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Draft | Top Prospects | 2/21/2012

Top 200 2014 Draft Prospects

Allan Simpson        
Photo: Perfect Game
Though Only A High-School Sophomore, Ward Already Shaping Up as Top Talent

Oklahoma prep shortstop Drew Ward may never generate the kind of draft hype that was associated with Nevada baseball legend Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, but it is evident already that the 6-foot-4, 200-pound Ward bears some striking similarities.

Like Harper, Ward is an extremely advanced hitter from the left side for a player who is just beginning his sophomore year at Leedey (Okla.) High, and also plays a premium position in the field. With those credentials, he has been installed at No. 1 among the Top 200 Prospects in the Draft Class of 2014.

Harper was the top prospect in the 2011 class entering his sophomore year at a Las Vegas high school, though didn’t stay the course as he ended up making himself eligible for the draft a year early by enrolling in a junior college, the College of Southern Nevada, prior to his junior year. He was still the top selection in that draft.

In addition to his 2014 standing among the nation’s top college and high-school talent, Ward could very well be the top pick in the 2013 draft should he choose to leave high school early, like Harper. But he has given no indication to date of doing so—even as he is a year older than most students in his high-school class. In fact, with a Nov. 25, 1994 birthdate, Ward is a mere four months younger than the top-ranked high-school player in the 2012 prep class, California righthander Lucas Giolito.

Assuming he remains in high school, Ward’s chief competition to go first overall in 2014 will in all probability come from the current crop of college freshmen, led by Vanderbilt freshman righthander Tyler Beede, the lone unsigned first-rounder from the 2011 draft.

As an older player participating against weaker, small-school competition in the little town of Leedey (pop. 400), located 150 miles west of Oklahoma City, Ward has understandably dominated his competition in his brief high-school career.

As a freshman, he managed to grab his share of attention by setting a state record in drawing a combined 88 walks between his fall and spring seasons. In a mere 128 at-bats, he also hit a resounding .609-21-90 with 25 doubles and eight triples. He reached base safely in his final 25 plate appearances of the spring. But Ward’s efforts were somewhat overshadowed in the Oklahoma high-school ranks by the dominating performances of righthanders Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley, the fourth- and seventh picks in the 2011 draft.

Ward’s best tool is definitely his bat. He's a very polished hitter in all regards, and equally likely to take pitches and draw walks when he’s not being pitched to, as he is to drive balls hard to the opposite field when pitchers try to pitch him away. Most impressively, he has no problem dropping 400-plus foot bombs when he gets fully extended and turns on ball in his wheelhouse. For a 17-year-old, he has a rare combination of instincts, vision and hitting ability.

Though Ward is a shortstop now and athletic enough to warrant being considered one of the top prep basketball players in Oklahoma, he is unlikely to remain at shortstop at the next level. His arm strength is considered major-league average, but he lacks the raw speed and range to remain at short, with third base seen as a logical destination.

Harper came up as a catcher, but moved from behind the plate once he signed with the Washington Nationals to take full advantage of his offensive capabilities, and projects to start in right field for that club this season as a 19-year-old.

Ward is much less likely to follow the same accelerated development path as he would be 19, with seven months to spare, by the time he is even drafted, so his chances of becoming the next coming of Bryce Harper have understandably been tempered. Still, he ranks as a clear-cut choice as the top prospect in the 2014 class.

His chief competition in the early going was expected to come from another 6-foot-4, 200-pound talent in Beede, but the former Massachusetts prep product has struggled to live up to expectations so far at Vanderbilt. Not only was the velocity on Beede’s fastball off by 4-5 mph last fall from when he was taken with the 21st pick in last year’s draft by the Blue Jays, but he was rocked in his first college start over the weekend, giving up nine runs in 4-1/3 innings in a 9-5 loss to No.-2 ranked Stanford.

While Beede remains the headline talent in the 2014 college class, only time will tell if he maintains his grip on the No. 1 spot. Over and above his lofty draft position, Beede earned his place with his polished, mature approach to pitching and a three-pitch arsenal that included a fastball that was clocked at 90-93 mph, topping at 95, as a high-school senior.

But it’s evident already that Beede has farther to go as a prospect than Florida sophomore righthander Karsten Whitson, an unsigned first-round pick of the San Diego Padres in 2010. Coming off a solid freshman season for the Gators, Whitson remains the top college talent in his class heading into his sophomore year at Florida.

Overall, the 2014 class appears unusually deep in catchers, with six of the top 25 prospects in the class coming from that position, while quality pitching is a little on the lean side with just seven arms cracking the same list of 25 prospects.

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