The Washington Nationals on Wednesday made their first Rule 5 draft selection since 2010 by taking Red Sox minor league pitcher Thad Ward with the first pick.
Ward, a 25-year-old right-handed starter, is now on the Nationals’ 40-man roster and must remain on Washington’s major-league roster for the entire 2023 season, or else he’d be returned to Boston.
The Rule 5 draft allows teams to acquire players with at least four or five years of minor league service who aren’t on a 40-man roster. The Nationals had the first pick in the draft after having the worst record in the major leagues (55-107) this past season. Rule 5 picks rarely work out, but there have been a few needles in the haystack in recent years, including Baltimore’s Anthony Santander and Boston’s Garrett Whitlock.
Ward, a fifth-round pick out of Central Florida in 2018, posted a 2.14 earned run average in 2019 with 157 strikeouts in 126 1/3 innings and was Boston’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
But he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in 2021 and underwent Tommy John Surgery. The 6-foot-3 righty then returned to the mound late in the 2022 campaign to positive results — a 3.33 ERA and 66 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings between rookie ball, low-A, high-A and Double-A.
To get more innings under his belt, Ward pitched a dozen innings at the Arizona Fall League and impressed scouts with his mid-90s fastball and swing-and-miss slider.
Ward was a top 10 prospect in Boston’s system in 2020 and 2021. He entered the 2022 season as the organization’s No. 15 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
The Nationals, who had one final 40-man roster spot left, decided not to take a second player in the Rule 5 draft.
Ward was one of three Boston players gobbled up by other clubs. The others were pitcher Andrew Politi, who the Orioles picked, and former Navy pitcher Noah Song, who was selected by the Phillies. Song hasn’t pitched professionally since 2019 and does not have to be placed on the Phillies’ 40-man roster until his current Naval service obligation has been completed.