The 2023 season kicked off a lot of the same for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Taylor Ward. He’s displaying his uber-talented bat-to-ball skill and his ability to anchor the leadoff spot for manager Phil Nevin’s offense.
Ward has the upside to be one of the 10 best hitters in Major League Baseball when things are clicking, and unfortunately, his All-Star level start was derailed by a collision with the right-field wall at Angel Stadium in late May.
From Opening Day in 2022 through the night of his injury, the 29-year-old had posted a 1.194 on-base plus slugging through the first 30 games. But a few quick warning track steps ended the best run of his career, and the Angels in turn lost a huge piece of their offense.
The stinger he suffered irritated a nerve running from his neck to his shoulder has recovered as evidenced by his hot start this season, and according to Jeff Fletcher of the O.C. Register, his feel for the outfield is a work in progress:
“It’s getting better,” he said. “Slowly but surely. Still not 100% comfortable. I don’t think I ever will be. That will continue to drive the progression to get better. So far so good. It’s cool to see some of your hard work paying off. That was fun last night.”
He graded out in the 80th percentile over the course of 2022 with his ability to get a jump on fly balls, but that metric, to Ward’s own admission, has understandably taken a sizable step back this season:
“I still have that instinct to go get it,” Ward said Wednesday. “I kind of knew I was approaching the wall because everything starts coming into your peripheral vision. I still think I can have a better process while approaching the wall.”
Players running into outfield walls has not only caused severe injuries like in the case of former Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, whose career seemed to shift after crashing into the centerfield wall in Coors Field at the height of his play. Roughly 16 feet of warning track dirt is all they have to slow down from a full sprint, and Ward believes he’s over the hump with that May 20th incident:
“I don’t have nearly as much fear as I had after last year,” he said. “I think that’s gone away. Just trying to get better at peeking.”
If all continues to go well for Ward and his feel for the outfield, his bat continuing to peak at the right time for Nevin should be a rock at the top of a lineup with Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani to follow.
Nevin wants to see Angels’ chemistry grow
Stability is one area the Los Angeles Angels have struggled with in the past decade, whether it’s results, keeping a core of players healthy, or even in managerial roles, but the look and feel of the 2023 club are shaping to be more positive than in years past.
The Angels are in an important season and they have high hopes for 2023. After adding some new coaches to his staff, a strong Spring Training with his young players and a slew of veteran bats are all great signs.
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