It's not that Ward wasn't well thought of. He was one of the better college catchers in the class, but he was ranked at No. 99 on MLB.com's Top 200 Draft prospects list. He was the fifth-ranked catcher, behind high schoolers Tyler Stephenson, Chris Betts and Lucas Herbert, as we ll as fellow collegian Austin Rei, but he ended up going in front of all but Stephenson.
Ward, now ranked No. 7 on the Angels' Top 30 list, then went out and showed everyone that perhaps he was worth a first-round pick during his pro debut. The backstop hit .349 with a .489 on-base percentage in 32 games in the rookie-level Pioneer League, so the Angels challenged him with a jump up to the full-season Midwest League. Ward promptly hit .348 with a .412 OBP in 24 games there. That allowed the 21-year-old to head into instructional league play, taking place now until mid-October in Arizona.
"Based on the projections on where he thought he'd go, to Taylor's credit, he did exceed expectations," Angels assistant general manager Scott Servais said. "Any time a kid comes out, I don't care where he's coming from, and dominates a short-season league and then doesn't slow down at all in full-season ball, that's impressive. Everyone saw him as the catch-and-throw guy, with questions about the bat."
Servais points to Ward's ability to control the strike zone -- he walked 39 times vs. 23 strikeouts -- as the key to his offensive success during his first pro summer. But while Ward had a combined .457 OBP, he slugged just .438, though the Angels think there's more in the tank there.
"There's more power in there than what we saw," Servais said. "He needs to be a little more aggressive in good hitter's counts. That's something he's doing at instructs."
More than anything, though, Ward is working on honing his defensive game this fall. His reputation as a good catch-and-throw backstop is well-deserved, with a cannon for an arm leading to him throwing out 35 percent of would-be basestealers this summer. The other facets of his craft, however, do need development. Ward is aware of those deficiencies and is hard at work in those areas.
"His arm is plus," Servais said. "But the pitch framing, the metrics of that, the awareness of that has jumped, and he needs to get better at that. He needs to improve his ablity to block the ball in the dirt and control it better. He's working on all of that at instructs.
"We think he's a big leaguer, what role he'll fill, he'll let us know. I'm glad we've got him."
Green working his way back
While Ward was the Angels' top pick in 2015, the organization didn't have a first-round selection in 2013. The team's first pick came in the second round, at No. 59 overall, and the Angels took high school lefty Hunter Green. The 6-foot-4 southpaw had some upside, but was very young (17 at the time of the Draft), so the Angels knew it might take a while for Green to progress
Things have been even slower than expected due to injuries. Green hasn't thrown a competitive pitch since that summer of 2013, missing all of 2014 with a back injury and sitting out this past season with a stress fracture in his elbow. The Angels are cautiously encouraged, though, to see Green on the mound again at instructs.
"He looks good," said Servais, noting that Green tossed two effective innings in a recent instructs game. "It's coming out 89-92 mph. He looks even stronger than he had previously."
It's more than just physical growth that Servais and the Angels player development staff has noted. This may not have been an ideal path, but it may just make Green a more complete pitcher when all is said and done. And he's still only 20 years old.
"He's still younger than Joe Gatto, who we took the following year," Servais said. "The biggest thing, as tough as it's been, he's hung in there an really matured mentally. We're keeping our fingers crossed. Our hope is to keep him healthy at instructs and then through Spring Training next year."