The LA Angels drafted Matt Thaiss in the 1st round of the 2016 Draft as one of the most advanced hitting catchers coming out of that college Draft Class. Thaiss wasn’t drafted for his skills behind the plate as much as he was drafted for his prime hitting skills which led many to believe he would be a quick trip through the Minors. These sentiments were not unfounded, and with Thaiss spending the 2018 season developing his advanced hitting approach even further, he looks to break into the Majors very quickly, just as everyone expected.
With Matt Thaiss, the LA Angels can count on a high-contact bat that can hit the ball to all sides of the field while playing strong defense at 1B. In his three MiLB seasons he’s held down a .280 BA and an OBP that typically ranged over .350 (lowest was .335 in 2018). Thaiss does a lot of things very well, yet his big jump in development in 2018 may see him developing the ability to excel in certain areas.
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Matt Thaiss (1B)
Drafted in 2016 – 1st Round (#16)
Thaiss was drafted for his advanced hitting and we’ve seen him show his ability to consistently put wood on the ball. He has a very quick swing that allows him to enjoy constant contact. 2018 has seen his approach shift away from a strong BB/K ratio given his 103 K’s to 44 BB’s on the season. His career high in K’s was back in 2017 at 109, though he also walked 77 times in that season.
It’s not that Thaiss struggled with his ability to take a walk, it’s that he shifted his gameplan into a different direction. Thaiss has never been what many would consider a proto-typical first baseman. He’s not a big time power hitter, Thaiss maxing out at 9 HR’s back in 2017, though that’s something he’s developed Major improvements on. He’s found great praise for his consistent contact ability and strong plate approach, and though he could put the ball in all parts of the field he was a predominate ground-ball hitter. While his projections sat in the “James Loney” tier of first-baseman, that meaning that while he isn’t going to pound the ball you can still count on him for a high average with limited K’s and a very healthy BB/K ratio.
Going back to the mention of his gameplan shifting in 2018, Matt Thaiss took a big jump forward with his bat by posting actual power numbers through the season. A developed approach, as well as coaching and guidance by Angels legend Wally Joyner, has helped Thaiss in focusing his power bat into a tangible tool. Throughout 2018 Thaiss knocked 16 HR’s with 76 total RBI’s which trumped his previous high of 9 HR’s and 73 RBI’s. From this we can see that Thaiss is a reliable hitter in clutch situations given his RBI total and with a jump in power his ability to create more runs will likely blossom with the Angels.
While there is the school of thought that first-basemen need to be power hitters what many miss from that philosophy is the first baseman’s actual duty being creating and driving in runs. Matt Thaiss’ consistent contact ability allows the Angels to do what they do best and generate baserunners. Not only that, Thaiss proven ability to bring in the run independent of his power hitting is an extremely valuable tool for the Angels big league club.
A lot of modern baseball philosophy prioritizes big hitting which drives the game away from small ball tactics. We see a lot of strikeouts and men left on base in exchange for big home runs and RBI’s generated off of big hits. Thaiss is a prototypical small ball hitter who can pop singles and timely doubles and generate both the opportunity to score runs as well as actual RBI ability. Thaiss is a fantastic piece for the Angels moving forward given the new philosophies that will come in tow with Brad Ausmus, who will likely turn to the more analytical side of baseball over the eternal eye-ball testing of Mike Scioscia. Thaiss will blossom in a system that prioritizes generating opportunities by constantly jabbing your opponent rather than looking for the haymaker each and every time. Let’s not forget that Thaiss logged 34 doubles this past season, so there’s still power to expect, though it’s not going to be moonshot power like one would want from a 1B.
The future MLB career of Matt Thaiss is going to exist in a realm of classic baseball, despite him being a contact-first 1B. He’s the kind of guy you could slot right behind the middle of the order and score the power hitters of the staff (Trout/Ohtani/Upton), which would really stress out opposing pitching. Imagine that, a heavy contact hitter who can still reasonably drive the ball while limiting his own strikeouts hitting behind the RBI meat of the lineup. Let’s not forget that Thaiss is also an RBI guy himself, which in tune creates a plethora of run scoring opportunities for the Angels.
Matt Thaiss, if managed correctly, can be one of the most productive hitting first baseman in baseball. He may not slam balls with unrivaled authority, but he will stress opposing managers and bleed pitching with his highly reliable ability to produce runs.
Developmental Needs: Maintenance on K/BB approach
Best Tools: Contact-Ability, On-Base Ability, Run-Production, Clutch Hitting, RBI-Ability, Consistent Approach
MLB ETA: 2019