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Taylor Ward might actually be the long-term leadoff solution

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Moving the 2015 draft pick to the hot corner could have been one of the Angels' best intra-organizational decisions in recent memory.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Tampa Bay Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

I bought an MiLB.tv subscription today.

I had been considering it due to the awesome influx of talent at Inland Empire, but the free audio that the First Pitch app afforded me seemed to be enough for a while. I didn’t need to watch Adell, Marsh, or Jones as their approaches, stances, and mechanics were all still adjusting and tweaking. Something I watch one day might be entirely different the next. So I settled for Inland Empire radio. Because why spend forty bucks today when it doesn’t really mean much?

At approximately 1:20 PM PST, I succumbed to temptation and listed the Salt Lake Bees as my favorite team when prompted. Taylor Ward, a seducer, had forced my hand and the cash clenched inside it.

As I sat down to write this, Taylor Ward clinched at least a 1.000 OPS on the season for the rest of the day, assuming the Bees don’t come back in the bottom of the 9th from an eight-run deficit. His slash across both AA and AAA at the time of writing is .361/.451/.554. With just AAA Salt Lake, it is currently an eye-popping .380/.450/.595.

(Edit: He grounded out in the 9th and his final slash for the season as of today is now .359/.450/.552.)

For comparison, a cursory glance at Ward’s 2017 performance will show an average-ish performance at High-A and an above average performance at AA, all with a solid OBP and a weak SLG. In fact, going into today, Taylor Ward’s minor league career OPS has been a very unpromising .795.

It is debatable, however, whether Ward having an impressive or eyebrow-raising performance at the higher levels of the minors is an outlier; rather, 2016’s poor performance may have been the true outlier. For a look past the slash line will see a fairly high and consistent stat: walk rate.

Taylor Ward’s career walk rate before today’s game was 12.6%. Since the beginning of 2017, it has been above 14%. He also walked twice today, so these will only improve. To get an idea of just how good your patience has to be to hit tier across two full seasons, here is the list of all players with at least a 14% walk rate in the majors for only this season.

Fangraphs

Put another way, Taylor Ward’s walk rate across the last two seasons has been just shy of Mike Trout’s career walk rate (14.5%). Outside of a rehab stint, only once did Trout have a walk rate above 13% in the minor leagues.

Okay, one more.

Remember peak patience god Chris Iannetta? He never had a BB% in the minors over 13.3%. Ward has done it three of his four years as a professional baseball player.

This patience is the reason that Ward has just over a .400 on-base percentage over the last two seasons. So to put it mildly, he has pretty much always had a fantastic eye. The power and speed (and the consequent hit tool) came later, thanks in part to the move from Catcher to 3rd base and also to a tweaked stance.

Per MiLB’s website:

Ward credits some tinkering with his stance over the winter and a little luck for his fast start at the plate, but he knows the position switch could be a benefit late in the season.

“In July and August, my body should be feeling a lot better than I’m used to,” he said.”

Whether or not squatting all day long is bad for your knees (and it is), Ward has immediately shown a better running game too. Well, a running game at all.

From 2016-2017, Taylor Ward stole exactly zero bases. Since moving to 3rd base, a rejuvenated, spry Ward has stolen 16 bases (he stole one today) and has been caught only once. That is a better success rate than Trout has had this season (I tried pressing all of the regular Twitter minor leaguer gurus for his sprint times, but turned up nothing). He has also been legging out some infield hits.

Sounds a lot like an underrated Goldschmidt-type to me.

So if we are seeing a high-OBP baserunning threat, then what better position for him than leadoff? I know Eckstei— excuse me, Fletcher— seems like the best candidate for that role because of the ever-present similarities between him and the 2002 fan favorite, and I’m not saying to remove him from the team.

Nonetheless, the leadoff role should go to a player who can get on base at an amazing clip for Mike Trout to bat in. It should go to someone who can take the extra base when necessary and get themselves into scoring position. It should go to someone who is a joy to watch and who you will spend 40 dollars to see. Taylor Ward isn’t just the 3rd baseman of the future, he’s your new fan-favorite leadoff man.