Nationals Select Pitcher Thad Ward With No. 1 Pick In Rule 5 Draft

Image credit: Thad Ward (Photo by Tom Priddy)

SAN DIEGO—Earlier this week, Nationals manager Davey Martinez voiced his desire for the Nationals to take a pitcher with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Nationals fulfilled their manager’s wish.

The Nationals selected righthander Thad Ward from the Red Sox with the first pick of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft on the final day of the Winter Meetings. Ward, 25, missed most of the last two seasons after having Tommy John surgery but returned in July and went 0-2, 2.28 in 13 starts while rising to Double-A. He finished the year by going 1-1, 2.84 in four appearances in the Arizona Fall League.

“When we do these Rule 5 selections, it’s kind of a balance between an upside pitcher that you’re trying to really hit on and kind of (being certain) of being able to keep the player on the roster all season,” Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said. “So he kind of blended both of those together for us. He’s got a good mix of pitches, he throws enough strikes, he’s a savvy enough pitcher and a competitor that he could stay in the big leagues. We believe there’s still something left in the tank in upside where his velocity could get back to pre-Tommy John stature.”

A fifth-round pick out of Central Florida in 2018, Ward is a groundball pitcher who primarily works off his 91-94 mph sinker and sweepy, low-80s slider. He also has a four-seam fastball, cutter, curveball and changeup to round out a deep, six-pitch mix.

Evaluators largely considered Ward a potential back-of-the-rotation starter before he got hurt. He was set to rank as the Red Sox’s No. 21 prospect in the upcoming 2023 Baseball America Prospect Handbook.

“It’s a bit of mixed emotions because you are with an organization for a long time,” Ward said. I was with the Red Sox for the past couple years so you actually build relationships, make friends and whatnot. But it’s also very, very exciting because it’s a new opportunity with new coaches, new staff, new front office, a lot of people that can really add to who you are and what you can do. So it’s a mixture of emotion, but it’s mainly excitement.”

Ward is still building up his durability and began to turn a corner by completing five innings in each of his final four starts of the year at Double-A Portland. Rizzo said the club views Ward as a starter long term but that they will use him in a variety of roles.

“We view him as a starter, but to keep in the big leagues all year, he may not be able to start,” Rizzo said. “He’ll be a multi-inning guy coming into spring training, and he could be a multiple-use reliever or multi-inning reliever.”

The Athletics drafted slugging Triple-A first baseman Ryan Noda from the Dodgers with the second pick of the draft and the Pirates drafted Triple-A lefthanded reliever Jose Hernandez from the Dodgers with the third pick.

The most intriguing pick was made by the Phillies, who drafted righthander Noah Song from the Red Sox. Song, 25, has not pitched professionally since 2019 because he is serving in the Navy as a Naval Flight Officer.

Song projected to be a top-two round pick in the 2019 draft out of the Naval Academy but fell to the fourth round because of uncertainty regarding his military obligations. He last pitched in live games for Team USA during Olympic qualifying in November 2019 and showed a potent four-pitch mix headlined by a fastball up to 98 mph.

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was the Red Sox’s president of baseball ops when Boston drafted Song out of the Naval Academy. He will be placed on the military list and won’t count against the Phillies 40-man roster or be subject to Rule 5 regulations until his service is completed.

“We figured we’ll just take a chance and see what ends up happening,” Dombrowski said. “With that type of upside potential, why not take a chance?”

The Red Sox and Dodgers each had three players taken in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft, tied for the most of any team.

Shortstop Logan Warmoth, the Blue Jays first-round pick in 2017, was selected by the Mariners in the minor league phase. Second baseman Jonathan Arauz, meanwhile, became the rare player to be selected in both the major and minor league phases of the Rule 5 draft.

The Red Sox drafted Arauz from the Astros in the major league phase of the Rule 5 draft in 2019. The Mets drafted Arauz from the Orioles in the minor league phase on Wednesday.

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