SAN DIEGO — The Washington Nationals selected Thad Ward, a right-hander out of the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, with the No. 1 overall pick in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft. But the most intriguing pick came in the 11th, in which the Philadelphia Phillies nabbed Noah Song, a once-promising starting pitcher who has spent the last three years on active military duty.
The 25-year-old Song was originally a fourth-round draft pick by the Red Sox in 2019 when current president of Phillies baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was in charge. Song graduated from the US Naval Academy, where he dominated most of the time, and then went to aviation school after only seven career starts.
Listed at 6ft 4, 200lbs, Song was considered a first-round talent out of college, but he slipped to the fourth round in part because of the uncertainty of his baseball future.
“It was a fastball going up to 99 and good secondaries, good feel,” said Sam Fuld, Phillies general manager.
The Phillies don’t know if they’ll have Song next season; They still have a lot of information to gather, particularly on the status of his waiver to defer his service, Fuld said. Meanwhile, the Phillies put Song on the military list to keep him off their 40-man roster.
“There’s certainly some uncertainty about the selection,” Fuld said. “But we believe that the positive side of the player is enough to take a risk.”
Picks #2 through #7 in the Rule 5 draft were as follows: Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman Ryan Noda to the Oakland Athletics; Dodgers left-hander Jose Hernandez to the Pittsburgh Pirates; Pirates right fielder Blake Sabol to the Cincinnati Reds; Right-hander Mason Englert from the Texas Rangers to the Detroit Tigers; Cleveland Guardians right-hander Kevin Kelly joins Colorado Rockies; Guardians right-hander Nic Enright to the Miami Marlins.
Ward, who turns 26 in January, was the Red Sox’s pitcher of the year in the minor league after a dominant season at both Class A levels and then missed most of the next two years, first because of the COVID-19 outbreak Pandemic in 2020 and then due to Tommy John surgery in 2021. Ward came back to make 13 starts in 2022 and posted a 2.28 ERA with 66 strikeouts and 19 walks in 51⅓ innings. Ward then pitched 12⅔ innings in the Arizona Fall League and allowed four runs.
Rule 5 picks must remain on the active list for the entire season. Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said the team will stretch Ward in spring practice and hope to use him as a multi-inning reliever.
“We kind of mixed the advantages of the pitcher with the knowledge that it’s easier to carry the player throughout the season,” Rizzo said of the Nationals’ first-pick strategy. “We like this player. We think he has more in the tank. He’s a year further down the Tommy John operation, he’s got a four pitch mix, he’s around the plate, he’s got some pitchability and some stuff, and we think there’s a little bit more in the tank.”