It’s been almost 8 months since Billy Eppler, in his first draft as GM of the Angels, selected Matt Thaiss as the Angels’ first round pick. It’s been almost 8 months since some of us here at Halos Heaven (yes, myself included) were momentarily thrown into delirium when Rob Manfred said “CATCHER Matt Thaiss”; all I heard was the word “catcher”, booming and ominous, and I suddenly found myself questioning reality.
Why the overreaction?
Angels fans had already been incensed at the previous year’s draft, when the Angels used their first round pick on a guy that projected as a Jeff Mathis clone (after the team had drafted a dozen or so catchers in the two previous drafts), so I think we should be cut a little slack for the collective knee jerk. Luckily, by the end of the afternoon, the coolest of heads prevailed, as usual, and the reality of the pick was surfacing: this was far, far from a Taylor Ward-type situation; quite the opposite, in fact.
The Angels must have sensed that people were focusing on the catcher aspect of their pick shortly after it was announced, because Eppler was already letting the beat writers know that day that he was NOT picked to be a backstop. He was chosen for his excellent skills with the lumber, first and foremost, and they’d move him to 1B.
He was coming off a season at Virginia where he slashed .366/.468/.557, a veritable on-base machine with an eagle-eye purview of the strike zone and contact for days. The day he was drafted, calmed down but still side-eyeing the pick, I said “If the bat is legit, then cool.”
Welp, the bat is legit. I’m a happy camper.
Thaiss started his minor league career in Orem, fresh out of the draft, and instantly made his mark. The Pioneer League is definitely hitter-friendly, but still, Thaiss’ .569 SLG and .964 OPS were some standout, video game-like numbers. He only lasted 15 games in Orem before the organization thought it was too easy for him, and he got sent to Low-A Burlington.
He ended up playing 52 games with the Bees in 2016, and the stellar numbers came back down to Earth a bit, but were still enough to turn heads of fans, writers and scouts alike. He hit .276 over those 52 games, but he slugged .427, hitting 12 doubles and four homers. His presence at the dish was unwavering; he was still making contact like crazy, still keeping his K% respectable and still getting his walks.
The glove at 1B is still a work in progress, and he did have 11 errors, but pretty much everybody that watches this kid hit will tell you that he’s a big league batter through and through, with enough chops, discipline and power to be regularly penciled into a lineup in a couple years. Coaches barely even talk to him about his hitting approach, because he doesn’t need it. He’s already “there”.
Once he gets more cozy being on the field and not behind the plate, fans will get a good picture of the first baseman of the Angels’ future. We may get to see him at class A Inland Empire to begin 2017, and it’s perfectly within reason that he could reach AA Mobile by the end of the season.
All this success, all this wonderful hype and excitement, and it’s only been about 8 months since Billy Eppler drafted him; almost 8 short months of Matt Thaiss shattering my expectations, and about 8 months since Billy Eppler proved to us all that we can all relax...he knows what he’s doing.
After all, we’ve got the proof. We’ve got Matt Thaiss.