Although Spring Training stats especially at the very beginning don’t mean very much (Trout is hitting .143 so far), the stats themselves give players a chance to showcase their talents and that is what is happening with Matt Thaiss up to this point.
He’s had 11 plate appearances (yes, it’s a small sample size), but so far Thaiss is raking. And we mean raking everything on your front lawn. In those 11 plate appearances, he’s walked once, had 3 doubles, 2 triples, 14 total bases, and an astounding 8 RBIs out of the gate. He’s batting .700 with a 2.127 OPS (gasp).
So where did this guy come from since there are a lot of fans that don’t know much about Matt Thaiss? In June 2016, he was the Angels first round pick (#16 overall), a catcher out of Virginia. Longtime scouting director Rick Wilson selected him since he was called “one of the top hitters in this year’s (2016) Draft.” The reason the Angels picked him was because of his excellent strike-zone awareness and solid power. But as soon as the Angels selected him, they wanted to convert him to be a first baseman or a possible outfielder. At this point in time, he’s been converted to a first baseman, which might be a dilemma this year or in 2020.
But let’s talk about Thaiss’s raw talent first. We can start by looking at 2018 when we combine his minor league stats from AA Mobile and AAA Salt Lake. His numbers are quite impressive to say the least. He hit 16 home runs, had 76 runs batted in, 34 doubles, 8 triples, batted .280, and had a .335 on base percentage (576 at bats). He did have 103 strikeouts, but that can be forgiven just based on how fast he has moved up in the minors. He has faced a lot of different pitchers in only 3 years in the minors since he has been in 6 different leagues.
What if Thaiss continues to impress in Spring Training? Will he get an automatic spot on the Angels Opening Day roster? Not necessarily. The Angels are committed to Albert Pujols either being a first baseman or a designated hitter. He’s due $29 million this year, $30 million next year, and $31 million in the final year of his contract (2021). The Angels signed Justin Bour to a 1-year, $2.5 million contract to play first when Pujols has to DH. However, the Angels already have a full time DH in Shohei Ohtani and even though he won’t be back until May, he’s progressing very quickly. Once he comes back, the first base position will be split between Pujols and Bour.
Could they convert Thaiss as an outfielder? The Angels have plenty of outfielders coming up including top prospect Jo Adell, Brandon Marsh, Michael Hermosillo (on the 40-man roster), and Jarrett Parker, who are all on the Spring Training roster this year. To complicate things more, the Angels brought Peter Bourjos back on a minor league contract. To make a long story short, there’s no room for Thaiss in the outfield. So what do the Angels do? Angels fans have a variety of possible solutions:
- Use Thaiss as trade bait to get pitching since Albert Pujols might not want to retire. This is very risky since Thaiss seems to be a budding superstar.
- Let Bour walk and lose $2.5 million. This is risky since he will probably be more productive than Pujols this season.
- Release Pujols at the end of the 2019 season. The Angels would lose a big chunk of money ($61 million) in the final two seasons.
- Convert Thaiss back to catcher. This is least likely to happen due to the fact his raw talent would diminish because catching is such a difficult position and it’s mostly a defensive minded position.
As Spring Training goes on Angels GM Billy Eppler might have to make some difficult decisions. In the meantime, Angels fans will keep watching to see if Matt Thaiss will keep the pressure on Albert Pujols to perform. Yet at this point, it’s a nice problem for the Angels to have.
For the first time in a long time, the Angels actually have a farm system that other organizations are starting to respect again.
Featured Image: Matt Thaiss/ Orange County Register