Red Sox pitching prospect Thaddeus Ward took another important step in his road back from Tommy John surgery on Friday. At JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, the right-hander faced live batters for the first time since going under the knife last June.
“First Live BP today!” Ward tweeted. “Another box has been checked, we’re getting close!”
Ward came into the 2021 season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 10 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He made just two starts for Double-A Portland before being shut down with a forearm strain that would ultimately require Tommy John. The procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews on June 3.
As the one-year anniversary of Ward’s elbow reconstruction nears, it appears as though the 25-year-old is close to getting back into minor-league games. Since it has been more than a year since he last pitched competitively, his first assignment will likely come in the Florida Complex League.
Originally selected by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Central Florida, Ward drew plenty of attention in his first full professional season. The Fort Myers native posted a 2.14 ERA and 3.28 FIP with 157 strikeouts to 57 walks over 25 starts (126 1/3 innings) between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem en route to being named the organization’s 2019 Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
After the 2020 campaign was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and his 2021 season was for the most part lost because of surgery, Ward is now regarded by Baseball America as the No. 20 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks ninth among pitchers in the organization.
Prior to undergoing Tommy John, Ward operated with a repeatable delivery and worked from a pitch arsenal that included a 93-96 mph sinker, a slider, a cutter, and a changeup.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, Ward can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter if the Red Sox do not add him to their 40-man roster by the November deadline. Because of this, the righty — as noted by FanGraphs’ Kevin Goldstein and Tess Taruskin — could be a prime candidate to pitch in the Arizona Fall League later this year.
That way, the Sox would get an extended look at Ward before determining if he was worthy of a 40-man roster spot. Other teams, meanwhile, would also get the chance to evaluate Ward in the event that he was not protected from the Rule 5 Draft this fall.
While it’s extremely unlikely Ward will contribute at the big-league level in 2022, he does project as a back-end starter or multi-inning reliever in the future.
(Picture of Thaddeus Ward: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)