Position: Starting Pitcher
During the 2005 draft, the Cincinnati Reds made Zach Ward the 92nd selection overall, taking the right-handed starting pitcher out of Gardner-Webb University in the third round. One of the better pitching prospects in the Reds' farm system, the Twins acquired Ward in exchange for right-handed pitcher Kyle Lohse midway through the 2006 season. Ward jumped right into the mix at Beloit, and could become one of the better pitching prospects in the Twins organization.
During his last season at Gardner-Webb, Ward posted a 7-9 record, finishing up the year with a 3.63 earned run average. A native of Kannapolis, N.C., Ward struck out 127 batters in over 109 innings for the Bulldogs in 2005, and quickly earned himself a reputation in the Reds system after signing.
Prior to even making his professional debut, Ward was rated as one of the top-10 prospects in the Reds organization, and most believe the 2006 season was an overall success.
Ward began the 2006 season as a member of Dayton of the Midwest League, and established himself as one of the better pitchers in the league. He posted a 7-0 record for the Reds low-A affiliate, and had a sparkling 2.29 earned run average in his 20 appearances. He made 18 starts, appearing in 114 innings overall, and held the opposition to a .188 batting average.
The transition to the Twins was not as easy for Ward, as he struggled after putting on the Beloit Snappers uniform. Though he was playing in the same league, Ward was roughed up to the tune of a 5.93 earned run average in his six starts for the Snappers, though he still capped his year off with an 8-4 record.
The 2007 season looked like a very bad season for Ward on paper, but he really did not pitch as bad as his record would indicate. Blessed with possibly the best slider in the Twins organization, Ward was a victim of an anemic offense on most nights, leading to a 5-17 record overall. Still, his earned run average was just a shade over 4.00, and he walked only 37 batters in 130 innings of work.
Ward has all the tools to remain a starter in the Twins organization, and should begin the 2008 season as a member of the New Britain Rock Cats, where he'll be 24 to start the season.
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Changeup
Fastball: Ward has a great two-seam fastball, and it is one of the better heaters in the Twins organization. His fastball is of the two-seam variety, and he definitely uses it in pressure situations. Ward knows how to spot his fastball as well, leading to very good strikeout totals, as well as very low walk numbers. He also is one of the better groundball pitchers in the Twins organization, leading to his ability to eat innings.
Other Pitches: As previously stated, Ward has a top-of-the-line slider, which was ranked as the best in the Cincinnati Reds' farm system. It is a sharp, breaking slider, which almost looks like a power curve. He also has a changeup, which is a work in progress, but it is one that could solidify his three-pitch arsenal. Ward has come a long way in honing his pitches, and I believe his record will be much better than it was in the Florida State League this past season. He has all the stuff to success in New Britain next year, and should remain a starter.
Pitching: Ward has a bulldog-type mentality, and he has confidence in both his fastball, and his slider. He loves taking the ball every fifth day, although some think he may have to move to the bullpen eventually. He is also very gritty, and has the mid to work out of situations that could tank a lesser pitcher.
Projection: It is still to be seen whether Ward will pan out as a starter or a reliever, as he got some time in both roles during the 2007 season. He just appears to look more comfortable in a starting role, and he can always eat innings on any given day. I like how he projects as a starter, but that slider of his could be deadly coming out of the bullpen as a righty-specialist. I think he'll get some looks in both roles next season, and may even close a bit.
ETA. 2009 As I stated last year, I still think Ward projects as making his Major League debut sometime during the 2009 season. He has been working very hard on becoming a complete pitcher, and I think he will have great success in 2008. Though he may get the call as a reliever, I do see him making starts for Minnesota somewhere down the line. He is a tall righty, with a nice two-seam fastball and excellent slider, which are two pitches that should keep him in professional baseball for a long time.