Though it did not come to pass, 23-year-old righthander Thad Ward entered 2020 as a darkhorse candidate to contribute to the big league pitching staff.
The 2018 fifth-rounder was coming off a standout first full season spent at two Class A levels. He went 8-5, 2.14 in 25 starts, with 11.2 strikeouts and 4.1 walks per nine innings and seemed likely to open 2020 at Double-A Portland.
Instead, Ward never left Fort Myers, Fla., the city where the Red Sox were holding spring training and where Ward lives. He was not among the pitchers invited to the alternate training site in Pawtucket, R.I.
But that didn’t stop his pursuit of development.
“Obviously I was very disappointed and fairly frustrated that I wasn’t selected to go to the alternate site,” Ward said. “I was definitely disappointed but not discouraged. I kind of used it as a motivator.
“They didn’t necessarily think I was ready to be there yet, so next year I’m going to come out and show that I’ll be able to do the things that they think I need and that I think I need.”
Ward threw regularly to Red Sox minor league catcher Austin Rei, focused both on simulating game situations while trying to build on his mix—chiefly a two-seam fastball, cutter and slider in 2019—by emphasizing work on a changeup that he had used sparingly in the past.
He also used the time to add strength and weight to his lanky 6-foot-3 frame.
The result of that work, Ward hoped, would be to continue the forward progress towards a future as a starting pitcher, despite the unstructured environment in which he spent most of 2020.
“My hope is that (2020) will represent that I’m a hard worker,” Ward said. “When faced with adversity—just like we all were—I hope I was still able to come out and show that I was able to make progress and do work to make myself better.”
— The Red Sox did not renew the contract of Joe Oliver, who had spent seven years managing in the system, most recently at Double-A Portland.
— Lefthander Jay Groome has begun incorporating a slider, adding it to a mix that had featured a four-seam fastball, curveball and changeup.