Thaiss learning ropes in Major League camp

Angels prospect making switch from catcher to first base

Thaiss learning ropes in Major League camp

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It's been less than a year since the Angels selected Matt Thaiss in the first round of the 2016 Draft. Over that time frame, Thaiss has already experienced his first professional season, a position switch and Angels instructional league. Now, he is soaking in his first Major League camp.

"It's definitely a cool experience, getting to learn from guys this year," said Thaiss, who picked up his first hit of the spring on Tuesday when he singled in the ninth inning of the Angels' 7-5 win over the Cubs.

Spring Training: Information | Tickets | Schedule

Thaiss, 21, was selected No. 16 overall last June out of the University of Virginia, where he was a catcher. He was considered one of the top hitters in his Draft class due to his advanced approach at the plate and solid power from the left side.

Thaiss, ranked the Angels' No. 1 prospect by, lived up to that reputation in his pro debut, batting .338 with a .964 OPS over 15 games in Rookie-level Orem before earning a promotion to Class A Burlington. He closed out the season by hitting .276 with a .778 OPS over 52 games for Burlington.

Angels expect Thaiss to grow

The steeper learning curve for Thaiss came on the defensive side, as he had to adjust to first base, where the Angels moved him shortly after the Draft. Thaiss estimated that he played first in only about 10 games in college, but the Angels were confident that he would be able to handle the position switch based on what they saw during a pre-draft workout in 2016.

Four Angels representatives, including director of baseball development Mike Gallego and former director of professional scouting Hal Morris, traveled to Virginia to spend a day with Thaiss and watch him at first. The contingent returned with "really positive" reports, according to GM Billy Eppler, which further sold the club on Thaiss.

"Working him out at first base really gave us a lot of comfort to make that selection," Eppler said. "I can't tell you if we would have made that selection or not if we didn't have that opportunity."

Eppler added that the Angels have been pleased with Thaiss' progress at first.

"I think he caught on quicker than even those guys thought originally from their one-day evaluation," Eppler said. "Then kind of watching how he would get presented with something and how quick he adapted, and how quick he grew -- just that overall aptitude and awareness really gave guys that moment of saying, 'All right, this guy is coming a little bit faster at this position than we thought.'"

Still, Thaiss said he thinks he'll continue to grow into the position and become more comfortable as he gets more game experience.

"I think the biggest thing for me right now is finding a comfort level," Thaiss said. "You can take so many ground balls, you can do all the stuff in training, but the real experience and the real comfort comes from being played in games. After last season, I have 50-60 games now over at first base, so I'm becoming more and more comfortable. There are just different things that I can learn from the game experience, as well as watching the guys up here and how they go about it -- different things that they do in the games that I can pick up as well."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.