05/27/2022 6:00 AM
Article By: Kaley Brown
Los Angeles Angels former catcher, turned third baseman, turned right fielder Taylor Ward (Orleans ‘14) is one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) best hitters to begin 2022 amidst his breakout season.
The right-handed batter attended Fresno State University and competed on their baseball team for three years from 2013-15, playing both catcher and corner outfield positions his freshman year before transitioning behind the dish full-time his sophomore and junior seasons. Ward accumulated 157 hits across his three collegiate seasons and 162 total games plus 98 RBI, 83 runs and 79 walks.
In the summer of 2014, Ward played seven games for the Orleans Firebirds who would go on to finish second place in the East Division.
After the completion of the 2015 season, Ward was selected 26th overall in the first round of the MLB Draft by Los Angeles. He impressed in rookie ball, where he spent 32 games with the Orem Owlz, and advanced to the Burlington Bees, the Angels’ Full-A affiliate at the time, where he played 24 games and finished the 2015 season. Ward maintained a .348 batting average and .457 on-base percentage between the two teams, compiling 70 total hits. He also remained a catcher, posting a .990 fielding percentage in 395 total chances in 2015.
Ward then spent all of the 2016 season with the Class-A Advanced Inland Empire 66ers where he cracked 10 home runs on 116 total hits through 123 games played. He batted .249 on the year and drew 48 walks. Behind the dish, Ward posted a .994 fielding percentage through 783 total chances and 792.1 innings caught.
To begin the 2017 season, he remained with the 66ers, playing 54 games and amassing 54 hits, 35 walks and 30 RBI before being promoted to the Double-A Mobile BayBears.
Prior to the start of the 2018 season, Los Angeles made the decision to move Ward to third base and completely move him away from catching. He started the year remaining with Mobile and committed six errors in 33 games at the hot corner. Meanwhile, at the plate, Ward batted .345 through 42 games, cracked six homers, drew 29 walks, scored 26 times, drove in 25 runs and compiled 51 total hits before getting the promotion to the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. Here, his bat stayed hot as he batted .352/.442/.537 through 60 games. He hit another eight home runs, drew 36 walks, collected 35 RBI and scored 42 times.
Ward made his Major League debut on August 14, 2018, staying with the Angels for the remainder of the season. Ward went up and down between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City in 2019 and 2021, but stayed up at the bigs during the shortened 2020 season. Across those three years, Ward averaged .239 at the plate, collected 86 total hits (35 for extra bases), 53 runs and 40 RBI over the span of 119 games.
2022, however, has been a completely different story for Ward. As of Tuesday, May 24, Ward has played in 30 of Los Angeles’ 43 games (he started the season on the injured list and endured a collision into the wall on Saturday, May 20 that kept him out of a handful of games), all being in right field. Despite logging his first at-bat of the year back on April 16, through 108 at-bats, Ward is slashing .370/.481/.713, his batting average and on-base percentage both leading the league as of May 24.
In fact, his incredible performance to start the year was good enough to name him American League (AL) Player of the Week for the week of April 25-May 1. Over that seven-game span, Ward slashed an astonishing .448/.484/1.000, drove in 11 runs, scored 10 times, hit four home runs and logged multiple hits in a single game four separate times through those seven games.
His OPS also stands at a whopping, league-leading 1.194; Ward has collected 40 hits, nine home runs, 27 runs and 23 walks and RBI apiece. The breakout star has also posted a 2.3 WAR (wins above replacement), tied for MLB’s fifth-best alongside New York Yankees fellow right-fielder Aaron Judge (Brewster ‘12). His wOBA (weighted on-base average) is a staggering .507, which would be an MLB-best if Ward were to reach the 3.1 plate appearance minimum per team game leaders this season.
In right field, Ward has been a significant boost to the Angels’ stacked outfield already consisting of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon. He has yet to commit an error in all 30 games, more specifically 249.2 innings and 66 defensive chances. If Ward can stay healthy, he may end up being one of the major puzzle pieces that lead the Angels to the postseason for the first time since 2014.
Los Angeles, who stands at 26-17 and just one game behind the first-place Houston Astors in the AL West, might have figured things out at last. From the bullpen to the infield, their entire roster has consistently performed. The Angels starting rotation has impressed, as well, most notably when Reid Detmers spun a no-hitter on Tuesday, May 10. While Los Angeles’ eye-popping start cannot be attributed to just one player, Taylor Ward’s magnificent start to the season is just one example that shows that this year’s LA team is built differently and might just have what it takes to make the playoffs.