Aside from Mike Trout adding to his lore, the Los Angeles Angels don’t have a lot to look forward to this coming season. Their farm system doesn’t provide too much of a glimpse into the future either, as their top prospect — Matt Thaiss — may be the only one to sniff the Top 100. That being said, Thaiss sure does have an exciting bat.
While Zack Collins was clearly the most highly-profiled catcher in the 2016 MLB Draft, Thaiss wasn’t that far behind. He was coming off his second consecutive All-American season at Virginia, part of the team that tangoed with Vanderbilt in consecutive College World Series finals.
The 6-foot, 195 pound, left-handed hitting backstop would hit .318 in the 2015 CWS en route to UVA’s National Championship, but followed it up with an uncharacteristic summer on the Cape, his now signature bat and advanced plate discipline seemingly gone. He bounced back in a strong junior campaign, slashing .375/.578/.473 with ten home runs and 13 doubles. Most impressively he walked more than double the amount of times he struck out, posting a 16-to-39 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 232 at bats.
The problem was his position. Most didn’t see Thaiss sticking behind home plate. The right-handed throwing catcher had modest arm strength and struggled with both his blocking and receiving skills. Though each season at UVA showed improvement, it seemingly wasn’t enough to convince big league clubs that he was their future catcher.
The bat, however, was simply too sexy to pass up. There was no denying that he had the power and ability to make consistent, hard contact with a big league approach at the plate. The Angels made him the 16th overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, signing him to a $2.15-million signing bonus, a discount of $500,000 at the projected slot bonus for his pick.
They immediately moved Thaiss to first base, especially with Taylor Ward turning heads as the future backstop in LA. Thaiss, in turn, immediately rewarded them by being the exact bat they thought he could be.
The Pioneer League proved too easy for the 21-year old. He would go 3-for-5 in his professional debut, with a home run and two doubles. He slashed .338/.394/.427 while striking out and walking four times apiece over 15 games. The Angels quickly promoted Thaiss to full-season ball in the Midwest League. He began his Burlington career much like his Orem career, putting up a three-hit night in his Midwest League debut, and while the home run wasn’t present, he ripped two doubles.
He finished his 60-game Low-A debut slashing .276/.351/.427 with 12 doubles, three triples and four home runs over 199 at bats. He struck out 12.4 percent of the time while walking 9.7 percent of the time, numbers any front office would be more than happy with in this era of big-swinging — and missing — power hitters. Combined he played 58 games at first base, and as expected, there was a bit of a learning curve. He committed 11 errors in 523 total chances, but his range improved as the season moved on.
The past few seasons have seen plenty of top prospects spend very little time in the minor leagues. It is not outrageous to think that Thaiss will start 2017 in the California League with Inland Empire and be in Double-A by June. There isn’t much left to wonder about his bat, so improved play at first could see Thaiss get a big league look late in the season with the Angels expected to be out of the picture by then. His constant contact and power should profile well at both first base and designated hitter, so there could be plenty of at bats to go around with an aging Albert Pujols and a merely decent CJ Cron manning first base.
Thaiss enters 2017 as a prospect to keep a close watch on, and while he may not be a Top 50 talent, he could be ready to make a real impact by 2018.