A Conversation With Los Angeles Dodgers Outfield Prospect Ryan Ward

Ryan Ward has emerged as an intriguing sleeper in the Los Angeles Dodgers system. Unranked coming into the season, the 23-year-old, left-handed-hitting outfielder swatted an eye-opening 27 home runs and logged a .278/.352/.524 slash line with the Great Lakes Loons. His long-ball total was second-highest in the High-A Central, and his 135 wRC+ was tied for third-best in the circuit. A Milbury, Massachusetts native who attended Bryant University, he was the Dodgers’ eighth-round pick in the 2019 draft.

Ward discussed his development — including the mechanical adjustment that has helped jumpstart his career — toward the tail end of the Loons’ season.


David Laurila: Let’s start with your background. You grew up in Central Massachusetts.

Ryan Ward: “I come from a really small town. I graduated high school with something like 80 kids in my class. We were in a low division — Division-5 baseball — and I started playing varsity my eighth-grade year. I was a catcher and also played third base here and there. I kept building on that throughout high school but didn’t really get many college looks because I didn’t play travel ball and wasn’t really in showcases. I basically just played high school baseball and [American] Legion ball. I did a couple of high-school showcases, but never really got college attention until Bryant came around.”

Laurila: Opportunity aside, what made Bryant appealing?

Ward: “I went for a visit — it was my first visit, so I was basically seeing how the process worked — and met the head coach, Steve Owens. He showed us around and I fell in love immediately. I loved the coaching staff. I loved the facility. Coming from a small town and a small high school, I didn’t want to be at a college where there were going to be 400 people in a class. That would have been overwhelming for me. As soon as we pulled away, I said to my parents, ‘This is where I’m going to go.’ Everything fell in line from there.”

Laurila: You only played in 10 games your freshman year.

Ward: “I got injured; I broke my wrist diving for a ball and had to have surgery. Looking back, being able to sit and watch for a full year was actually a big help. I was kind of catching up with the pace of play, because coming from Division-5 high school to Division-1 college was a pretty big jump. I learned a lot. From there, I made swing adjustments with my coaches. I also got moved to the outfield.”

Laurila: What were the swing adjustments?

Ward: “Coming out of high school, I had a unique swing, I didn’t have a big leg kick — I didn’t have a leg kick at all — just kind of a stride. They toned that into me becoming a no-stride guy, yet being able to load into my back side with my hands in a good spot. Before, I would stand super wide, and when [the pitcher] got ready to pitch, I would turn my back foot in. They taught me how to load into my back side, which increased my power and helped me hit the away pitch and not just kind of fillet balls or dink balls down the other way.

“When I got here to the Dodgers… my whole swing is completely revamped now. They took me away from what I was doing and put me into a toe-tap, to help me learn to gather my back side more. I stand up straighter for better posture. Last year, during COVID — this was on FaceTime, when I was back home — I went into a leg kick. Now I’m able to gather my back side and hold it before I go. My path is cleared up a ton. My hands are a lot freer.”

Laurila: Is it a high kick?

Ward: “No, it’s just a little small one. But I can go early and kind of hover with my leg up before I go down. That helps me gather my timing.”

Laurila: You said your hands are freer.

Ward: “I used to have a big bat-wrap. My bat would basically be behind my helmet, and now I start with a more neutral position. As I go, as I lift up, I work on getting my barrel vertical; I can launch from a vertical position. Where my hands are now is pretty close to my launching position. It’s more that as I load, I tilt up. My hands don’t really move, I just have my little gather and then they go up.”

Laurila: How would you describe your swing path?

Ward: “It used to be more of an east-to-west. It was very ‘spinny’ and straight across. Now I’ve been able to work down and through, almost like a Nike swoosh. That’s what I’ve been told to work on. So I’m here, then I start at the Nike, go down, and then up to the swoosh.”

Laurila: Do you have good loft to your swing?

Ward: “It’s getting better. I’ve always had the ability to hit the pitch up very well. This new swing has allowed me to get to that low pitch, but I also haven’t lost the ability to get up. When we face a guy with ride, I’m still able to match up. This year, with my new swing, when they’re throwing sinkers down-and-away, I have the ability to almost, with that Nike swoosh, scoop a ball and hit it on a line, rather than hit over it for a ground ball.

“I have a different swing for different approaches. If it’s a ‘ride guy,’ I’ve got to be able to get on top of him. If he’s going to throw a sinker, I need to be able to get under him. If I try to go with the on-top approach, or the on-top swing, and it’s a sinker, I’m just going to beat the ball on the ground all day. It’s going to be ground ball, ground ball, ground ball. So with the ability to go, ‘OK, this guy’s a sinker guy, so I’m going to drop my hands and scoop him,’ has helped a lot. Basically, it’s my mindset and my hands. Nothing will change in my timing. You could watch me swing and probably not even see a difference. It’s just a feel thing that I have.”

Laurila: When did your new swing get locked in?

Ward: “It got locked in, basically, midway through this spring training. It had been a work-in-progress. I started working on this in 2019. Even in spring training, I was like, ‘This doesn’t feel comfortable; I don’t feel like I’m on time.’ It was the first time I was facing live pitching with it, and it was against 95–100 mph. But when I got here [to Great Lakes], learning that I could hover for a second — not be late and have to rush, but be able to go early and hold — helped everything sync up. That’s made a huge difference for me.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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