The Red Sox lost three intriguing pitching prospects in the major-league phase of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday.
With the first overall pick, the Nationals took right-hander Thad Ward. Moments later, the Orioles took reliever A.J. Politi at No. 17. Then, in a somewhat shocking twist, the Phillies nabbed fellow righty Noah Song with the 20th overall selection.
Ward, who turns 26 next month, had been regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The Red Sox originally selected the 6-foot-3, 192-pound hurler in the fifth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Central Florida.
Equipped with a two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup, Ward got his professional career off to an impressive start before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June. He returned to the mound this summer and posted a 2.28 ERA in 13 starts (51 1/3 innings) with four different affiliates. That includes a 2.43 ERA in seven starts (33 1/3 innings) for Double-A Portland.
In an effort to get him more work, the Red Sox sent Ward to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. There, the righty forged a 2.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts to six walks in four appearances (three starts) spanning 12 2/3 innings of work for the Scottsdale Scorpions. His workload was limited due to a left oblique strain.
Despite the flashes of potential he showed this season, the Red Sox elected not to add Ward to their 40-man roster ahead of last month’s Rule 5 deadline. They instead added five minor-leaguers — including Wilyer Abreu and David Hamilton — knowing full well that Ward could be scooped up by another club.
The same, in a sense, can be said for Politi, who winds up going to a division rival. The 26-year-old pitched to a 2.60 ERA in 50 appearances (two starts) between Portland and Triple-A Worcester this season. That includes a 2.41 ERA with 63 strikeouts to 19 walks in 38 outings (two starts) spanning 56 innings for the WooSox.
Boston originally selected Politi in the 15th round of the 2018 draft out of Seton Hall University. He was a candidate to be called up by the big-league club at the end of the season and was ranked by SoxProspects.com as the No. 42 prospect in the organization.
Song is a bit of a different story. The former fourth-round draft pick last pitched professionally in 2019 and was viewed as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization before his commitment to the Navy forced him to step away from the game.
Earlier this spring, Song completed his Naval flight training and applied for a waiver that would allow him to continue his baseball career while still serving in the reserves. The Red Sox kept him on the military reserve list during that time and the Phillies will do the same, meaning he will not occupy a spot on their 40-man roster.
Phillies president of baseball operations was running the Red Sox when Song was drafted in 2019. It seems like he was excited by the opportunity to bring tha talented pitcher to Philadelphia.
“We made sure to double-check that he was available to be drafted, which he was,” Dombrowski told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo). “I knew him at the time (of the 2019 draft). We loved him. We thought he was a No. 1 Draft choice; we thought he might be the best starting pitcher in the country. We took a gamble at that point because we thought maybe he wouldn’t have to serve, but he ended up having to do that.
“Being available like this, we really had nothing to lose,” he added. “We like his talent a lot. We get to put him on the military list right off the bat, so he’s not on our 40-man roster. We figured we’d take a chance and just see what ends up happening.”
Ward and Politi will be subject to normal Rule 5 stipulations next year. In other words, the Nationals and Orioles paid $100,000 for each pitcher and must keep them on their 26-man roster for the entirety of the 2023 season. If that is not possible, Ward and Politi would have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $50,000.
Song, on the other hand, is not subject to these requirements until he is activated from the military reserve list and resumes his baseball career. The Phillies, like the Red Sox before them, are not sure if or when that will happen.
“This is a long shot by all means, but it’s worth taking a shot, we thought,” said Dombrowski. I don’t know if anybody knows exactly when he’ll be released from his service. But for the cost of the Draft, we thought it was worth taking him.”
In total, the Red Sox tied the Dodgers for the most players taken in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. While that may not be a positive as far as organizational depth is concerned, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom believes it shows that Boston has more talent in its farm system than years prior.
“I’d rather not lose players but I do think it’s a testament to where our system is going,” Bloom said, via MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. “Obviously, you want to be able to make moves to get in front of these situations and you aren’t going to be able to do it with everybody. It’s something we worked on knowing there was some risk of losing some guys.”
(Picture of Thad Ward: Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images)