Matt Thaiss looked to be stuck. A promising prospect who looked close to MLB ready was blocked by a logjam in the majors. After signing Justin Bour to a contract this offseason, it looked like Thaiss would spend most of this year in Salt Lake barring injury. With Bour and Albert Pujols only able to play first base and Shohei Ohtani only capable of the designated hitter role, it didn’t appear Thaiss would be able to get regular playing time with the big club. While many Angels fans asked for his arrival due to Justin Bour’s early season slump, Thaiss found a different path to the bigs.
Drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft as a catcher out of University of Virginia, he was transferred to first base in rookie ball. But with Angels general manager Billy Eppler placing an emphasis on positional flexibility, Thaiss begin spending the majority of his time this season at 3rd base. This season, Thaiss has spent 391 innings at the hot corner, compared to just 193 innings at his customary first base. He has proven to be a capable defender at 3rd, making 9 errors as he makes his transition to the other corner of the diamond. While it originally looked like Thaiss would be in Salt Lake for the majority of the year, an injury to Tommy La Stella opened the door, a door that would not have been opened had Thaiss not had the versatility of playing 3rd base.
Thaiss ranks as the 6th best prospect in the Angels organization, and the 9th overall first base prospect in the majors, according to MLB Pipeline. He grades out with an above average hit tool, average power, and an average fielder. Thaiss is known as more of a gap to gap hitter, hitting 17 doubles in his time in Salt Lake, while mixing in 14 homers as well. Thaiss’ numbers to start the year made it look like more development may be needed, but after a hot month of June, the Angels felt he was ready. Below are Thaiss’ splits by month in AAA Salt Lake.
April and May: 201 AB, .783 OPS, 84 total bases, 6 home runs, 10 doubles, 28 RBI
June: 104 AB, 1.048 OPS, 63 total bases, 8 home runs, 7 doubles, 21 RBI
Early on this season, Thaiss struggled to get going in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, but heated up in the month of June. An uptick in power, hitting 8 home runs alone in the month of June, along with a 1.048 OPS led the Angels to calling up Thaiss. On Thursday, he made his major league debut, starting at 3rd base and doubling to left center field in his first at bat. I would expect Thaiss to split time with Luis Rengifo and David Fletcher until La Stella is ready to return.
Billy Eppler has continued to place a priority on positional flexibility in the minors. In addition to Thaiss, Taylor Ward, who also transferred from catcher to 3rd base, has also been playing left field in addition third base. Anaheim native Jose Rojas has spent time at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base, in addition to left field. This flexibility has allowed prospects like Thaiss to reach the majors quicker than expected, and allowed the Angels quality depth and all positions in the field. The Angels farm system is beginning to bear fruit with guys like Griffin Canning, Luis Rengifo, and Matt Thaiss.