Matt Thaiss ‘back at home’ as backup catcher for Angels

Thaiss is entering his fifth season with the Angels as relief catcher.

ANAHEIM, CA – Adjusting and readjusting, the road was long, but Matt Thaiss is back behind the plate and started to look like a natural against the Blue Jays on Saturday night.

The backup catcher made two vital plays late in the Halos 9-5 home win over Toronto, including two blocks in the ninth inning with two outs and two runners on base. Earlier in the night, Thaiss threw out Bo Bichette in the seventh when he attempted to steal second, posting a 1.94 pop time, above the league average of 2.0.

“It was definitely good,” stated Thaiss on Saturday’s game. “I mean, I’m just excited we got a win and got our guys through the game. I think we used five or six different guys out of the pen, so that’s the most rewarding thing.”

Thaiss, who primarily played catcher at the University of Virginia, was selected in the first round by the Angels in 2016 as a first baseman. It took three years until he started shifting around the field in what would total to five different positions, including first base, third base and the outfield.

In a development and depth move by the Front Office, Thaiss returned to his spot behind home plate in 2021 after Spring Training where he eventually played the position full-time in Triple-A Salt Lake. He did not catch in the Major Leagues until 2022 and earned a backup position to start this season behind rookie catcher Logan O’Hoppe.

The role solidified after the expected starting catcher, Max Stassi, began the season on the injured list with a left hip strain. Even with the injury, Thaiss earned the spot while readjusting to the position over multiple years.

“Well, for one it’s really tough to go back there and kind of learn on the fly again, especially at this level,” explained Angels manager Phil Nevin on Thaiss’ adjustment. “But we saw one of the highest receiving grades we’ve ever seen [Saturday] night. He got an 80 grade.”

“I know it’s really, really good and it’s hard to do. When you’re not catching all the time — obviously O’Hoppe’s getting the bulk right now. It’s extremely difficult to go for a backup catcher that’s not used to — first of all, he hasn’t caught a lot in the last couple years and then to be a guy that’s catching maybe once or so a week. He’s gonna get a lot more playing time over the next few weeks when we go on this long run. I can’t catch O’Hoppe every day. It’s unfair to him and we gotta get dicey in there.”

Even while adjusting, or readjusting, to the position, Thaiss has proven in small sample that his skills behind the plate can translate. Among catchers with 250 pitches caught in 2022, Thaiss was in the 57th percentile in framing, while he threw out three of eight potential base stealers leading to being 13% above the league-average. However, this is a small sample, and has to be shown over the course of a full season before any negative criticisms perceived may go away.

“I think everything has been going well,” Thaiss said about catching and any negative connotations about his return to the position. “Day-by-day, keep getting better back there… I was really excited (going back to catching) and I’m really thankful that I made the move back there. I think it’s going pretty well and I’m excited to feel like I’m back at home at the position.”

Meanwhile, Nevin stated he plans to see more of what the New Jersey native has to offer both behind the plate and at bat.

“I thought he’s taking some good swings, but it’s tough when you’re not playing all the time,” added Nevin. “He’s only got six or seven plate appearances and we’re gonna get him some more.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Thaiss has not reached base safely in any of his nine plate appearances, with four strikeouts.

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