The Mississippi State baseball program has had a player drafted in the first round in four of the last five years, and 2021 figures to make that five of six. Right-handed pitcher Will Bednar is a big, physical, impressive build on the mound who personifies the mascot striped across his chest.
At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, the burly Bulldog from the Bayou can bring it on the bump.
A Freshman All-American in 2020, Bednar has really continued his ascent up draft boards with another impressive campaign in 2021. In ten starts this season, Bednar boasts a 3.14 ERA with 67 punchies in just 43 innings. He’s issued just 12 free passes, a paltry number that should excite organizations who place an emphasis on commanding the strike zone.
Bednar has really turned on the jets of late, besting Vanderbilt and Jack Leiter on April 24 with a 5-inning, 8-strikeout performance, allowing just one run. He’d follow that up with a 5-inning, one-run performance against Texas A&M, punching out seven more.
The Bednar family is no stranger to big league ball and what it takes to flourish at the highest level. Will’s brother David was a 35th round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2016, defying the odds by debuting in 2019. He’s now an integral part of the Pirates bullpen, currently running a 1.86 ERA in 2021.
But what does Will feature that has got scouts looking at him in the first round?
Tools (Future Value)
Bednar’s fastball currently sits 91-94, touching 96, but given the arm speed, the frame and underlying metrics behind the pitch, I project it’ll be a plus offering by the time he debuts in the bigs. It’s a high riding heater, heavily deployed in the upper-third of the strike zone where he’s shown a strong ability to command the pitch. Bednar’s arm action can get a little long, lagging at times as he fires down the mound, so his misses are usually arm-side.
Bednar’s fastball fits the profile of what many big league teams are seeking these days. Like Leiter, he’ll make his money throughout his career working at the top of the zone with his fastball and complimenting the heat with high-spin, tunneling secondaries. The heater averages about 17 inches of induced vertical break, an above average figure that mirrors the type of action Justin Dunn got on his fastball in 2020. If Bednar is forced into the bullpen at some point, I think a plus fastball is a foregone conclusion. As it stands, in a rotation, he’ll need to get the average velo up closer to 94 if he’s to sit plus on most night.
Bednar’s ability to spin a breaking ball and command it at the knees glove-side is one of his best qualities. His slider sits in the low-to-mid 80s, touching 86 when at its best. It’s a late-breaking slider with exceptional sweeping tilt that Bednar deploys well to expand the zone, especially against righty bats.
His spin rates have exceeded 2800 at times. It’s easy to understand why his slider simply boomerangs through the zone with two-plane tilt before disappearing to right-handers. The late break allows for some tunneling action with his fastball. If Bednar starts throwing the pitch a little harder, it’s a plus slider. If he ends up in the bullpen, we’re likely talking about a big arm with two plus pitches.
Where Bednar must grow and develop as a pitcher is the changeup. As currently constructed, it’s a below average offering that lacks feel and command inside the zone. More often than not it’s used as a show-me pitch in the dirt. Bednar does, on occasion, look to get lefties to chase arm-side late in counts, but his inability to locate at the knees arm-side limits the pitch’s effectiveness. Bednar’s changeup also lacks arm-speed at times, broadcasting the pitch to the plate.
At 80-83 mph, his cambio presents good separation from the fastball, but he’ll need to develop consistency with his conviction throwing the pitch. At its best, there’s fading action and some parachute topple on its tail, but those flashes are too few and far between right now.
Frankly, you have the Justin Dunn starter kit here. It’s a good fastball, comfortably above average with the potential of a plus offering with some refinement at the next level. It’s a wicked breaking ball with big, aggressive two-plane break; a true swing-and-miss slider. The changeup will be a big undertaking and important should he reach his low 3/high 4 ceiling in a rotation. There’s certainly a non-zero chance Bednar ends up in a bullpen for a championship team, but if for some reason this type of arm talent falls to the beginning of the second round, the Mariners should have interest.