The evolution of Taylor Ward’s swing: ‘It’s about simplifying’

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Angel outfielder Taylor Ward is looking for a career year this season.

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The offensive transformation of Angels outfielder Taylor Ward last year resulted in a breakout season at the plate. Almost six years after he made the initial decision to change up his swing, the Angels leadoff hitter said he’s looking for another stellar record this year. 

The key to that success? He said it’s about refining his approach and staying consistent with the basics. 

“It’s just really simplifying all your moves,” said Ward. “If you get 700 plate appearances every year, you want to be able to repeat what you do every single time in the box. So that’s really the biggest thing — eliminating inefficiencies with movement.”

The Angels out fielder began workshopping his swing in the winter of 2017-18, and it all started with his college buddy turned personal hitting coach, Trent Woodward. 

“I talk to him every day, and he’s my guy. He’s really smart, so I’m very lucky,” said the 29-year-old.

The two were roommates during their time at Fresno State University, and they stayed close as their careers began to take off after college. Woodward was signed by the Houston Astros in 2014 right before the Halos signed Ward as a first round draft pick in 2015.

Woodward’s career in Houston’s farm system was cut short by an injury, but at the time, the Astros were navigating a new frontier of baseball analytics and the science behind swinging. When Woodward approached Ward about putting that information to use in the batting cage, the duo got to work. 

They put Woodward’s theories to the test in the box, and it didn’t take long for results to take shape. 

“Trent soaked it all up like a sponge and he ended up having to retire due to injury, but since then, he’s really taken what he’s learned through them and really thought it through,” said Ward. “I started working with him. Started in Double-A that year and took off. And since then we’ve just slowly continued to build off that year and the stuff that we’ve learned.”

From adjusting the position of his back leg to creating an ellipse rotation with his follow through, Ward said the specific changes he’s made in the box have helped him produce at the top of the lineup, a result that’s been especially crucial given that he has Mike Trout and Shohei behind him. 

“Luckily enough, I have the two best hitters in the world behind me, so very fortunate with that and we get a lot of good pitches to hit and see, so I just want to set the table for them.” 

Last year, Ward set a new career high with 139 hits, averaging .281 with a .833 OPS — the highest OPS for an Angels right fielder since Vlad Guerrero (.959) in 2005. In 2022, he also hit 22 doubles, 2 triples and 65 RBIs. With 23 home runs, he was one of three Angels to have 20+ home runs last season, joining the club with Trout and Ohtani. 

He kicked off 2023 with that same consistency, reaching base safely in every one of the Angels first 13 games. He recorded the fifth 4+ RBI game of his career in the team’s opening series against the Oakland Athletics, and he was the first Angel to hit a home run this season. Against Seattle earlier this month, he added to that list of accolades with his 50th career double. 

Leading off the Angels offense this year, manager Phil Nevin said he’s confident in Ward’s ability to get on base and give the rest of the lineup an opportunity to put runs on the board. 

“He’s there because he can put it in the seats in front of these guys and he’s a big on-base guy,” said Nevin. 

Last season, Ward’s hot streak at the plate slowed down significantly after he ran into a wall trying to catch a ball in right field in May. His average for the month of July was .190/.303/.274. His momentum at the plate picked up in September and October, but he wants more consistency this year. He said his biggest priorities this season are staying healthy and keeping it simple at the plate to maximize productivity.

“I found that where I’m at now is the simplest I can be in my back leg and at the top, I don’t really have much movement, so it’s just super simple and I get to good positions. It really just comes down to your approach after that.”

Nevin said he has every intention to keep Ward in that leadoff spot, and with days off for rest, he hopes to keep his record steady throughout the full season. 

“When you start, every hitter goes through little peaks and valleys throughout the season and the one thing I don’t want him to lose is his aggressiveness,” said Nevin. 

After a day off on Saturday, Ward was back in the No.1 spot on Sunday for the team’s series finale against the Kansas City Royals at home, and he did not let the offense down. With a walk that turned into a scored run, a single and his 3rd home run of the season, Ward helped the team secure a 4-3 victory to put their record back at .500.

In the sixth inning, he was the first of three Angels to hit a home run in a back-to-back-to-back home run party that also included Trout and Ohtani. 

“It definitely boosts your confidence a little bit,” said Ward after the game on Sunday. “I just got to continue to stick to the basics and swing at good pitches and be on time. So that’s really my focus tomorrow again.”