Ward working to become 'best left fielder in baseball'

Nevin believes sixth-year outfielder could land in AL MVP conversation

February 17th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- After a breakout 2022 campaign, Taylor Ward has set some lofty goals for the upcoming season. 

Ward, who is making the transition to left field from right field after the Angels acquired right fielder Hunter Renfroe, has his sights set on establishing himself as one of the game’s premier players. 

“I want to take away home runs, I want to a win a Gold Glove, I want to be the best left fielder in baseball,” Ward said. “That’s my goal, and all the work I do is going to be toward it.” 

Ward was one of the hottest hitters in the Major Leagues to open last season before suffering a nerve injury in his right shoulder after running into the outfield wall on May 20. He said the injury sapped him of his strength and hampered his swing for three months before he had a torrid September.

Ward batted .370/.481/.713 with nine homers and 23 RBIs in 30 games before he suffered the injury, but he hit just .219/.293/.336 with eight homers and 24 RBIs over his next 74 games heading into September. But Ward, after regaining his strength in his shoulder, finished the year strong, batting .345/.397/.575 with six homers and 18 RBIs over the final 31 games of the season. 

“In a full season, if I stay healthy, I think I can do what I did the first month and the last month all year, I really do,” Ward said.  “The last month of the season I was pretty much back. The offseason it felt great. No problems, at all. I’m definitely 100 percent now. But I think that totally impacted my three months. The goal this year is definitely to avoid the wall.”

Angels manager Phil Nevin also believes that Ward’s season was marred by that collision. But he noted the 29-year-old's overall numbers were strong, as he batted .281/.360/.473 with 23 homers, 22 doubles and 65 RBIs in 135 games. 

“It wasn't just a small sample size to start the season and a little tiny bit at the end,” Nevin said. “Those numbers as a whole were pretty impressive to begin with. Those numbers were real. He’s somebody that we certainly know can carry a team when he's swinging the bat like he has.” 

Nevin took it a step further, saying he believes Ward has the talent to be one of the best players in the league and find himself in the AL MVP discussions.

“Obviously, Mike [Trout] and Shohei [Ohtani] have won MVPs and been a part of that talk, and Anthony [Rendon] has been in that mix before, too. But I wouldn’t be shocked if Taylor wasn't another name that could be thrown in that sort of a category,” Nevin said. “I’m not saying win it, but certainly be talked about.” 

Ward has credited his former college teammate Trent Woodward for helping him retool his swing over the last few years, and he said it’s to the point where he didn’t need to tweak it much this offseason. But during the offseason he still sent video of his swings to Woodward to analyze. 

“If you get in front of Trent, I think you have a real shot of changing your career path,” Ward said. “I always send him film. Almost every swing I take, I send it to him to get his opinion.” 

Woodward’s success with Ward led fellow Angels outfielder Brett Phillips to work with him this offseason. Los Angeles eventually ended up hiring Woodward as a consultant this year.

Ward said one change he did make was installing a pitching machine in his personal hitting cage that throws a variety of pitches, including ones heavily used by current pitchers. 

“It throws nasty stuff,” Ward said. “Like that sweeping slider, guys throw it a lot nowadays, so I’ve been training for that a lot and the high ride and run these guys have, too.” 

Ward said he’s excited at the prospect of building on last season, as the 2015 first-round pick is starting to finally establish himself as the player the Angels envisioned him becoming.  If he can replicate or even improve on last season, it would be major boost to the lineup and would give the Halos one of the stronger outfields in the game with Trout, Ward and Renfroe. 

“I just want to continue where I left off,” Ward said. “I’m healthy, everything's ready to go. So I just want to get going again and start the season strong.”