SAN DIEGO — The Washington Nationals selected Thad Ward, a right-hander from the Boston Red Sox’s Triple-A branch, as the No. 1 overall pick in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft. But the most intriguing pick was 11th, in which the Philadelphia Phillies snagged Noah Song, a once-promising starting pitcher who spent the last three years on active military duty.
The 25-year-old Song was originally a fourth-round draft pick from the Red Sox in 2019, when current Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was in charge. Song was a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where he mostly dominated, then entered aviation school after only seven professional starts.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Song was considered a first-round talent coming out of college, but he slumped to the fourth round in part due to the uncertainty of his baseball future.
“It was a fastball that was to 99 and good secondaries, good feeling to throw,” said Phillies general manager Sam Fuld.
The Phillies don’t know if they’ll have Song next season; they still have a lot of information to gather, particularly about the status of his waiver to delay his service, Fuld said. Meanwhile, the Phillies put Song on the military list so he would not count on their 40-man roster.
“There’s definitely some uncertainty about the choice,” Fuld said. “But we feel that the positive side of the player is enough to take a chance.”
The Nos. 2 to 7 picks in the Rule 5 draft went 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; Texas Rangers right-hander Mason Englert to the Detroit Tigers; Cleveland Guardians right-hander Kevin Kelly to the Colorado Rockies; Guardians right-hander Nic Enright to the Miami Marlins.
Ward, who turns 26 in January, was the Red Sox’s minor league pitcher of the year after a dominant season at both Class A levels, then missed most of the next two years, first due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and beyond due to Tommy John’s surgery in 2021. Ward came back to make 13 starts in 2022, posting a 2.28 ERA with 66 strikeouts and 19 walks in 51⅓ innings. Ward then pitched 12⅔ innings in the Arizona Fall League and gave up four runs.
Rule 5 picks must be kept on the active roster for the entire season. Nationals president of baseball operations Mike Rizzo said the team will stretch Ward in spring training and hope to use him as a multi-inning reliever.
“We kind of combined the pitcher’s top with the assurance that it’s going to be easier to carry the player through 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 away from Tommy John surgery, 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 still some in the tank.”