Ward wastes no time impressing Nationals
Third-round Draft pick shows off plate discipline after being selected in 2013
VIERA, Fla. -- Drew Ward's professional baseball career is off to a good start and the Nationals are expecting bigger things from him in the future.
A third-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the left-handed hitting Ward had a .292 batting average with a home run, 28 RBIs and a .402 on-base percentage for the Gulf Coast Nationals last year. It prompted MLB.com to rank Ward as the 13th best prospect in the Nationals' farm system.
What has impressed assistant general manager Doug Harris about Ward? His plate discipline. Before Ward was drafted, there were scouts, according to published reports, who questioned his skills because the competition was considered weak while he attended Leedey High School in Oklahoma.
"[Ward] did something that was difficult to do," Harris said. "He came in and performed at a high level, but how he did it was as impressive as the results. One thing he did exceptionally well for a young player was his recognition and control of the strike zone. Coming from a … small school, that doesn't happen every day. He showed a great deal of maturity offensively."
At this point of the spring, the Nationals have not decided where Ward would start the season, but it would not surprise anyone if he played for Class A Hagerstown.
At 6-4, 210 pounds, Ward, 19, is expected to get even bigger and be a slugger. He is currently in the Nationals' accelerated camp, where top prospects hone their skills under the watchful eyes of Harris and the Minor League coaching staff.
"I would like to get my power numbers up as I age," Ward said. "They say the last thing to come is power. But I would like it to come a little earlier. I want to keep on taking the ball the other way, hitting up the middle. The inside pitch I can get to. I still need to work on hitting the other way and up the middle as possible."
One thing is certain: Ward is a confident young man. He sounds older than his 19 years. He has a routine that he goes through every day. He hits off a batting tee and receives front tosses from one of the coaches. He also makes it a point to hit the ball up the middle and the other way during batting practice.
"I just get my mind set for the game. I get ready to go," Ward said.
It also helps that he comes from a baseball family. His grandfather, Bob, put together the Oklahoma Travelers, an American Legion baseball team. From 1964 to 2013, the team is 2,668-947. His father, Gregg, played professional baseball in the Braves organization.
"It's always been baseball, baseball, baseball," Ward said.
Ward also grew up idolizing former Reds great Pete Rose. As a 7-year-old, Ward was in Las Vegas with his father and the younger Ward was able to get Rose's autograph. After that, Gregg told his son about Rose the player. It prompted Drew to do more research on Rose. Ward saw a lot of videos of Rose the player and was impressed by how he played the game.
"He was such a grinder, which is not my type of playing," Ward said. "I'm more of a power guy. But just the way he played and put all his effort out there. That's probably my baseball hero."
Ward hopes to be a baseball hero one day. He was drafted as a shortstop, but the Nationals thought he was better off at third base.
"His skill set at this point profiles a little bit better on the corner. He is a big man. We think in the short term, that is the best place for him," Harris said. "Keep him on the left side of the infield and continue to learn footwork, glove work, build his arm for the left side of the infield.
"We are going to give him every opportunity to stay on the left side of the field. Down the road, he is going to be a very big and physical man. We'll see where his body takes him, how he is able to adapt as he grows."
Ward was fine with the position switch. He said he took thousands of grounders to get used to the angles of playing at third. Now he is happy being a member of the Nationals organization.
"The Nationals are the best organization -- the coaches, the whole staff is great," he said. "It couldn't get any better. I was very fortunate to get drafted by them. I wanted to get drafted higher, but after I look back, I wouldn't want anything to change."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.