There was buzz around Will Bednar, and it wasn’t good.
As the young right-hander dealt with a shoulder injury during his senior year at Mars Area High School in Pennsylvania, his draft evaluations from major league scouts were damning. Bednar’s stuff wasn’t fantastic. He didn’t face great competition. The ball came out of his hand late.
“‘You can’t really take that guy,’” ESPN Baseball Insider Kiley McDaniel told The Dispatch.
Just two years later, Bednar has completed the difficult transition from practically undraftable to virtually unhittable. After three excellent performances on a national stage at the College World Series, Bednar has received a nearly unanimous first-round projection. To McDaniel, he sits behind only Vanderbilt’s Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter in terms of collegiate arms.
“I would say those last four or five starts that were all on national television I think probably moved him up about 10 spots or so to where I think he could pretty reasonably be seen as the third best college pitcher in the draft behind Rocker and Leiter,” McDaniel said.
With the 10-slot bump factored in, McDaniel said he would take Bednar between picks No. 15 and No. 25. That’s a big difference. The signing bonus for the 15th pick, owned by the Milwaukee Brewers, is $3.886 million; Oakland’s 25th selection carries a slot value of $2.74 million. Competitive Balance Round A pick No. 35, the previous tail end of Bednar’s range, is worth $2.096 million.
That means the righty came out of Omaha soon to be roughly a million dollars richer, and the gap since the start of 2021 is even larger. Out of action with a stiff neck for the first two weeks of the season, Bednar was considered a second- or third-rounder.
Then he delivered four scoreless outings in a row, the length increasing each game. One inning against Kent State. Two against Grambling. Four against Eastern Michigan. Five against LSU in the Southeastern Conference opening series.
By April 10, when McDaniel went to see Bednar pitch at Auburn, the righty’s stock had already risen. Bednar was a solid second-round selection if not a likely pick at the top of the round.
And he delivered against the Tigers, striking out seven in seven innings of one-run ball.
“I was like, ‘Oh, this guy’s really good,” McDaniel said.
Bednar’s fastball is clocked at 91 to 95 mph, typical for college pitchers, though he’s touched as high as 97. McDaniel said while the sophomore’s change-up is an average pitch, his slider sets him apart, earning a grade of 55 or 60 on the patented 20-80 scale. Some front-office evaluators rate it as high as 65 or 70.
“It’s really the sort of command, sequencing, the location; and the slider is like the separator pitch,” McDaniel said. “ … The overall performance against the best league and then the slider are the two things that stand out the most, but every guy who goes in the first round as a college starter is, ‘Oh, you know, they’re kind of good at everything.’”
In a span of just a few starts, Bednar’s draft prospects kept soaring. The durability he’d never shown at the high school level was shining through.
“He didn’t have a ton of bulk of starting week after week with this level of stuff and performance,” McDaniel said.
Bednar has that now, coming back on three days’ rest to beat Rocker and the Commodores in June 30’s winner-take-all Game 3 and winning the CWS Most Outstanding Player award. In three Omaha starts, he struck out 26 batters in 18.1 innings, allowing only three runs — all of which came against Texas on June 26.
And the baseball world reacted in kind. Bednar’s name skied up mock draft boards: No. 11 to Washington; No. 18 to St. Louis.
McDaniel said this can happen for players written off early in their careers. Of the 20 or 30 promising prep prospects erased from draft lifts for various reasons, two or three tend to come back with a vengeance, leaving scouts with questions.
“‘Why didn’t we take him out of high school?’ Well, we couldn’t,’” McDaniel said.
Now, they can take Bednar. And he’ll be more than ready to cash in.
Editor’s note: The Dispatch will have more coverage of Mississippi State baseball and the MLB draft, which begins at 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPN. MLB.com will have coverage of rounds 2-10 on Monday and rounds 11-40 on Tuesday.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.
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