The Angels went against the grain with 2015 first round pick Taylor Ward. Entering the draft, the Fresno State backstop was seen more as a top three round talent by many, but Los Angeles' front office went with him anyway at 26th overall, shelling out $1.67M to sign him. This was a marked improvement compared to when he was drafted 962nd overall in 2012 as Tampa Bay's 31st round pick coming out of high school.
Known for his defensive prowess in college, Ward has come out swinging a big stick in his debut. He spent 32 games with Orem in the Pioneer League, punishing the pitching there to a .349/.489/.459 line with an absurd 29 walks to only eight strike outs. He hit four doubles, two bombs, and even stole five bags with a 155 wRC+ and .443 wOBA. The Pioneer League is known for ridiculous offensive numbers, but even these were exceptional with all those grains of salt.
The 6-foot-1, 190 pound catcher never cooled off once he was promoted to the Midwest League. Ward finished the season hitting .348/.412/.413 over 92 at bats and 24 games with a homer and three doubles against more age-appropriate competition. He struck out 15 times to 10 walks with a 146 wRC+ and .389 wOBA.
Over the 201 at bat sample we have to work with, Ward absolutely punished southpaws to the tune of a .500/.545/.600 triple slash as he went 10-20 against them. When facing off against same sided pitchers though, Ward only hit .306/.375/.361.
In John's review of the 2015 first round class, he noted Ward's defense was "strong as expected", and the stick was a "positive surprise". The numbers back that up as he threw out 35% of baserunners, showcasing his plus arm, while making just four errors. In an interview with Baseball America, Angels scouting director Ric Wilson is quoted projecting Ward to be a ".250-.255 hitter with 12-15 homers a year" while also showing good command of the zone.
For some reason my gut is saying this is a case of an advanced college bat beating up on younger, less experienced competition and one that enjoyed half his season in the Pioneer League. By all reports the defense is MLB quality and that will buy him time, but he needs to prove this wasn't a fluke at the higher, more age-appropriate levels. Take a look at his swing below where he went deep in the Pioneer/Northwest League All-Star game.