In the coming weeks, NESN.com will profile some of the more noteworthy prospects in the Red Sox system, utilizing insight and analysis from industry experts who know the players best. Next up: Thaddeus Ward.
Thaddeus Ward ranks higher than the likes of Jay Groome, Noah Song, Connor Seabold and even Tanner Houck on some Red Sox prospects lists. And, given Bryan Mata’s recent UCL tear, Ward might be closer to the majors than Boston’s consensus top pitching prospect.
So, why have so few Red Sox fans heard of this guy?
Ward, now officially going by “Thaddeus,” rather than “Thad,” generally is not viewed as someone who could be a top-of-the rotation starter. Nevertheless, he has the talent and pitch mix to be an effective big leaguer, and he already possesses strong command of his pitches.
But what’s his background? Is he a starter or a reliever? When might he make the jump to the majors?
Here’s everything you need to know about Thaddeus Ward, one of the fastest-rising prospects in the Red Sox farm system.
A Fort Myers, Fla., native, Ward actually served as a Red Sox spring training bat boy during his youth.
He worked primarily as a reliever while playing at Central Florida but was converted to a starter upon being selected by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2018 MLB Draft. Ward’s first full professional season was an impressive one: He posted a 2.14 ERA and a system-leading 157 strikeouts over 126 1/3 Single-A innings.
Like so many, Ward saw his 2020 minor league season wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic. He participated in the Fall Instructional League and was on the Red Sox’s roster at the start of 2021 spring training.
At 24 years old, Ward has yet to pitch at the Double-A level.
“He’s missed out on reps, and that’s the biggest question,” SoxProspects.com director of scouting Ian Cundall recently told NESN.com “He’s hard to evaluate. He wasn’t at the alternate spring site last year. So, we haven’t seen him pitch in a game (before 2021 spring training) since 2019.”
Ward has done nothing but impress the Red Sox since being drafted.
“You don’t want to say it’s bad for a pitcher to throw too many strikes, you don’t ever want to say that … but he throws a ton of strikes,” Greenville Drive manager Iggy Suarez told NESN.com last summer. “He works very quickly. … Quick tempo, under control.
“You can tell he has a plan of attack, and he’s good at following that plan.”
Ben Crockett, Boston’s vice president of player development, said of Ward: “Really confident on the mound. Somebody who has quality stuff.”
But Ward wasn’t nearly as highly regarded when he first joined the system. He carried the buzz of, well, a fifth-round pick.
“The frame was good. Good delivery, athletic,” Cundall said. “But the stuff was just meh. Bunch of average-ish pitches.
“And they brought him in and he’s just really taken a step forward.”
Ward now throws five pitches: a mid-90s sinking fastball, a high-80s cutter, a high-80s changeup, a low-80s slider and high-70s curveball. He doesn’t throw the curveball or changeup too often, but he occasionally will use them as show-me pitches.
Make no mistake: Ward makes good use of his pitch mix.
“He throws five pitches,” Cundall said. “There are a lot of guys who, if they throw five pitches, you immediately tell them they need to get rid of one. He’s not someone like that. It’s actually five pitches that I think he can keep in his arsenal.”
“You can tell he has a plan of attack, and he’s good at following that plan.”Greenville Drive manager Iggy Suarez on Thaddeus Ward
Most-likely outcome: Good reliever.
If openers still are a thing in a couple years, we also could see Ward filling such a role.
His mechanics, command, make-up and raw stuff give him a relatively high floor. If Ward continues to work at his game, he should have no problem finding a role at least in a big league bullpen.
From MLB Pipeline, which has Ward 10th on its Red Sox prospect rankings: “He has a ceiling of a No. 4 starter while his slider gives him a high likelihood of becoming at least a useful reliever.”
Best-case scenario: Back-end starter.
Ward has all the tools to be a decent starter in the big leagues.
Most importantly, his impressive arsenal now includes a potential second “out” pitch.
“The biggest thing for him, he added (a cutter) in 2019,” Cundall said. “And it gave him that potential above-average-to-plus secondary pitch that he needed that pushed him up our charts.”
The Athletic’s Keith Law, who placed Ward fifth — ahead of Mata, Houck and Song but just below Groome — on his 2021 Red Sox prospects list, wrote this: “Ward was Boston’s fifth-round pick in 2018 and has gotten stronger since signing, working now in the 92-96 mph range with some sink on the fastball, an out pitch in his slider and a solid changeup. He offers a little less upside than some of the pitchers below him on the list, but a higher floor as a back-end starter.”
SoxProspects ranking: No. 8
Here’s their summation:
“Ceiling of a back-end starter if his development continues on an upward trajectory. Should at least be able to pitch in a long relief role, and could perhaps even fit in the back of a bullpen. Has three pitches that project as at least average that he tunnels well in his sinker, cutter, and slider. Latter two pitches show plus potential. Able to generate swinging strikes, but also uses repertoire to generate bad contact, allowing him to work deeper into outings. Ability to stick as a starter will depend on continued improvement of fastball command and refinement of secondary pitches.”
In all likelihood, Ward is at least a year away from seeing major league action.
“I don’t think (Ward will debut this season),” Cundall said. “The Red Sox have done a really good job of putting together their pitching depth chart this year, that it wouldn’t be necessary (to promote him).
“ … If they have to get down to him, then I’m probably going to be concerned. I think he’s more someone that we could see next season.”