More on Rule 5 draft pick Thad Ward

The Rule 5 draft is a resource hardly utilized by the Nationals in the past. In fact, with the No. 1 overall pick Wednesday, they made their first selection in 12 years.

But for a rebuilding team with such a high selection at such a low cost, it made too much sense for the Nats not to take a flier on a Rule 5 player and give him a shot at staying on the roster throughout the upcoming season.

So with the No. 1 pick in the Rule 5 draft, the Nationals selected right-hander Thad Ward from the Red Sox.

If you don’t know the drill by now – and no one would blame you because the Rule 5 draft is complicated and Nats fans haven’t had to worry about it in over a decade – the Nationals pay $100,000 to the Red Sox to acquire Ward and then have to keep him on the major league roster for the entire 2023 season. He has to spend at least 90 days on the active roster, not including the injured list, or offer him back to the Red Sox for $50,000.

It’s a classic low-cost, high-reward situation.

What are the Nats getting in Ward, who turns 26 next month?

He was the 15th-ranked prospect in the Red Sox system, per MLB Pipeline, and entered the Nats farm as the 13th-ranked prospect. Boston selected him in the fifth round (160th overall) in 2018 out of Central Florida and watched him quickly become one of its top pitching prospects.

After he served as a reliever in college, the Red Sox converted Ward to a starter. After posting a 3.77 ERA in just 11 starts to end the 2018 season in Low-A ball, Ward had broken through in his first full professional season.

Between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem in 2019, Ward went 8-5 with a 2.14 ERA and 1.159 WHIP. He led the Red Sox system with 157 strikeouts in 126 ⅓ innings, producing an 11.2 strikeouts-per-nine rate and 2.75 strikeout-to-walk rate.

Just as impressive, Ward gave up only six home runs throughout the 2019 season for a 0.4 homer-per-nine rate. He also issued 100 fewer walks than strikeouts with 57.

Of course, Ward, like most minor leaguers, missed all of the 2020 season due to the pandemic. And then he missed most of the 2021 season due to Tommy John surgery after just two starts at Double-A Portland. He gave up 11 hits, five walks and five runs while striking out 11 over eight innings between those two outings.

Ward was able to return to make 13 starts in the second half of this season across four minor league levels, starting at the Rookie-level Florida Complex League and working all the way back up to Double-A.

Collectively, Ward had a 2.28 ERA and 1.149 WHIP in 51 ⅓ innings this year. He struck out 66 batters and walked only 19 for a 3.47 K/BB rate and 11.6 K/9 rate. Again he was able to keep the ball in the yard, allowing only three longballs for a 0.5 HR/9 rate.

Ward then went on to have a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Over four outings (three starts), he allowed four runs in 12 ⅔ innings for a 2.84 ERA. He allowed only one homer while walking six and striking out 15. He produced a 1.342 WHIP, 10.7 K/9 and 2.50 K/BB.

MLB Pipeline scouts his pitching arsenal on a 20-80 scale as a 55 fastball, 60 slider and 50 changeup, with 50 control and as a 45 overall.

He reportedly had one of the best sliders in the Red Sox system with some late bite for a high chase rate that he threw 81-85 mph. He could also reach the upper 80s to turn it into a cutter. It’s set up by his 92-96 mph two-seam fastball that has good sink to induce ground balls. And reports have also said his changeup has improved, flashing in the low-80s with some fade.

At 6-foot-3 and 192 pounds, Ward was also a basketball prospect coming out of high school, leading to his athleticism on the mound. Per scouting reports, he’s able to repeat his easy delivery to help him have at least average control (probably aiding in his low home run rates).

Though he has a ceiling as a rotation piece and general manager Mike Rizzo said after the Rule 5 draft that Ward will be stretched out as a starter in spring training, his easy fallback is a multi-innings reliever, which is likely his role for the Nats next season.

His one relief appearance in the AFL was his first since college, so he’ll have to get re-acclimated to coming out of the bullpen while also being ready to make a spot start if necessary.

Whatever role he fills, the right-hander is definitely the Nats’ kind of pitcher: Big and athletic with Tommy John history. They’ve had success with those kinds of hurlers in the past. And at the low cost, it seems worth taking a chance on Ward.

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