Angels pick Virginia catcher Thaiss at No. 16

Deemed one of the Draft's top bats, 21-year-old could switch to 1B, corner OF in pro ball

June 9th, 2016

ANAHEIM -- Calling him "one of the top hitters in this year's Draft," the Angels, under longtime scouting director Ric Wilson, selected University of Virginia catcher Matt Thaiss with their 16th overall selection on Thursday.

Thaiss -- selected before high school outfielder Brandon Marsh, the Angels' second-round pick -- boasts elite strike-zone awareness and solid power, but a source told there's "no chance" he remains a catcher once he is ingrained in professional baseball.

First base seems like a good fit, but the outfield corners are a possibility, too.

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60th overall: Brandon Marsh

"We haven't settled in on anything, and we haven't ruled anything out," Wilson said on a conference call. "We're trying to acquire the bat, the asset. He's a versatile guy. As he's working his way through the system, it'll probably fall into some place that he feels comfortable with. It can be a number of places."

The Draft continues on Friday with Rounds 3-10. The preview show begins at 9:30 a.m. PT, with exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 beginning at 10 a.m. PT.

Listed at 5-foot-11, 197 pounds, Thaiss -- pronounced as "thyce" -- struck out in only 4.4 percent of his plate appearances this past regular season, one of the lowest marks in Division I. In three years for the Cavaliers, he batted .338/.427/.518 with 20 home runs, 74 walks and 55 strikeouts in 153 games. ranked Thaiss 35th among amateurs heading in.

Asked what makes him one of the top hitters in this year's Draft, a crop that was deemed relatively shallow with regard to offense, Wilson said: "Just the zone control he has, the ability to make contact to all fields, the easiness of the swing; his pitch recognition, his plate discipline, his ability to make good decisions at the plate. All these things lead us to believe he's going to be an above-average hitter or better."

The Angels were allotted $2,660,800 for their first-round pick.

They selected a catcher last year, Taylor Ward, who went 26th overall and, unlike Thaiss, was known primarily for his defense. Thaiss struck out only 16 times and notched 25 extra-base hits during his junior season, batting .375 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs in 60 games. He credited that to a University of Virginia program that emphasized two-strike drills and didn't accept caught-looking strikeouts.

"It's one of the main emphases of our program," Thaiss said, "and I think that's something I've carried through my three years there and has really helped me out."

A 21-year-old from Jackson, N.J., Thaiss was a 32nd-round Draft pick by the Red Sox out of high school in 2013. Despite playing mostly in a pitcher-friendly park, Thaiss hit 10 home runs as a sophomore, leading a Cavaliers team that won the first College World Series title in school history. As a junior, Thaiss was a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy (given to the collegiate player of the year) and the Johnny Bench Award (top college catcher).

Thaiss is deemed raw behind the plate, with a fringy arm and rough receiving skills. He played right field his first two years of high school and got plenty of time at first base throughout his three years of college.

"I love catching," Thaiss said. "It's what I love to do. I love being involved in every play. But at the same time, I'm a team guy. I'm willing to do whatever it takes, wherever I'm placed."

Thaiss is the second New Jersey native taken by the Angels in the first round, with Mike Trout becoming the first in 2009.

The Angels began the Draft by taking back-to-back position players and could go heavy on them once again. They took pitchers with 10 of their first 11 picks in 2013 and each of their first five picks in '14, then took position players with 12 of their first 14 picks in '15.

"It's just whatever comes available," Wilson said. "Each Draft is different. Sometimes it's heavier in position players, sometimes it's heavier in pitching. Rather than pigeon-hole ourselves into one or two things, we're going to keep an open mind and hopefully take the best player available in each round that makes sense and will work for our organization."