Rox prospect proving himself one steal at a time

June 14th, 2024

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

Double-A Hartford outfielder vowed not to be overlooked for long.

At the end of Rockies Minor League camp, Ward, 25, expected to be assigned to Hartford. Instead, it was back to High-A Spokane, where he’d played parts of the previous two seasons. But Ward dashed right through Spokane: .340/.426/.550 and 18 stolen bases -- including a club-record six in one game -- in 32 games. He joined Hartford’s lineup on May 21, and hasn’t slowed: .381/.487/.587 with 11 steals in 21 games.

“It’s such a cool feeling,” Ward said. “Selfishly, I thought I was going to be there straight out of Spring Training. That’s not what happened. It was either prove them right or prove them wrong. I’ll say I was blessed in Spokane, with those facilities. That team was so much fun to play with, good for creating friendships.

“To get the callup here, knowing the entire team because I played with them last year, it was surreal. Guys tell me, ‘Here you go, here are the keys. Play your heart out and have fun.’”

Every team that gives Ward a chance enjoys having him.

Opportunities don’t always come easy for a smaller player like Ward, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds. Out of El Capitan High School in Merced, Calif., “My dream school was Stanford, but they told me I was too small to play there,” Ward said. But Ward signed with the University of Washington and was an immediate starter on successful teams that produced multiple MLB Draft picks, including Triple-A Albuquerque catcher Willie MacIver. Ward went to the Rockies in the 16th round in 2021.

Ward doesn’t have the home run power teams tend to want. His four homers at his two spots match his career professional high, and he never hit more than three in a season for the Huskies. Ward offers speed and bat handling.

“A guy like me, I can run and I can play defense, and if I can hit the ball a little bit, there’s a place for me,” Ward said. “Guys that can do that, they thrive and they annoy the heck out of the other team. It’s knowing yourself and knowing that singles are a whole lot easier than doubles and home runs, so I should just stick with that.”

During his six-steal game against Eugene on May 3, Ward was at his best on this steal of home -- rare in and of itself, and even more rare with a left-handed hitter in the box and not in the way of the catcher.

Primarily an outfielder who plays some second base, Ward must fill out his game to be a viable Major League candidate.

“He has lots to do on both sides of the ball,” Rockies player development director Chris Forbes said. “Speed is a big tool, but each facet of his game will need to come. He has good instincts on the bases and can obviously steal quite a few bags.

“He plays a good center field, but we would love to see cleaner routes and reads. He’s showing a much better feel for the type of offensive game we think he can sustain.”

Ward barely receives a look when it comes to prospect lists, but so what?

“Guys that get paid to evaluate prospects, that’s their job,” Ward said. “I don’t care. I get paid to steal bases and score runs. If I make the big leagues, it’s because I’m doing that.”

Here is a spin around the Rockies’ farm system:

Triple-A Albuquerque
Infielder Aaron Schunk (Rockies' No. 30) knocked the first pitch he saw Thursday night for a double, and clubbed a three-run homer in the Isotopes’ 9-5 home victory over El Paso. Schunk ranks second in the Pacific Coast League with 22 doubles, and has six home runs and a triple.

Schunk, 26, a second-round pick in 2019, plays third and second base, and this year has seen 12 chances at shortstop. It’s a tough crowd with a set Major League group and highly rated prospects at his positions. Schunk is embracing the call to keep excelling until the call comes.

“No matter what level you’re at, there’s always somebody behind you and there’s usually somebody in front of you,” Schunk said. “For me it’s being where your feet are and enjoying the competition every day. That’s hard to replicate in life outside baseball. There’s that adrenaline rush of going 1-v-1 with the pitcher.”

Double-A Hartford
Lefty Carson Palmquist (Rockies' No. 14) held Akron to two runs on five hits and struck out five in the Yard Goats’ 3-2 victory on Thursday. For a breakdown of Palmquist, read here.

High-A Spokane
Lefty Ryan Rolison, the Rockies’ top Draft pick in 2018, is gaining traction after a pair of shoulder surgeries in ‘22 and late last season. Listed on the Albuquerque roster, Rolison has made four injury rehab appearances in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League (1-1, 0.00 ERA in seven innings), and will start for Spokane on Sunday as an opener with a limited pitch count.

Before going 0-for-5 on Thursday night, switch-hitting center fielder Cole Carrigg (Rockies' No. 8) batted .480 (24-for-50) with two doubles, two triples and a home run over 11 games.

Single-A Fresno
Have the Rockies unearthed a gem in lefty reliever Bryson Hammer? In 27 1/3 innings over 19 relief appearances, Hammer has given up just four earned runs (1.32 ERA). Two of those runs came on an April 5 home run by MLB Pipeline’s No. 74 prospect Bryce Eldridge (Giants). Hammer has an 11-game streak without an earned run.

Arizona Complex League
Scouts love to project what outfielder Robert Calaz (Rockies' No. 11) will look like when he is fully matured. But already, Calaz, 18, leads the ACL with a .663 slugging percentage and is second in OPS at 1.102. Lefty Luichi Casilla, 19, is 3-0 with a 6.89 ERA in five games, but he has gotten the hang of strikeouts with 28 in 15 2/3 innings.