Taylor Ward was a highly-touted catching prospect when the Los Angeles Angels drafted him in the first round, 26th overall, of the 2015 MLB Draft out of California State University, Fresno.
Ward advanced fairly quickly through the Angels’ Minor League system, winning multiple accolades along the way, such as being named an MiLB.com Angels Organization All-Star twice, a Pioneer League Mid-Season All-Star, and he participated in the 2016 Arizona Fall League Rising Stars game.
He ended up making his MLB debut on August 14, 2018, but the success did not follow. In 40 games, the rookie hit just .178/.245/.333. These struggles continued into 2019 and 2020 before he finally started producing just above a league-average level in 2021.
This season, Ward has been performing as one of baseball’s best hitters. Among players with at least 80 plate appearances, his 248 wRC+ and .512 wOBA each rank first, and his six home runs ties him for 13th in the league despite having around 20 fewer plate appearances than everyone else around him.
Although Ward has changed his batted ball profile since his debut, he says his breakout has been fueled by a change in his mindset and approach at the plate, he told Sam Blum of The Athletic:
“It’s the same game, just the lights are brighter,” Ward said. “Going up and down these last few years, I’ve really started to understand. Keeping my approach in the box, staying with it every pitch. Not letting anything dictate what I’m thinking in the box. That has really been the separator.”
Often, hitters will change their approach each pitch based on the count. This leads to a less aggressive mindset on the first pitch and 3-0 counts, a defensive approach when they’re behind in the count, and only looking to deal damage when they are in a hitters count, such as 1-0, 2-1, or 3-1.
But for Ward, his approach is to ignore the count as much as he can, and just focus on getting his pitch to hit no matter what the situation is:
He tries to eliminate what the count is in his head. He often doesn’t try to anticipate pitch types that he’ll see. Many hitters will tell you they’re just looking for a pitch to hit, and it becomes a cliché. For Ward, he’s stripping away all the external factors so that he can only be thinking about getting that one pitch to hit.
“The count … it doesn’t matter,” Ward said. “Just waiting for the ball to show up in the spot. That’s all that matters. No count. No lineup. It doesn’t matter. I’m just in the box, doing my thing. Don’t think about it at all.”
It’s hard to argue with the results of Ward’s approach, and it’s maybe something more hitters should end up adopting.
Ward is bound to run into a slump at some point, all players do. It is nearly impossible to maintain his level of early success over the course of a full season so regression will come.
However, now he seems more prepared to deal with those slumps and bounce back from them, rather than letting them define him. Ward is making an early case to start the All-Star game next to Mike Trout, and it would be a lot of fun to see that continue.
Ward won AL Player of the Week honors
Ward was recognized by MLB for his contributions and has been chosen as the American League Player of the Week. This is his first career A.L. player of the week award and the Angels’ first recipient since fellow teammate David Fletcher did in July 2021.
He batted .448 (13-for-29) with 10 runs scored, two doubles, a triple, four home runs, 11 RBI, two walks, and a 1.000 slugging percentage over seven games played last week. He also logged at least one hit in every game during his award-winning week, including four multi-hit games, and registered his first career multi-home run game.
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