After experiencing his best season in the Majors last season, Taylor Ward is increasing his versatility this year, as he’s now catching again in addition to working all three outfield spots and first base.
Ward, 27, was originally drafted as a catcher in the first round of the 2015 Draft, but he was moved to third base before the '18 season. He's since moved on from third, but has only added more positions, including starting at catcher in the Angels' 6-2 win over the Mariners on Sunday. It was his first start behind the plate since 2017.
“Versatility is a big thing around here,” Ward said via Zoom on Sunday. “Last year, I didn't really have a position, so this makes me more valuable. Going back to catcher helps that, and I want to stay on the roster. I love catching, and really being part of the team and being engaged in the game."
Ward isn’t likely to catch much in the regular season, however, as Angels manager Joe Maddon said it would be more in emergency situations. But it would allow for the Angels to pinch-hit or pinch-run for their catchers, or use two catchers in the lineup -- with one at designated hitter -- more often, as Ward would be available in case of injury.
But Ward is still competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster along with non-roster outfielders Jon Jay and Juan Lagares. Jay previously played for Maddon with the Cubs, while Lagares is a former Gold Glove Award winner with the Mets and is off to a strong start offensively.
Maddon has been impressed with Ward so far, but it’ll be an interesting competition to monitor this spring between Ward, Jay and Lagares.
“I’m liking what I’m seeing,” Maddon said. “The big thing with him, moving it down the road, if catching becomes a part of his resume, this guy can stay in the business for a while.”
Ward batted .277/.333/.383 with six doubles, two triples and five RBIs in 34 games last year, but notably didn't homer despite smacking 27 homers in 106 games with Triple-A Salt Lake in 2019. But Ward was working through some swing changes last year to create a better swing path after it became both too steep and too much like an uppercut.
Ward, who hit his first homer of spring Tuesday against the Reds, and Maddon both believe he can unlock more power this season.
“I think I do have power,” Ward said. “Not light-tower power but enough power, especially including doubles and triples. I think with more reps, more at-bats and more opportunities, it'll show and come out."
Barria awaiting ruling on his option status
Right-hander Jaime Barria is competing for a spot on the roster and it could come down to whether he’s granted an extra year of Minor League options. As of now, he’s considered out of options, but that could change if it's deemed the 2020 season wasn’t long enough to count as an optionable year. If Barria remains out of options, he’s likely to make the team in the bullpen, but if it’s reversed, he’s more likely to remain stretched out in the Minors.
Barria gave up one run over two innings against the Mariners on Sunday, striking out one and surrendering a solo homer. He admitted the situation with his options is something he can't help but think about.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s in the back of my head,” Barria said through an interpreter. “But it’s something I can’t control. I’m just going to go out there and give it my best. Whatever happens, happens.”
• Right-hander Aaron Slegers and lefty Dillon Peters are both day to day with back spasms. Right-hander Luke Bard is day to day with right hip pain. Left-hander Alex Claudio has been cleared for full workouts after coming to camp with a right hip infection.
• Right-hander Brendan McCurry, a non-roster invitee, is going to get a second opinion on an undisclosed right elbow injury. McCurry, 29, has never reached the Majors, but he has a career 3.10 ERA in six Minor League seasons.
• Outfielder Brandon Marsh, the club's No. 1 prospect, has been cleared for a throwing program. He has been limited to serving as DH because of a minor arm injury.