Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 197 lbs.
College: University Of Virginia
One of the top two catchers on the board on most publicly available rankings sheets, Matt Thaiss brings a lot of offensive potential to the catcher position as well as improved defensive capabilities, assuaging somewhat the doubts as to his long term ability to stick behind the plate. His ultimate draft position will depend on whether Major League Baseball teams agree that he can stick behind the plate or not, but if they do think so, Thaiss could go as high as the supplemental first round on Thursday.
He was largely considered a bat-first catcher as a freshman at Virginia, but was quickly thrust into the starting role thanks to injuries and blossomed into a true power in the middle of the lineup for them. A quick look at his NCAA career stats:
|NCAA (3 seasons)||150||542||113||184||35||2||20||127||71||53||17||2||6||10||0.339||0.428||0.522||0.950||0.183||0.319||0.345||0.75||27.1||283||638||8.31%||11.13%|
Many scouts still aren't sold on his blocking or receiving skills, but there is little doubt that the bat will play at the highest level eventually. His ability to avoid strikeouts is particularly noteworthy among his offensive skills, as you might notice above with his K% falling from 17.81% to 8.64% to 5.30% each of his three seasons at Virginia. One weapon Thaiss certainly has plenty of, defensively, is arm strength.
His stance and swing are really a pretty thing. He has a wide base from the left side and a small toe tap, rather than an exaggerated leg kick, as he begins his weight transfer. He starts with his bat laying flat on his shoulder before picking it up to wrap around his head slightly. His stride is small, since he starts pretty spread out at his base, but the weight transfer generates significant torque through the zone. His bat plane through the zone is fairly level, with just the slightest hint of an uphill inclination that seems to be endemic to many gorgeous left-handed swings. It's easy to see the bat playing as a plus tool down the road.
It's hard not see this young man reaching a status among the upper echelon of two-way catchers in the Major Leagues one day if his development goes well and he's well coached (by an organization like the Astros, who value the skill so highly) in his pitch presentation skills. Hopefully he will be able to be coached on good blocking as well. If all goes well for him, don't sleep on him as a top-tier Major League catcher.
If his defense takes a step backwards, it's possible to envision him having to change positions in the minor leagues. It's unclear whether he'd be capable of a corner outfield position - though he does certainly seem to have the arm strength for it - and his hitting would have to carry him as an undersized first baseman were he to move to that position. Certainly a lot of his future value hinges on his ability to stick behind the plate, and it must be left to Mike Fast and Sig Mejdal and the Astros evaluators to make that call; certainly this writer doesn't have enough information.
Projected Draft Round
As mentioned above, if a team has bought in on his defense, Thaiss could very well be drafted as high as the supplemental first round on Thursday. It certainly seems safe to expect him not to last beyond the second round.
Will he sign?
Yes, it seems very likely he'd sign. Catchers have a shelf life a little lower than other positions given the wear and tear they endure, and it seems unlikely he'd improve his draft stock all that much in returning to Virginia for his senior year.
This Baseball America piece from March 12th, 2016 should be considered required reading for those wishing to learn more about Thaiss. It also features two vines, one of him hitting and one of him blocking a splitter in the dirt. Speaking of that splitter and his blocking abilities, here's an excerpt from the piece:
"Not an everyday-quality catcher when he came to campus, Thaiss displayed some of the gains he’s made Friday night, catching the No. 10 draft prospect in the country. He guided Jones, a junior righthander, to an efficient, zone-pounding, eight-inning scoreless effort, in which Jones didn’t issue a walk and struck out three on 108 pitches. Jones throws a heavy low 90’s fastball that touched 95 mph with sink on Friday, and he threw several splitters in the dirt—all of which Thaiss were able to wrangle.
"I think the guy’s turned himself into an above-average catcher, I really do," said Virginia head coach Brian O’Connor. "He’s got arm strength, and he blocks all those balls. And Connor Jones is not an easy guy to catch with that splitter in the dirt. Thaiss is blocking every one of those balls. That’s impressive."
Cape Cod League in 2015:
There's another great video from Baseball America on their Top 500 Draft Preview page, where Thaiss is currently ranked number 28, but you have to be a subscriber to view it and it won't allow the video to be embedded here. (Author's note: If you're not a BA subscriber yet, and can afford it, I highly recommend it. Excellent value for baseball freaks like me.)