Small-town prospect has big-time talent

Leedey (Okla.) sophomore shortstop Drew Ward set a state record last year by walking a combined 88 times during the fall and spring seasons. Courtesy of Leedey High School

Picture yourself at a high school baseball game in Leedey, a small town in western Oklahoma with a population of less than 500.

See the 6-foot-4, 210-pound lefty?

Must be a college player, right? Nope. Could it be an assistant coach? Nope.

The player is Drew Ward, a sophomore sensation who’s considered by many to be the nation’s top Class of 2014 high school baseball prospect.

“You don’t have to know much about baseball to recognize Drew Ward is an amazing talent,” Leedey coach Rusty Puffinbarger said. “If you show up to one of our games, one look at him and you will say, ‘Wow, who is that kid?’ Because he definitely looks the part of a baseball player.”

He plays the part, too.

Ward burst on to the scene as a freshman, posting an absurd .711 average with 13 homers during the fall campaign (Oklahoma has both a fall and spring baseball season). During the spring, he paced the Bison with a .578 average and 11 homers and managed to reach base 27 consecutive times to end the season.

Not surprisingly, pitchers want no part of facing him — Ward set a state record by walking a combined 88 times during the fall and spring campaigns.

“As a kid, I always wanted to be the best player and best teammate on the field,” Ward said. “But to be considered one of the best players in the country is pretty amazing. It’s weird to even say that.”

Despite being such a small town, Leedey is no stranger to producing top baseball talent like Ward. Former major leaguers Don Carmen and Monty Fariss played for the Bison, while Puffinbarger played in the minors in the Cleveland Indians’ system. Ward’s dad, Gregg, also played for the University of Oklahoma.

“It’s a privilege to play here,” Drew Ward said. “And I think it’s awesome to get recognized nationally in a town like Leedey.”

Puffinbarger knows major-league talent when he sees it, and watching Ward last season reminded him of the time he played against current Texas Ranger Josh Hamilton in 2000.

“When [Hamilton] was on the field, you could look at him and you just knew he was different and the best out there,” Puffinbarger said. “Drew has moments like those.”

Ward’s biggest moment came in the Class B playoffs this past fall when he hit a walk-off home run in the first round of the Class B fall state tournament.

“It is obvious he is a special talent, but more so he is a special kid,” Puffinbarger said. “He works hard and does things right.”

The pressure of being named a top prospect doesn’t get to Ward, his coach said.

“He is human and he may feel a little of the pressure,” Puffinbarger said. “He understands how big of a deal it is. But he isn’t overwhelmed. He is a humble kid. He doesn’t run around town telling people how good he is.”

Let’s remember, Ward still has three more years of high school baseball on his itinerary. He doesn’t feel comfortable talking about his college prospects or a possible career in pro baseball.

“I am still young so I really don’t know what to say about college or pro baseball,” he said. “I just want to play.”

Still, the college scouts are already calling and pro scouts are also in his ear.

“They are starting to come around,” Ward said of the scouts. “But I honestly am not thinking about that stuff too much yet. I just want to play. For me, I am all about the fun right now and to play the best I can.”

He won’t be hard to notice. Just look for the 6-foot-4 lefty.