The Red Sox farm system appears to be pretty clearly tiered, with a top tier that used to feature one but now has a new addition, a second tier that takes you down to about the seven spot, and now we are in the third tier where things get a little more muddled. Surprisingly, at least to me, that wasn’t really the case in this particular vote. Two pitchers were vying for this number eight spot, but ultimately it was the younger and more inexperienced of the two getting the nod. That would be Thad Ward, who comes in as our number eight prospect after grabbing 54 percent of the vote.
Ward was sort of an under-the-radar player coming out of the University of Central Florida in for the 2018 draft. He was unranked by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline, and getting what’s essentially an honorable mention in FanGraphs’ rankings. He had pitched mostly out of the bullpen in college, but he did make five starts in that spring before he was drafted and showed off big-time stuff both as a starter and as a reliever. The Red Sox decided that was enough to take a chance on him, selecting the righty with the 160th overall pick in the fifth round of that draft.
Ward actually pitched quite a bit for a pitcher who was just drafted in that summer of 2018 as the Red Sox were looking to turn him into a full-time starter. The adjustment did not go al that smoothly in that first year. He spent the entire season in Lowell, making 11 starts for a total of 31 innings. In that time he pitched to a 3.47 ERA (with a 6.10 RA9), but struggling with his control and not missing enough bats to make up for it. It was a small sample, of course, and also his first adjustment to both professional baseball and life as a full-time starter, so there was reason to believe this would just be a blip. That said, the expectations weren’t all that high heading into 2019.
Coming into the season having mostly ditched his changeup in favor of a new cutter, Ward flipped those expectations (or lack thereof) on their head. He started the year in Greenville and was dominant, making 13 starts with 72 1⁄3 innings with a 1.99 ERA, over ten strikeouts per nine and just over three walks per nine. At one point toward the end of that run, he went five straight outings without allowing an earned run. It was clear he had figured that level out, so he got a promotion to Salem in late-June, where he didn’t really slow down. Ward did start issuing more walks — over five per nine in 12 starts and 54 innings at High-A — but the results were still good with a 2.33 ERA and he was missing more bats with almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings. In all, across the two levels, Ward had pitched to a 2.14 ERA over 25 starts and 126 1⁄3 innings with over 11 strikeouts per nine innings and just over four walks per nine.
Now, to be fair, the scouting reports aren’t as optimistic as those numbers may suggest they should be, because if they were he’d easily be the top prospect in the system and a top 100 prospect in the game. Still, there is plenty of intrigue here. Ward mainly features three pitches, a fastball, a slider and the aforementioned cutter. The fastball can sit in the mid-90s and get up to 97 mph at times. There’s also a little run on it and it represents his best offering. The slider is his best secondary, coming in in the low-80s and a pitch that can develop to be his true out pitch. The cutter is a little bit more of a work in progress, but for his first year throwing it it was solid and it can develop into an average offering. The questions with Ward lie mainly with the command — you saw the walk rates above — and if he can’t fix that he’ll likely end up in the bullpen. For now, though, he’s on a rotation track until he takes himself off of it.
Speaking of which, he should get a chance to jump up to Portland to start the 2020 campaign, which will be his age-23 season. This is often the make-or-break level for pitchers as they try to prove they can be major-league starters, and Double-A hitters will make Ward pay more often if he allows to many men on for free. He’ll be an exciting one to watch, and could take a big leap if he proves himself this year.
Here’s our full list thus far:
Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number two. As a reminder, to do this you go down below and find the comment from me corresponding with the player for whom you’d like to vote. When you find said player, just click the “rec” button, and that will count your vote. To do this, you will need to be logged in as a member of the site. If you’d like to vote for a player who is not listed, just leave a comment saying “Vote for ___ here” and I’ll rec the comment to count your vote. Until next time...