Prospect: Taylor Ward
Level: AA Mobile
Age: Entering Age 24 season in 2018.
Height: 6’1” – Weight: 190 lbs
*20-80 scale. 20 is not existent, Major League average is 50. Good Major League is 60. Great Major League is 70. The best I’ve ever seen is 80. These aren’t given very often.
Floor: AAA/MLB depth at catcher.
Ceiling: A good starting catcher in MLB.
Likely Outcome: A platoon or strong backup catcher in MLB.
Summary: Taylor Ward is one of those prospects that is evaluated a bit unfairly because of where he was drafted. When a major league team seriously reaches to draft a player, that player is immediately heavily scrutinized. People want to understand what this organization saw in a player that others didn’t see. The Angels compounded that curiosity with their reaction to drafting Taylor Ward that went viral among Angel fans. You’d think they just landed themselves the next Mike Trout.
That’s not Taylor Ward though.
Let’s forget where he was drafted and where he should’ve been drafted for just a moment and analyze who Taylor Ward actually is as a prospect.
Offensively, Ward has quick hands, puts back spin on the ball and enough strength to drive the ball out of the park enough times to matter. He also has an advanced knowledge of the strike zone and is willing to work counts and take a walk instead of swing away. While he isn’t fast, he’s faster than most catchers. As for the swing itself, Ward has worked diligently to quiet his pre-swing motion and even simplify the swing itself. I know this name is a bit taboo in prospect circles, but the swing reminds me of Brandon Wood. Similar build, similar ability to lift the ball, same finish.
Now obviously Wood’s minor league numbers are the stuff of legend, as was his inability to translate that into major league success. Wood’s problems were all mental and Taylor Ward is not Brandon Wood, he just looks like him up there.
Defensively, Ward is an exciting prospect. His actions behind the plate may only be a tick above average for now, but he gives you a lot to dream on. When he was first drafted, Ward had a difficult time managing pitchers, framing pitches and keeping the ball in front of him, which is a terrible spot to be at for a collegiate catcher. However, last year he showed a tremendous amount of growth. It was really night and day, like he figured out what he needed to do and simply did it. He did a good job with he staff, got more pitches called strikes and kept the ball in front of him. But two things Ward has always been good at were his ability to pop out from behind the plate and his arm. Ward is athletic and his movements behind the dish are fast. And his farm….goodness gracious that arm. The best in the Angels system at catcher. Maybe the best in the minor leagues. Maybe the best in the major leagues and that says something because Martin Maldonado gets the ball down to 2B better than any catcher I’ve ever seen wear an Angel uniform.
The exciting part of Ward’s game defensively are the adjustments he made in only one year. Like if he can do that one year in the minors, what might happen after a couple years in the majors? The ability to be a gold glove defensive catcher is certainly there, though Ward currently isn’t there yet.
Ok….now we can all remember where he was drafted and where he should’ve been drafted. That’s the knock on Ward. He was drafted in the first round. Ward likely could have been drafted in the third round. And because he was drafted in the first round when no one was expecting, he’s come under additional scrutiny. Ward’s upside was enough to get in him the first round for sure. I mean a gold glove catcher with a solid OBP and power? Who wouldn’t want that? But Ward’s inconsistency as a player has made that ceiling a very difficult outcome to foresee. No one doubts he’s a future major leaguer. There just seems to be disagreement on what role he will play as a major leaguer, and that’s a hard question to answer right now.
Ward will likely be a platoon or backup catcher with advanced defensive ability and spotty offensive performance in the major leagues. You can decide what round he should’ve been drafted in but it doesn’t change the fact that he’s here now and he’s not bad at all.
Another thing we should take into account, Ward’s signing bonus wasn’t exactly huge. It left some financial wiggle room and allowed the Angels to gamble on an upside player like Jahmai Jones in the second round, which has been a boon for the Angels system. It could be argued that the Angels wanted Jahmai, but knew he’d last until the second round, and also wanted Ward, but weren’t convinced he’d make it to the second round. Should the Angels have picked a higher upside player in the first and not had the financial room to pick Jones in the second? We don’t know. But the fact that both prospect are now in their top 15, even after the franchise-changing infusion of talent that has occurred over the last three years has to say something.
At the end of the day, Taylor Ward is a good prospect and will likely be a decent major leaguer too.
What to expect: Ward seemed to figure out his swing and approach last year and made his way to AA, where he posted an OBP north of .400 with a .286 batting average, more walks than strikeouts and decent power. While he is beginning to get a little old for a prospect, it should be noted that catching prospects develop slower than everyone else, particularly ones that must operate under the weight of the watchful eye of Mike Scioscia. Like him or not, he knows better than anyone in major league baseball right now what it takes to be a major league catcher and how to teach a young player how to grow into that. I expect Ward will be in AA for most if not all of 2018.
Estimated time of arrival: 2020, Taylor’s age 26 season.
Grade as a prospect: B-
Grades Explained: Grade A player is a future superstar. Grade B player is a future regular. Grade C is a fringe major leaguer.