This Spring Training has been very telling for the future of the Angels club, namely the struggles of former superstar Albert Pujols. At this point it doesn’t seem likely that the Pujols 1B experiment will work out in any significant measure next year. What then, is the contingency in the face of an Albert Pujols disaster?
Just recently, the Angels traded the reliable C.J Cron for peanuts to the Tampa Bays Rays, ensuring Pujols will be unopposed regarding 1B playing time. Earlier this offseason I wrote a piece on the subtly clutch C.J Cron, a .289 hitter in 2017 during RISP, 2 out situations. Within the lens of the C.J Cron trade this Pujols move looks difficult to justify, and now that Pujols has barely knotted his 1st base hit of the Spring season the perspective is even more clear.
Not only has Pujols flailed with the bat all Spring, he’s looked mentally outskilled at every corner. His legs are gone, so to compensate he’ll attempt to get ahead of the ball with his swing and ineffectively pull his ball down the 3rd base line. Pujols has an insane percentage of 50%+ of his batted balls creeping up the left side of the field.
This piece isn’t about analyzing the struggles of Pujols, this is about finding the solutions. So where else to look for 1B assistance than the surging Matt Thaiss?
Calling it reliability may be a bit of an understatement, as Thaiss has posted a .370 OBP across two seasons in the Minors, from Rookie ball to low AA. Sure, Thaiss has very little professional ball experience and is only 22 years of age, yet that means very little for the young 1B.
Invited to Spring Training with the Angels as a non-roster invitee, Thaiss has collected 35 AB’s and capitalized upon every opportunity. This Spring, Thaiss has posted a .314/.381/.737.
Yes, that’s right, Thaiss is putting up serious numbers; even though one of his pointed flaws in the minors has been a lack of power for a 1B he is still crushing the ball in his own way. Thaiss already has two home runs, as many hits as Pujols has collected, and across Spring Training so far Thaiss owns 14 total bases.
What does this mean for Angels backup infielder Luis Valbuena? Not much, to be honest. The Adam Dunn-esque hitter whom put up 22 HR’s for the Angels while performing to a .199 BA. The most likely situation, in the case of an Albert Pujols disaster, would be a platoon effort between Thaiss and Valbuena.
Just think of Thaiss as a “break in case of emergency” contingency. So far he’s performing up to par with earning an Opening Day roster job, yet given his youth it won’t be a shock to see the Angels keep him stashed in the Minors since Pujols has the 100% confidence of the club and management, for some reason.
It won’t be very long until the Angels need to break that glass and secure their emergency extinguisher. You might see the Angels employ a three-man platoon of Pujols, Thaiss, and Valbuena early on in 2018, which again makes the Cron trade look much worse. Unless somehow Thaiss replicates his Minor League stats in the Majors during his very first season it’s going to tough situation to manage.
Except in the case of Pujols, any Angels 1B who performs at a valuable rate only makes it even more difficult for Scioscia to bench them over Pujols. Matt Thaiss, when he gets his eventual call to cover for Pujols, will be forced into a situation where no matter how well he performs, he will see little reward. That’s not good for a young mindset at all, and I’m not trying to Freud this article up, but the last thing we need is Scioscia mentally impeding the confidence of a promising youth.
I’m positive at one point during the season Matt Thaiss will be the Angels sweetheart; it may not last forever, but his performance will hit a peak at some point during the season, and whether it plateaus or not is anyones guess.
Based off Thaiss’ Spring so far, it’s not too hard to see him going on a stretch where he makes his name known, and respected, with the Angels.
The only problem is, will he be using his talents to pull the Angels out of a muck, or will he be given the opportunity to add to a surging momentum?