Scioscia Impressed With Angels' Top Pick
Matt Thaiss (Photo by Paul Gierhart)
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.—Angels manager Mike Scioscia got his first extended look at Matt Thaiss in instructional league this fall.
Safe to say, the veteran skipper was impressed with the Angels most recent first-round draft pick.
"He’s really an advanced hitter for his experience level and his age,” Scioscia said during Day 3 of the Winter Meetings. "He’s exciting.”
Thaiss, 21, was taken 16th overall last June almost purely on the strength of his bat, and lived up to his projection as a promising hitter in his pro debut. The former Virginia catcher moved out from behind the plate to focus on his offense and hit .292/.361/.462 across Rookie-level Orem and low Class A Burlington, with 29 extra-base hits in 67 games and nearly as many walks (26) as strikeouts (32).
He did that after catching a full slate of games late into the college season after Virginia made it to the regionals.
"It’s a tough year when you get out your first year halfway through and you’ve already played a full college season and then all the way through to October for instructional league,” Scioscia said. "He held up great and we’re looking for big things.”
Thaiss’ pedigree and performance have some positing he could follow the path of Andrew Benintendi or Dansby Swanson and begin his first full season in high Class A, advance to Double-A quickly and reach the majors by the end of summer, only a year after being drafted.
While Scioscia understandably declined to make any such bold predictions, it was clear Thaiss has his attention moving forward.
"Whether it shows up this year, nobody knows,” Scioscia said. "Matt is in the proving ground, which is the minor leagues, so his advancement and his preparation to get to the major leagues is going to depend on his performance. We think he’ll fare very well.”
A NEW BUXTON
Byron Buxton was a different player when he came back to the majors last September, his fourth big league callup after largely failing in his first three.
While the numbers bear out improvement, Twins manager Paul Molitor said it was visible even beyond just the stat sheet.
"I think for whatever reason there was a little more freedom of expression of his talent,” Molitor said. "Maybe not trying to impress and meet expectations and kind of really concentrate on just trying to enjoy the competition and using the gifts that he has. I think he would tell you that.”
Buxton, BA’s No. 2 prospect going into the 2016 season, hit .287 with nine home runs and a 1.011 OPS in September. It was quite the contrast to what he had shown previously, with a .199 batting average and 29 percent strikeout rate over his prior ML stints.
With the big finish, Buxton changed the Hall of Famer Molitor’s mind about just what kind of player he could be.
"I might have misgauged him little bit on what he could do because I was so focused on the bunting and the putting the ball in play and cutting the swing down and the strikeouts,” Molitor said. "Then he comes up and hits . . . nine home runs in September. So we know that there’s some hit-it-over-the-fence skill that might come over time, but we saw potentially it might be a little more frequently.”
"I don’t think he’s out of the woods, but we haven’t given up on the ceiling that’s been created,” Molitor continued. "I think it’s there.”
INNINGS AVAILABLE FOR LOCKETT
Padres manager Andy Green repeatedly acknowledged his team’s shortcomings in the starting rotation and their upper minors starting pitching depth during his media session Tuesday.
With that, he made clear that righthander Walker Lockett in particular is in good shape to see innings out of the Padres rotation in 2017. Lockett, a fourth-round pick in 2012, rose from low Class A all the way to Triple-A in 2016 and led the Padres system in ERA (2.96), innings (164), and walks allowed by a starter (24).
"He’s a guy that really at one point in time there was something to be expected and then he fell off the radar, but he came back on with a vengeance this year,” Green said. "It’s a plus sinker, that’s what he’s highly reliant on, and he’s a guy that’s going to have an opportunity to compete for our rotation right now. Where we are right now, he’ll be thrown into the mix along with some six-year free agents and some free-agent acquisitions we’re going to end up making. Walker is right in the mix of it.”
Green said all five rotation spots for the Padres are open, although later said Luis Perdomo and Christian Friedrich are safe bets for two. With underperforming journeymen Jarred Cosart, Paul Clemens, Edwin Jackson and Clayton Richard filling out the back of the rotation by the end of last season, the rest of the rotation is up for grabs.
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"You look in the rotation, we got work to do right now,” Green said. "There will be opportunity and opportunity for guys to establish themselves.”