Ward, 23, a left-handed hitting middle infielder, was selected in the twelfth round out of the University of Georgia by the Mariners in the 2014 draft after a junior season where he hit .306/.417/.426 for the Bulldogs. Last year between Low-A Clinton of the Midwest League and High-A Bakersfield in the Cal League he hit .282/.362/.436.
He profiles as a plus defender with on-base skills to hit at the top of the order. This season Ward has gotten off to a slow start with the Missions hitting .231/.296/.307 in the first half with 17 stolen bases in 23 attempts.
“He plays a little too much in the air right now even though he has had a few home runs,” said Phillip Wellman, his manager. “He needs to focus playing on the line because fly ball outs are not good for him. His game is about speed.”
“He’s a very aggressive guy that needs to be more selective at the plate because he stirs up all kinds of crap when he gets on base.”
This year Ward has primarily been at second base, but has also seen time at third, shortstop and center field.
We caught up with him before a recent game to talk about his background and transition to the San Diego system.
Can we get a little bit of background on you since you are new to the system?
Nelson Ward: I’m was born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, which is northwest of Atlanta. My family has been there for a very long time.
So there weren’t too many options for you other than going to the University of Georgia?
Nelson Ward: [laughs] Yeah, going to UGA was a good choice. I really loved it and my family got to see me play.
You had a good college career and were drafted by the Mariners in 2014 in the twelfth round and you came over to the Padres in the Joaquin Benoit trade along with Enyel De Los Santos.
How did you hear about the trade?
Nelson Ward: The new GM for the Mariners said that I had been traded to the Padres and wished me luck. He said the Padres would be in touch with me soon and five minutes later I got a call from them.
They welcomed me to the organization and said they were excited to have me.
How did the transition go to a new team?
Nelson Ward: Luckily there were a few guys from the agency that used to represent me that I knew from off-season workouts. There were a few faces I also knew from playing in the Cal League so it wasn’t completely new.
Walking into a new clubhouse is always kind of tough because you don’t know what their expectations are or how they do things - but everyone was very welcoming to me.
At the upper levels of this system there are quite a few guys like you - they can play multiple infield positions and bat from the left-side. Where do you feel most comfortable defensively?
Nelson Ward: I have played more games at second, so that is probably the most comfortable - but really anywhere on the field. I want to play.
I haven’t caught or pitched yet, but anywhere to get in the lineup.
It seems second base, more than the other infield positions, footwork is at a premium. Do you feel that way too?
Nelson Ward: At second turning the double-pay is different than anywhere on the field. I have had a lot of help with that in my pro career.
How much shifting do you do in the minors?
Nelson Ward: We have a pretty big binder of where guys like to hit balls…
Even at the Double-A level?
Nelson Ward: Oh yeah; we come in the dugout at the end of the inning and they are reviewing the next guys up with us so we know where to position ourselves.
How has been your adjustment to Double-A? So many guys say it is the toughest level to hit at because pitcher’s secondary offerings are better and their command of the fastball picks up.
Nelson Ward: It is definitely an adjustment because they are absolutely better than at the previous levels. There is a big difference and you have to constantly make adjustments.
What is tough about the Texas League is we play each other so often everyone knows everyone. So they figure out how they are going to pitch to you, you make an adjustment and then they do. Sometimes it feels like they are even doing it pitch-to-pitch.
I thought you looked like a better player than your numbers are showing. You hit a lot of line drives in BP instead of trying to hit home runs. Is that your type of game?
Nelson Ward: I’ve been told once before that I have just enough power to get myself in trouble. So I know that I can hit a ball out, I just can’t do it consistently - so that gets me into trouble.
So I try to stay in a good line drive approach and stay in the alleys with line drives. This season so far I’ve just hit too many balls at people.
Also, even though I tried really hard not to do it, I think I put a little too much pressure on myself when I came over here and tried to do too much. I’m finally starting to feel comfortable and think my game will pick up. I was just swinging at too many pitches that I shouldn't have. It’s not that I wasn’t swinging at strikes, I wasn’t swinging at my strikes. That is one of the differences in coming to Double-A.
How did you get to be a left-handed hitter?
Nelson Ward: I have two older brothers and I wanted to play baseball with them. When they were showing me how to hit, they are right-handed, and I was mirroring them, from the left-side, and that is how I kept swinging it.