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Matt Thaiss seeks the swing that made him the Angels’ first-round pick in 2016

Los Angeles Angels third baseman Matt Thaiss warms up before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies.
Matt Thaiss warms up before a baseball game against the Colorado Rockies in September. Thaiss is hoping to make the Angels’ roster in a utility role this season.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

When the Angels used the 16th overall pick of the 2016 draft on Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss, they were convinced they were getting one of the top hitters in the country.

The left-handed-hitting Thaiss led his college team in batting (.375), home runs (10), RBIs (59), slugging (.578) and on-base percentage (.473) that season. His advanced plate discipline and power to all fields “led us to believe he’ll be an above-average hitter or better,” then-scouting director Ric Wilson said.

Five years into a professional career that began with a $2.15-million signing bonus, things haven’t gone quite as expected.

While several top picks from his draft class — Atlanta pitcher Ian Anderson, Seattle outfielder Kyle Lewis and Dodgers catcher Will Smith — have established themselves as big league regulars, Thaiss, 25, is still scrambling for a roster spot.

Moved from catcher to first base after being drafted, Thaiss has played in 61 big league games at third base, first base, second base and left field, hitting .202 with nine homers and 24 RBIs.

After showing flashes of his potential in 2019, when he hit .211 with eight homers and 23 RBIs in 53 games, Thaiss played in only eight games in 2020, hitting .143 with one homer and one RBI.

Thaiss spent most of last summer at the alternate training site in Long Beach. This spring, he is battling for a utility role, his chances of making the team slim.

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“I’m very thankful and very blessed to get the opportunity to be where I am today,” Thaiss said Wednesday, when asked how his career has gone compared to what he envisioned when he was drafted. “That being said, I don’t think anyone would be satisfied with where I am today.

“I think that’s something that can fuel me. Obviously, I want more, from a personal standpoint, from a team standpoint, and I’m excited to do whatever I can to get to that. It requires a lot of work.”

Thaiss has a solid .279 average and .808 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 404 minor league games, with 45 homers and 241 RBIs, but uneven playing time and mechanical inconsistencies with his stance and swing have prevented him from carrying that success to the big leagues.

“As cliché as it sounds, I’m trying to go back to the old me and why I got drafted, a contact hitter who can drive the ball at times,” Thaiss said. “I’m trying to make myself more athletic in the box.

“I think I got into a position at the beginning of last year where I was too wide [in my stance] and too unathletic, and it kind of prevented me from being as effective as I can be.”

At every stop during his 14-year MLB career, catcher Kurt Suzuki has brought what his new Angels teammates recognize immediately: boundless enthusiasm.

Could Thaiss have put too much emphasis on launch angle and power?

“It could be that — it could be putting added pressure [on myself],” he said. “It could be a bunch of things. For me, I ran away from my contact swing, using the whole field. That’s what I’m trying to get back to.”

Thaiss doubled to left-center field in three at-bats in Wednesday’s 4-2 exhibition victory over the Cleveland Indians and is now two for 12 (.167) this spring.

“The results are not there yet,” Thaiss said, “but feel like I’m working good at-bats, putting some good swings on the ball and finding barrels.”

Thaiss has expended energy learning new defensive positions, and he wasn’t prepared for some. Last Sept. 8, he made his first pro start at second base and made a two-run error in Texas. The next night he started in left field and had a catchable ball drop in front of him for a double.

Angels manager Joe Maddon said that the “larger resume [Thaiss] creates, the longer he’s going to be able to play in the big leagues,” but could playing so many different positions be putting so much stress on Thaiss it’s affecting his offense?

“It could if you let it, and I think I’ve done a good job of not letting it so far,” Thaiss said. “I think it greatly improves my chances of getting back to the big leagues and staying there. Joe always says the more positions you can play the more opportunity there is, and that’s what I feel is the case here.”


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