Get to know Thad Ward, the Nats' Rule 5 pick

December 9th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Jessica Camerato’s Nationals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

There was a piece of advice Thad Ward had received in his young pro career that resonated loudly Wednesday afternoon.  
“I had a buddy of mine who went through a couple of trades,” Ward explained. “He told me, ‘You're not playing for one team; you're playing for all 30. Whenever you go out on the field, there's 29 other teams still looking at you.’ So you think about other teams and what could happen in the future, you keep that in the back of your mind.” 
That message was at the forefront of the 25-year-old right-hander’s mind when his name was called as the first pick in the Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. Ward, a 2018 fifth-round pick by Boston, swapped a “B” for a curly “W” when the Nationals selected him from the Red Sox Double-A affiliate. Washington held the No. 1 selection after finishing with the worst record in the league this past season.  
“It’s a bit of mixed emotions because you are with an organization for a long time … so you actually build relationships and make friends and whatnot,” Ward said on a conference call shortly after the Draft. “But it's also very, very exciting because it's a new opportunity with new coaches, new staff, new front office, a lot of people that can really add to who you are and what you can do. It’s a mixture of emotions, but it's mainly excitement.” 

With the Rule 5 Draft board wide open, the Nationals selected Ward as a pitcher who can fill multiple needs on the 26-man roster. They will explore utilizing him as a multiple-innings or multiple-role reliever this season. Though a starter in his Minor League career, Ward was a reliever in college.   
“My only goal is to add value to the team -- that’s it,” Ward said. “However I can help the team win, I will do. Obviously, I would like to stay as a starter, but it also doesn't matter that much to me. I just want to go win ballgames.”

After not playing in 2020 and undergoing Tommy John surgery in June of ‘21, Ward made 13 starts across four Minor League levels while going 0-2 with an 2.28 ERA in 51 1/3 frames this past season. Taking pride in “being able to do a little bit of everything,” he has a six-pitch mix that includes a four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, slider, changeup and curveball.  
“When we do these Rule 5 selections, it’s a balance between an upside pitcher that you’re trying to really hit on and surety of being able to keep the player on the roster all season,” said general manager Mike Rizzo. “So he blended both of those together for us. … He throws enough strikes, he’s a savvy enough pitcher and a competitor that he could stay in the big leagues. We believe there’s still some left in the tank in upside where his velocity could get back to pre-Tommy John stature.” 
Ward became available in the Rule 5 Draft when the Red Sox had to make the difficult choice of which prospects to protect, opting for base-stealing infielder David Hamilton because of the incoming rule changes next season. He was ranked as Boston’s No. 15 prospect, and he became Washington’s No. 13.  
“It doesn’t matter if he’s the first pick or the last pick, it means that he’s not our player anymore, and that’s a bummer because of what he’s been through medically and the upside that he has,” said Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom. “Hopefully we get him back; we know there’s a chance that we won’t. He was probably our toughest decision as we set rosters.” 
Per the definition of the Rule 5 Draft, “Rule 5 Draft picks are assigned directly to the drafting club's 26-man roster and must be placed on outright waivers in order to be removed from the 26-man roster in the subsequent season. Should the player clear waivers, he must be offered back to his previous team for $50,000 and can be outrighted to the Minors only if his original club does not wish to reacquire him.”