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Mapping out playing time for Matt Thaiss

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The 2016 first rounder is knocking on the door of the majors. How can the Angels get his bat into the lineup?

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-All Star Game Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be the first to say that Spring Training statistics are both misleading and not entirely useful, especially when small sample size (SSS) applies.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about this scorching start that Matt Thaiss, the Angels 2016 first rounder, is off to. In 11 trips to the plate, Thaiss has recorded seven hits, including three doubles and two triples, while not striking out. He’s currently rocking a .700/.727/1.400 line, which has Angels fans clamoring for him to make the Opening Day roster.

Here’s the issue: Thaiss is a first base-only guy whose trying to make a roster filled with plenty of first base/designated hitter options. Even with Shohei Ohtani likely not slated to return until around May, the Angels project to give the bulk of the 1B/DH duties to veterans Albert Pujols and Justin Bour.

This makes the path to playing time trickier for Thaiss, who is arguably ready for a real cup of coffee in the majors. The decline of the aforementioned Pujols is well-known and he’s once again projected for a sub-replacement level season while eating up a large chunk of payroll. Bour endured a down 2018 season but still posted a respectable 107 wRC+ and has a track record of crushing right-handed pitching (career 129 wRC+).

Once Ohtani returns, it makes the logjam at first base and designated hitter even more full. Ohtani, who once again projects as one of the best hitters in the American League, will handle most of the DH duties come May or June. This leaves a platoon of sorts at first base, where the Angels will have to find a way to start giving less at bats to Pujols assuming his decline continues.

Fitting Thaiss into this equation seems a bit difficult. There’s no doubt he’s produced enough in the minors to start this conversation and his recent swing changes have altered his profile a bit. Fangraphs recently released their Angels prospect rankings, where they slapped a 45 grade on Thaiss and ranked him as their ninth best prospect. Included in that write-up was this important tidbit:

In an era where seemingly every player is making some sort of swing change, Thaiss has joined this movement, utilizing this leg kick along with a shorter stance. If these changes are real and Thaiss is able to blend his usual plate discipline with a power uptick, his future projection looks a heck of a lot rosier.

Unfortunately for Thaiss, he may not get to showcase himself much this year unless the Angels see injuries or poor performance from Pujols and Bour. Based on talent alone and his progression through the minors, Thaiss’ ETA doesn’t budge much but his true coming-out party may be 2020.