Everyone’s favorite Angels prospect. Ward will forever, unfairly, have the stigma of being the “reach pick”, let’s put it nicely, in the first round back in 2015 as we watched the draft room cheer and celebrate to the likes of something that paralleled the crew that put the first man on the moon. Ward didn’t control where he was drafted, but the early reports about a glove-first catcher whose future looked like a backup backstop definitely was enough to get underneath the skin of Angels fans who wanted to see the barren farm system replenished with high end talent.
Ward temporarily silenced critics early on, hitting .348/.457/.438 across the two lowest levels of the minors with an impressive 39 walks compared to 23 strikeouts. He continued to earn high praises for the bulk of his glove work, the consensus was that he needed more time and professional coaching to improve the finer things of catching (game calling, general receiving skills, etc.).
The honeymoon ended the first half of 2016. Ward hit .224/.283/.259 in the seasons first half in his first stint with the Inland Empire 66ers (High-A). Starting to get that bad feeling you have in your stomach when you see a prospect fail to adjust at one point of their development? You all know the feeling. Think about watching Brandon Wood flail at Major League pitching.
But Ward did adjust, he credits the second half success to a change in his batting stance by lowering his hands. Ward hit .274/.359/.415 in the second half and nearly doubled his walk numbers (31 BB’s vs. 17 BB’s in the first half). That got him a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he ended up hitting .283 with a .321 OBP and earned a selection to the AFL All-Star game.
Ward will always be a defensive first player, he has a very strong throwing arm that comes from a quick catch and release, he gunned down 38% of potential base stealers last year (77 successful, 48? Not so much). He’s a very athletic catcher, if he can improve the other areas of his defense, there’s no doubt his glove plays in The Show. It’s his bat that will always make things murky, he generally has a pretty good idea of the strike zone, doesn’t chase at bad pitches, and has a little pull power. If he can provide a .700 OPS in the majors, he’s at least a pretty nice backup.
There’s the caveat, a “premium athlete” behind the plate who’s a glove-first catcher with a questionable-to-bad bat. And as long as Scioscia is the manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, those guys will tend to start. We just really need to hope he’s “okay” with the bat. Whispers Jeff Mathis*