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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

No. 1 Ward ready for double-duty

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

MINNEAPOLIS - Perfect Game scouts and officials got their first look at small-town Oklahoma top prospect Drew Ward at last year's Perfect Game Junior National Showcase down in Fort Myers, Fla.

At the conclusion of the event, one of those PG scouts noted in his report that the left-handed hitting Ward possessed an "open stance, rock back load, good hitting rhythm, aggressive swing with present bat speed, easy low effort actions, ball jumps hard off the barrel, can handle velocity and turn it around, very high-ceiling hitting tools." The scout gave Ward a perfect 10.0 in PG's grading scale.

Now, just 12 months after that debut, Ward has returned to the same event. The only difference is this year's Perfect Game Junior National Showcase is being played under the roof of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis instead of hot, humid and sometimes rainy Fort Myers this time year.

It's pretty much all the same for the easy-going Ward, who is PG's No. 1-ranked overall national prospect in the class of 2014.

"It's a lot of fun, getting to compete against guys from all over the country that are just as good and talented as you are and it just makes me want to try all the harder," Ward said while sitting with his mother, Susan, near a concession stand inside the Metrodome.

Ward also has the distinction of being the only prospect in the 2014 graduating class who'll stay around Thursday, June 14, through Monday, June 18, to also participate in the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase, amateur baseball's most prestigious showcase event.

The main reason for Ward being invited to both events is his extraordinary skill level; the kid can flat-out hit and play. Another reason might be a function of his age; although he will be a junior at tiny Leedey (Okla.) High School in the fall, he is already 17 years old.

In a story published in February examining the top prospects in the 2014 MLB amateur draft, PG's Allan Simpson speculated that Ward might leave Leedey early and enroll in a junior college to make himself eligible for the 2013 draft. That was the route taken by Bryce Harper, who enrolled in a junior college and became the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, one year earlier than he would have otherwise been eligible had he stayed in high school.

In his conversation with PG on Tuesday, Ward nixed that idea.

"I'm going to stay (at Leedey) until I graduate. I'm not going to move," he said. "I still have a lot of fun playing high school baseball."

At the same time, he's thrilled to have been invited to the Perfect Game National Showcase and PG is thrilled to have him.

"I'm excited and it's a privilege for (PG) to think that I'm that good and give me an invitation," Ward said. "I'm just real  excited about it. I have expectations to do better than I've done in the past. That's always what I want to do."

Leedey is a town of only about 500 people with a high school that boasts an enrollment of about 125. Some might argue that Ward is nothing more than a big fish in a small pond, but he's already proven himself to be among the nation's elite when it comes to playing baseball.

He is also a high-level basketball player and will continue to play that sport the remainder of his high school athletic career. Leedey High School does not have a football program.

"I love basketball," he said. "I used to like it just as much as baseball until I figured out I'm a lot better at baseball than I am at basketball."

Ward will be playing this summer with the storied Midland Redskins organization after playing with the Royals Baseball Club at the PG WWBA World Championship and with the St. Louis Gamers 17u Blue at the PG WWBA 2012 Grads or 17u National Championship last year.

"Things are going good," Ward said right before he took batting practice early Tuesday afternoon. "We've played six games and my swing is coming along and I'm excited to be here."

It promises to be another busy summer for Susan and her husband, Gregg, who like to be with Drew as he travels the country playing ball.

"We're gearing up for another summer and we're always ready," Susan said Tuesday. "It's been a great ride and it's always fun and (these events) are most definitely beneficial for Drew. There are so many events you could attend every week if you wanted to but you kind of figure out what really suits your child and what they benefit from and the competition level. We've always been really pleased with the Perfect Game events."

During a conversation with Perfect Game at last year's PG WWBA World Championship, Gregg Ward explained why it's important to his son to get out to these PG events.

"We come from a small town ... and we're used to seeing 78 to 80 mph (fastballs)," Gregg said. "And then he comes to these events and sees the best around - 88 to 94 or whatever - and that's very beneficial to him in his process of trying to get better."

Ward estimates that with everything he has on his table this summer that he might up playing as many 100 baseball games. Burn-out isn't a concern.

"I try to keep my body healthy and that's what keeps me going," he said.

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