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How Matt Thaiss, one of the Los Angeles Angels' top prospects, is honing game at new position in Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Thaiss is trying his hand at a new position.

Thaiss has experience moving around the diamond. In college, he was a catcher for Virginia, where he batted .375 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs during his junior year. The Cavaliers won the 2015 NCAA championship in Thaiss’ sophomore year, where he was a semifinalist for the national player of the year.

The Angels took Thaiss with the 16th pick of the 2016 MLB draft. Three years later Thaiss finds himself in Salt Lake after playing 85 games with the Bees in 2018. Thaiss was converted into a first baseman after his college career ended, a position he played throughout his rise in the minor leagues.

This season, however, Thaiss has been playing third base, along with first base and designated hitter. Thaiss has logged 18 games at third this year, 18 at first, and six at DH. This is the first time in Thaiss’ minor league career that he has played third base.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s been a lot of fun,” Thaiss said. “When I first got drafted, I got to learn a new position at first and I took that as a challenge, and it was fun. It’s the same thing at third base. There’s definitely some differences, but being able to play first base helps kind of ease the process over at third.”

The Angels have emphasized positional versatility in their farm system, and Thaiss playing multiple positions is a big help. Moreover, playing third base might be Thaiss’ best bet to make his major league debut this year.

The first base and designated hitter spots are packed for Los Angeles, with Albert Pujols starting at first base and Shohei Ohtani at DH. As such, third base would be an easier spot for Thaiss to crack the lineup, with David Fletcher and Zack Cozart playing third.

“You see that we’re moving to a game where people are moving all over the place, and it’s an added benefit,” Thaiss explained. “To be able to move across the diamond, to play different positions and be more flexible, be more versatile is important in the game we play today.”

With time, Thaiss has grown more comfortable with the challenges that come with playing the hot corner.

“The obvious things, like throwing the ball, you have different responsibilities, different things to do on cut plays and balls hit to the outfield and things like that. All different things that you’re not quite used to unless you get in-game experience,” Thaiss said.

Thaiss has also settled in at the plate and the city, too. Through May 20, Thaiss led the Bees in hits, triples and walks. Thaiss hit a grand slam in the Bees’ win over Las Vegas on May 19.

“You’ve got to ride the waves and stay positive, no matter what happens, and kind of — no matter if you go 4 for 4 or 0 for 4 the day before — flush it and start over on a new day,” Thaiss said. “As far as baseball, you get comfortable with the league, travel, places you go, things like that. Being in Salt Lake, you get to know the city more. You know spots to go eat and things like that. It all plays a small factor.”

Bees manager Lou Marson has liked what he’s seen from Thaiss so far.

“He continues to improve,” Marson said. “He’s been moving around defensively — third base, first base. He’s been doing a great job at third base, it’s a new position, a new move. He continues to swing the bat, he always stays in the zone and makes good decisions up there at the plate. He barrels the ball in the zone. He’s definitely a nice player and that’s why we took him in the first round.”