Per Reader Request: Prospect Retro for Daryle Ward
Daryle Ward was drafted in the 15th round by the Detroit Tigers in 1994, from Rancho Santiago Junior College. The son of former major league outfielder Gary Ward, Daryle showed a power bat in college, but there were worries that he was too heavy and lacked a position. He didn't do much in rookie ball, hitting .267/.349/.398 for Bristol in the Appalachian League. At this point, he would be just a Grade C prospect.
Moved up to Fayetteville in the Sally League in '95, he improved, hitting .284/.344/.426 with 14 homers. His plate discipline was mediocre, but he was starting to tap into his natural power. I gave him a Grade C in the 1996 Minor League Scouting Notebook. Frankly, the only reason I knew much about him was because he was Gary Ward's son, and Ward was one of my favorite players when I was a kid.
Promoted to Lakeland in the Florida State League in '96, he continued to get better, hitting .291/.373/.435. He hit just 11 homers, but every other number showed improvement, notably his plate discipline. I moved him up to Grade B in the '97 book. During the winter, he was traded to the Astros in the Brian Hunter deal.
Houston moved Ward up to Double-A in '97, and he hit .329/.398/.524 with 19 homers, 46 walks, and 68 strikeouts in 422 at-bats. He was helped by the Texas League, but most scouts thought his improvement was real. His strikeout rate continued to drop, and his power was increasing. I liked his growth curve and gave him a Grade B+.
Ward tore through Triple-A in '98, hitting .305/.366/.525 with 23 homers for New Orleans, which was not a great place for a power hitter. He got another B+ from me, and I compared him to Mo Vaughn. I also noted that some concerns about his work ethic were starting to crop up. Everyone seemed to think he was a nice guy, but he didn't always work hard, not that you could tell from the numbers, which were excellent. But Ward was logjammed at first base behind Bagwell, and he didn't seem very comfortable in the outfield.
Ward split '99 between Triple-A and the majors, killing the ball at New Orleans (.353 with 28 homers in just 61 games) and holding his own in the Show (.273 with .473 SLG in 64 games). He saw erratic playing time for the Astros for the next three years, hitting well at times, slamming 20 homers in just 264 at-bats in '00, but unable to seize a regular job. Injuries and poor play seemed to have knocked him back to journeyman status the last couple of years.
Ward seems to have reached his peak at age 24, an example of "old player" skills not aging well. Interestingly, his father Gary was the opposite, a late-bloomer, a toolsy athletic type who didn't thrive until he was 28.
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