Thad Ward Transitions Well To Starting
Scouting relievers is an exercise in persistence and an acceptance in frustration, yet in the case of Thad Ward, Red Sox area scout Stephen Hargett felt the challenging logistics were worth it.
While Ward started a handful of games during his three years at Central Florida from 2016-18, he mostly worked out of the bullpen, following a somewhat unpredictable usage pattern that made patience a mandatory part of the scouting process.
Still, Hargett and the Red Sox believed the effort was worthwhile. The stringy righthander showed command of a low-90s sinker and a swing-and-miss slider, two pitches that Red Sox scouts saw as being of major league quality. That said, expectations were a bit measured, with Ward’s likely path to the big leagues looking like that of a reliever.
Yet the Sox and Ward also wanted to see if he could further develop his pitch mix and stick in the rotation. While the righthander employed both a curveball and changeup in college, this spring he picked the brain of fellow Sox minor leaguer Matt Kent about developing a cutter. The pitch took quickly, and with it, Ward's development took off.
"I was able to pick up on it really well. It’s kind of a natural pitch for me,” Ward said. "It’s more forcing action early, getting weak contact, essentially playing off the sinker. I have two different fastballs moving in two different directions off of the same tunnel. I use that to force a lot of early count contact, a lot of weak contact.”
Through 19 starts—13 with low Class A Greenville and six with high Class A Salem—Ward was 6-3, 1.97 with 121 strikeouts and just three home runs allowed in 100.2 innings. His ability to draw weak contract with his 93-94 mph two-seam fastball and new-found cutter, complemented by a slider that serves as a chase pitch, has morphed Ward into one of the better starting pitching prospects in Boston's system.
"His stuff has ticked up," said Dave Bush, the Red Sox pitching coordinator of performance, when asked about Ward. "Some guys, their stuff will go backwards as a starter. In his case, as of right now, it’s ticked up a little bit. If he’s 87-88 [mph] with sinkers, cutters, I’d say it probably isn’t going to work [as a starter], but if it’s in the 90s and he’s commanding both pitches, then it gives him something to work with.”
— Utilityman Chris Owings, who hit five homers in 127 games between Triple-A and the big leagues in 2018, homered in six straight games for Triple-A Pawtucket in late July.
— Righthander Tanner Houck was moved into the bullpen for Double-A Portland in July and remained there after a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. The Red Sox may resume his development as a starter in 2020, but right now they believe he has a chance to help in the big leagues as a reliever later this year.