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Red Sox Top Prospect Voting: Thad Ward’s year to get back on the radar

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He was breaking out before COVID stopped his development in its tracks.

Thad Ward
Kelly O’Connor

The run on pitching in the middle portion in our top twenty of the Red Sox farm system continues here as we get on the back half of the list. Four of the last five players, including number ten earlier this week with Aldo Ramirez, have been hurlers. And the trend continues here today as we get to number 11. Taking this first spot outside the top ten is Thad Ward, who ran away with this vote, grabbing 55 percent of the vote.

It is still far too early to make any sort of grand declarations at this point, but the early returns of the 2018 draft look very good right now. That draft gave the Red Sox their number one prospect in Triston Casas, and perhaps their most hyped prospect in Jarren Duran. It also gave them the guy who might be their most underrated prospect (subjective superlative alert!) in Thad Ward.

Boston took Ward out of the University of Central Florida in the fifth round of that 2018 draft. A fifth round pick is certainly not nothing, but at the same time there weren’t exactly huge expectations for Ward upon being drafted. The righty had spent most of his college career in the bullpen for the Golden Knights, but the Red Sox had eyes on making him a starter from the get-go.

That’s exactly what they’ve done, and he got his first work in that initial summer of a pro down in Lowell. He made 11 starts in that summer of 2018, tossing 31 innings (remember, recently drafted pitchers are not pushed hard in that first pro summer) pitching to a 3.77 ERA with 27 strikeouts and 12 walks. That was a nice pro debut, but that wasn’t really enough to fully put him on the radar.

Instead, that would happen in 2019, which was not only his big breakout but also arguably the biggest breakout in the system that year. Ward came into that season with a cutter now in his repertoire, a new pitch that quickly emerged as his top secondary. The results were eye-opening. The now-24-year-old (he just turned 24 in January) started that season in Greenville, pitching to a 1.99 ERA over 13 starts and 72 13 innings while striking out just about 11 batters per nine innings. That was good enough to get him a promotion up to High-A Salem in the middle of June, where he finished up that season just as well as he’d started it. Over 12 starts to finish the season, he pitched to a 2.33 ERA over 54 innings with a strikeout rate up over 11 strikeouts per nine innings.

That was a bona fide breakout for the former fifth round pick, and he was ready to make the jump to Double-A in 2020 and really solidify himself as a future rotation piece. Unfortunately, COVID cancelling the minor-league season hurt players like him as much or more than anyone else. Ward was a high-minors pitcher, but not quite far enough up the ladder nor high enough in the system rankings to get a spot at the Alternate Site. There’s no confirmation on this, but one has to imagine he was one of the last players crossed off the invitation list, and he likely would have been there if they could have five, ten more players. Instead, he stayed home over the summer and rejoined the coaching staff at Instructs, where by all accounts there was nothing to worry about.

In terms of scouting, Ward doesn’t have the kind of ceiling some of the guys ahead of him, like say a Bryan Mata, has. He’s almost certainly not going to front a major-league rotation. But I see a ceiling of a mid-rotation starter and I think I’m higher on the likelihood of him sticking in the back of a rotation than others. He has the arsenal, led by a fastball that sits 92, 93 and can get up a few ticks when he needs it. The aforementioned cutter was a revelation in 2019. He also adds a slider and a changeup, the latter of which has some potential but needs some work as well. He needs to refine the command, but remember he’s only had one full season under his belt.

Looking ahead to the coming season, Ward is looking to pick up where he left off and solidify his standing as a future major-league starter. The righty is expected to start the season in Portland’s rotation, and if he has a good first half don’t sleep on the possibility of him getting up to Triple-A for the stretch run. He’ll be eligible for Rule 5 protection next winter, so it’s a big season for him to make sure he’s added to a 40-man roster by this time next year.

Here is our list so far:

  1. Triston Casas
  2. Jeter Downs
  3. Bryan Mata
  4. Jarren Duran
  5. Gilberto Jimenez
  6. Noah Song
  7. Bobby Dalbec
  8. Tanner Houck
  9. Connor Seabold
  10. Aldo Ramirez
  11. Thad Ward

Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number ten prospect. 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. We encourage discussion, of course, but please don’t comment under specific players’ names. Instead, scroll to the bottom to start a new comment thread in order to keep the players at the top of the comment section. Until next time...