Taylor Ward of the Angels has become one of the best hitters in the MLB

Taylor Ward and Trent Woodward, former college teammates and Fresno State roommates, were talking about hitting an Inland Empire batting cage in the winter of 2017-18, when Ward’s ears went up.

Hip surgery had just ended Woodward’s playing career after four minor league seasons with the Houston Astros, but the information he began sharing about swing mechanics and advanced analysis that day planted a seed that would help Ward blossom into a budding star for the Houston Astros. angels.

“He just got very curious,” Woodward said, speaking on the phone from his home in Austin, Texas to Ward. “He started making some mechanical changes to have a more efficient and explosive swing and to keep him in the batting zone as long as possible … he was willing to try anything.”

Department, a choice in the first round of the Angels in 2015, he was coming out of a decent but not exceptional 2017 season split between Class A and double A, the third consecutive year in which defensive requests to recover have weighed him down on the plate.

The Astros, at the forefront of baseball’s technological revolution, were among the first teams to use TrackMan to measure the position, trajectory and rotation speed of balls hit and thrown, Blast Motion to measure what a batter’s bat is about. doing in space and K- Vest to measure the kinematic sequence of a batsman’s movements.

Woodward told Ward about the batting concepts he had learned, things like “early connection”, the relationship between body tilt and club angle at the start of the downswing, “angle of attack”, the angle at which the bat enters the hitting space and how to create the perfect ellipse of a bat path.

Trent Woodward, left, and Taylor Ward reunite before an Angels game against Rangers in Arlington, Texas this season.

Trent Woodward, left, and Taylor Ward reunite before an Angels game against Rangers in Arlington, Texas this season.

(Courtesy of Trent Woodward)

“I don’t think I signed a nondisclosure agreement or anything like that,” Woodward said, when asked if he was sharing proprietary information with Ward. “I think the Astros were still gathering information at the time and trying to figure everything out. Taylor had the ability to understand and understand him. He embraced and embodied every part of him ”.

Four years and two position changes later – from catcher to third baseman in 2018 and third to outfield in 2019 – Ward, 28, married the swing he renewed with Woodward with a mental approach honed by current coaches Jeremy Reed and John Mallee to emerge as an offensive force for the Angels.

Ward scored a two-point homer to equalize in the tenth inning of Wednesday night’s 10-5 win at Fenway Park, and entered Thursday’s game against the Boston Red Sox with an average of .375, a 1,231 based leader. major league hit rates, six homers, four doubles, one triple, 15 RBI, 15 strikeouts and 13 walks in the first 18 games.

After missing the first week of the season due to a groin strain, Ward was so productive and patient in his first eight games that manager Joe Maddon moved his right fielder to the lead on 25 April.

Ward hit two homers in a 3-0 win over Cleveland that night, and doubled, tripled and scored in a 9-5 win over the Guardians two nights later, part of a seven-game stint in which he scored .448 (13 of 29) with a 1,484 OPS, four homers and 11 RBI they earn American League Player of the Week honors.

“I’ve done a lot of swing changes with my boyfriend, Trent Woodward,” said Ward. “He learned a lot while he was with the Astros and informed me about the philosophies they were learning at the time. I took them to heart and really took them to another level, and that’s what he really helped me with.

So did his starting position change, which freed Ward from the physical rigors of grappling and the stress of game planning and call rolls.

“Coming out from behind the plate helped my offense explode,” said Ward, a graduate of Shadow Hills High in Indio. “I could focus solely on my hitting.”

Ward shuttled between triple-A and big leagues from 2018-2021, usually hitting the ball in Salt Lake but unable to take a stand – and the regular jokes that come with it – to consistently hit in Anaheim.

But he unlocked a little more power in 2021, when he hit .250 with .769 OPS, eight homers and 33 RBI in 65 games for the Angels.

Ward’s plate discipline and serving quality were so strong this spring that the The angels released Justin Upton, eating up the $ 28 million left on his contract, to free him a spot on the outfield. It was clearly the right move.

“He controls the frontcourt like everyone we have,” Reed said, “but now he’s maturing to the point where he understands a little more how to get to the shooting side, and there’s more damage in what he does. “.

Ward said Woodward helped him “eliminate all inefficiency and wasted movement” in his swing. Ward’s first major adjustment in 2018 was to hold the club at a 90-degree angle to the spine and maintain that connection as he plants his front foot, rotates his body, and brings his hands through the hitting zone.

Trent Woodward, left, and Taylor Ward are shown in 2014 when they were teammates at Fresno State.

Trent Woodward, left, and Taylor Ward are shown in 2014 when they were teammates at Fresno State. Ward was a receiver at the time.

(Courtesy of Trent Woodward)

“We started with Blast Motion information in the cage and did several sessions with the K-Vest to make sure his hips, torso, shoulders and hands also accelerate and decelerate appropriately,” said Woodward, 30. “We wanted to put him in good positions where he didn’t hit with his hands.”

Ward scored instant results in the minor leagues, where he scored .349 with .977 OPS, 14 homers, 26 doubles and 60 RBI in 102 games in 2018 and .306 with 1,011 OPS, 27 homers, 34 doubles and 71 RBI in 106 games in 2019. Now, his swing is producing at the big league level.

“It allows you to be in the zone for a long time and adjust to the plane of the pitch, so when you get beaten you can still crush it over the head of first baseman,” Ward said of his swing. “And when you have time and you take it ahead, that’s where your doubles and homers get hit. Whenever I take a swing, I want to keep it simple. With great mechanics and a great approach, the sky is the limit. “

The comfort and confidence that Ward has in his swing has forged a Zen-in-the-box approach. Ward doesn’t expect as much – or guess – the proposals as he reacts to them. Counting doesn’t matter.

Both of his homers on April 25 arrived on full-count fields, a 91 mph fastball and an 85 mph cutter, from 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber.

“He doesn’t mind digging into the counts – he’ll still get A hack off,” Maddon said. “He Normally he will give up on the bad shots and turn on the good ones.”

On April 24, the day before his two-homer game, Ward capped off a nine-pitch serve with a foundation-laden gear to lead in the winning streak of a 7-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

“His at-bats are some of the best I’ve ever seen, to be honest,” Angels right-footed Michael Lorenzen said. “Even during spring training, the footage of him was incredible. If I were to start hitting again, I’d probably try to be like him. “

Woodward’s successful days are also behind him. The former Chino Hills catcher and corner defender has turned down offers to become a winning coach, saying he loves his job selling spinal implants for a medical supply company and a home lifestyle with his wife, who waits their first child in June.

But Woodward still looks at all of Ward’s bats with the eye of a trainer and the heart of a friend.

“He’s having a phenomenal month, but I believe in the athlete, the competitor, the hitter and his skills, and I’m pretty confident this is the kind of player he is,” Woodward said. “He probably gives me too much credit. I’m just a friend who is watching and enjoying his success. “