Southern notes: Ward switching gears in Mobile

Angels' No. 14 prospect making move from catcher to hot corner

After seeing time in the Arizona Fall League, Taylor Ward is hitting .439 with nine RBIs in 11 games for the BayBears. (Buck Davidson/MiLB.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | April 19, 2018 10:30 AM ET

Taylor Ward has his own infielder's glove now, but even that has meant a new challenge for the Los Angeles Angels' first-round choice in the 2015 Draft.

"I knew just how to break in a catcher's mitt," the Mobile BayBears third baseman said. "This is different. I guess it's something else to get used to."

Ward was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training with the Angels and handled all the duties of an extra catcher, playing in a couple of B games. As soon as Minor League camp began, though, the Angels' No. 14 prospect found himself at the hot corner, a borrowed glove part of the transition.

Although Ward, 24, hadn't played the infield in high school or in college at Fresno State, the Angels liked his athleticism and thought his work at the plate might flourish by not having to toil behind it.

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So far, so good.

The right-handed hitter went 12-for-19 in the BayBears' opening series with Pensacola and has a .439/.520/.585 line with nine RBIs through the first 11 games.

Ward credits some tinkering with his stance over the winter and a little luck for his fast start at the plate, but he knows the position switch could be a benefit late in the season.

"In July and August, my body should be feeling a lot better than I'm used to," he said.

Ward, who hit .286 with a .400 on-base percentage in 33 games at the end of last season with Mobile, was sent home from the Arizona Fall League because of a shoulder impingement and got a hint of what was ahead during January when the Angels had him concentrate on taking ground balls during a winter camp.

It wasn't until March, though, that he got the final word.

"At first, I really wasn't on-board," Ward said. "I'd worked hard at being a good catcher and enjoyed it."

Ward is still adjusting to third base.

"It's a lot different," he said. "Catching, you're constantly in the game. At third base, you're locked in defensively for about three minutes the entire game. It's a weird change."

Ward is now convinced it could be a beneficial one, though.

"For this year, the Angels say they want me to just play third base," he said. "But it obviously helps to be able to play more than one position. Major League teams want that."

Ward was charged with four early errors, so he knows he has plenty of work to do at third base.

"I worked hard to be a good catcher and I will work just as hard or harder to be a good third baseman," said Ward, who has a strong arm. "Balls I have to come in on or softly hit balls are the ones that are the toughest for me. I'm fine when I just have to react."

Video: Ward snacks a solo home run for BayBears

Ward is advanced as a hitter, showing good plate discipline at all Minor League stops.

He came into this season with 144 career walks and 164 strikeouts and has seven walks and nine strikeouts this year.

Ward, who has three doubles and a homer, knows this is an important season both at the plate and at his new position as he tries to enhance his status in the Angels' retooled farm system.

"I do miss catching, but I'm excited about playing third base," he said. "I think everything is working out well."

In brief

King of K's: Jackson left-hander Colin Poche got off to a prolific strikeout start, fanning 16 over seven innings in his first five relief appearances. Poche, a D-backs 16th-round choice in the 2016 Draft out of Dallas Baptist University, allowed one hit and one walk and had a save. The 24-year-old struck of five in two perfect innings against Tennessee on April 13 in his most dominant outing. Poche fanned 81 in 51 innings while posting a 1.25 ERA in 31 Class A appearances a season ago.

Another setback: Chattanooga left-hander Tyler Jay, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2015 Draft by the Minnesota Twins, is on the disabled list again, this time with a left groin strain. The former University of Illinois standout was sidelined after making one relief appearance, striking out two and giving up one hit against Birmingham on April 7. Jay, who turns 24 on April 19, missed most of last season because of a left shoulder impingement and finished 2016 on the DL because of a neck strain. The Twins' No. 16 prospect has pitched just 115 1/3 innings, posting a 3.36 ERA.

Home breakthrough: Pensacola right-hander Keury Mella, the Cincinnati Reds' No. 21 prospect, got a home win in his first start this season after going 0-6 over 14 games at Blue Wahoos Stadium last year. The 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic got the victory in impressive fashion, limiting Chattanooga to five hits without a walk over six innings in the 3-0 decision on April 12. Mella, who made two appearances for the Reds last September, was 4-10 with a 4.30 ERA for Pensacola in 2017 but is 2-0 with a 1.06 ERA after three starts this year.

Shrimp big draw: Jacksonville had the largest Opening Night crowd in the Southern League and in the process outdrew the parent Miami Marlins. The Jumbo Shrimp attracted 6,960 in the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville on April 11, while the Marlins attracted just 6,150 the same night for a game against the New York Mets. The Jumbo Shrimp not only had the best SL crowd for an opener, but also the best draw for an opening series, average 7,549 for four games against Mobile with a high of 10,254 on April 14.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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