era.
It turns out, the Angels drafted Thaiss intending for him to be a quick-moving, college bat and moved him to first base upon the start of his playing career (just like they did with C.J. Cron). In that regard, Thaiss has certainly lived up to the billing. Check out his stats.
|2016 - Rk||0.5||71||4||4||.338/.394/.569||0.964||140|
|2016 - A||-0.5||226||28||22||.276/.351/.427||0.778||129|
He’s got a lot of people in the organization predicting big things for him, detailed well in an October article by Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register.
At the time of drafting him, this was what then-scouting director Ric Wilson had to say.
Just the zone control he has, the ability to make contact to all fields, the easiness of the swing; his pitch recognition, his plate discipline, his ability to make good decisions at the plate. All these things lead us to believe he's going to be an above-average hitter or better.
He earns praise from his class-A Burlington manager Adam Melhuse.
You saw some failure in Burlington and he was able to shrug that off relatively quick and that didn’t manifest to something really big. The swing being so sound, there might be the propensity for something to go wrong with the amount of bat movement he has. When that gets out of timing he’s a little out of synch, but it seems he knows his swing so well he’s able to synch back up really, really quick...Being fairly new to [first base], he has no fear of the ball. He’s not afraid to stick his nose in there. Hands worked well. Feet worked well. Let’s face it, he’s a bat-first guy, but he’s more than adequate at first base, and he’s going to get better...I think the sky is the limit for him.
The Angels’ director of player development, Mike Gallego, also had good things to say.
He knows what he’s doing at the plate. I don’t even talk to him about hitting.
Inland Empire coach Chad Tracy saw him solely in instructional league.
Pretty much everything you heard about him when they drafted him (is true). He controls the zone. Very rarely does he swing out of the zone. And when he gets a ball to hit, he squares it up.
Heck, Wayne Cavadi of Minor League Ball even opined that Thaiss could see the big leagues in 2017 and make an impact in 2018.
It’s blatantly clear that, while Thaiss may not have the high-upside of top 20 prospects on league-wide lists, he is a very high-floor prospect that has the ability to move through the minors quickly thanks to his excellent contact ability, plate discipline, and doubles power. How quickly? As mentioned in both Fletcher’s and Cavadi’s article, Thaiss can make a big league impact as soon as 2018.
And because the Virginia Cavaliers’ program emphasized two-strike drills, Thaiss is well-versed in the art of working the pitch count and fending off strikeouts. He’s refined such that no player development can mess him up — in fact, he makes his own adjustments at the plate without anyone else’s assistance.
But...where will he play?
DH and first base are both taken for the foreseeable future, so in order to get his bat into the lineup, he’ll have to learn a new position: again.
And if he doesn't fit into the Angels long-term plans, the organization would still be best served to make him more versatile in order to fetch a higher return. How much would you pay for Matt Thaiss in a trade when there already exists a bevy of power-hitting, slugging first-basemen to choose from in every free agent period? Not much, I’m guessing.
You’ll definitely pay more (or get more) for Thaiss if he can play third or first. And if Thaiss can play left field in a pinch? You’d see competition for Thaiss heat up; and as the league is going positionless, having prospects that can play in multiple positions all over the diamond is crucial to a manager in terms of roster flexibility and lineup construction.
Matt Thaiss has the arm strength for third base, and heck, he could play a decent left field if he learns it as soon as possible — and it’s not like he’s not athletic either.
For Thaiss to play every day at the big league level, he’s going to have to make some sacrifices. Experimenting with new positions is something that helps him, his teammates, his manager, his GM, and his organization. I appreciate Thaiss’s dedication in learning to play a new position, and I hope he’s willing to do it again.