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2021 Draft Profile: Will Bednar

Syndication: Tuscaloosa News
Gary Cosby Jr. via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The 2021 MLB draft is scheduled to take place during the All-Star break in July. Between now and then we will be profiling several players who the Yankees may be considering. Predicting who a team will draft is a crapshoot, so hopefully if we profile enough players we’ll profile the one the Yankees take with their first round pick. You can view the full archive here. Today’s profile: Will Bednar.

Background

Bednar is a 6-foot-2, 230 pound right-handed pitcher for Mississippi State. His brother is David Bednar who is in the midst of a breakout season as a reliever for the Pirates. The younger Bednar drew draft attention out of his Pennsylvania high school, but ultimately went to pitch in college after a biceps injury ended his high school career early. Bednar pitched out of the bullpen as a freshman during last year’s pandemic season and has been a rotation mainstay for the Bulldogs this season, who notably made the NCAA College World Series Championship.

Performance

As a freshman last year, Bednar had a great line of 15.1 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 6 BB, and 23 K. The impressive strikeout totals and K/BB ratio continued into this season where he has thrown to a line of 86.1 IP, 72 H, 32 R, 23 BB, 135 K. That works out to a 14.1 K/9 and a 5.9 K/BB ratio. Notably, all of those stats have come against tough SEC competition as well as facing some of the best in the land in Omaha these past few weeks. Bednar outdueled soon-to-be top 5 pick Jack Leiter earlier this year and became a household name last week when he had one of the most dominant starts in College World Series history against Texas where he threw 6 shutout innings with 15 K’s against just 1 hit and 1 walk. Here is video of that performance:

Scouts Take

The most intriguing aspect of Bednar’s profile is his ability to generate spin on his four-seam fastball and breaking balls. After his standout start against Texas last week, Texas coach David Pierce said the Bednar is “a spin-rate guy. And the all just doesn’t lose plane. just seemed like we were swinging underneath it the entire game.”

MLB Pipeline ranks Bednar as the 32nd prospect in this year’s draft, giving his fastball and slider 60 grades and an overall grade of 50. Here is a snippet of their scouting report:

Bednar’s previous exposure at Mississippi State consisted of just 15 1/3 innings a year ago before he opened eyes with sterling stuff in the fall that has carried over into 2021. He sits at 93-95 mph and tops out at 97 with his fastball, which can exhibit both heavy life and riding action. His mid-80s slider has become a consistent plus pitch this spring, surpassing his solid upper-70s curveball with depth. 

Bednar also has the makings of at least an average changeup and is pounding the strike zone more than ever, two more ingredients that add to his mid-rotation starter’s profile. He doesn’t have the cleanest delivery, but he makes it work and has a 6-foot-2, 229-pound frame built for durability. Scouts like his intelligence and competitiveness as well as his physical traits. 

MLB Pipeline

Baseball America ranks Bednar 38th overall, and they highlight his fastball that “plays up and gets an impressive amount of whiffs, especially up in the zone” likely due to its spin rate. They also say his slider has “hard and tight bite” and “good vertical action” though he needs to work on commanding it down in the zone.

Lookout Landing mentions that Bednar’s fastball has 17 inches of induced vertical break and that he throws his slider over 2,800 RPM – both of which are stellar results.

FanGraphs has him as the 44th prospect for the draft cautioning that his injury history, lack of athleticism, and high effort mechanics might lead to a reliever profile.

Interestingly, Keith Law of The Athletic and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN speculate that as a Statcast darling Bednar fits the Yankees profile and McDaniel says they have been linked to him.

Does He Make Sense?

Bednar is an interesting comparison to the other pitchers we have profiled thus far because he has great potential but more reliever risk than others. There are two main reasons for that reliever risk with Bednar: size, mechanics, and questionable 3rd pitch.

At 6-foot-2, Bednar is by no means short, but with his 230 pound frame he is certainly well-built for a pitcher. Typically pitchers who are short have higher injury risk, and thus higher bullpen risk. His mechanics also leave much to be desired. He has a long, sweeping arm action that can get out of whack sometimes. Watch the first pitch in this video:

Notice how with that long arm action Bednar misses wildly to the arm side with his fastball. That is common for him when he doesn’t have proper timing on his pitches.

We’re all familiar by now with how Jameson Taillon completely reworked his mechanics and switched to a shorter arm action claiming that this new motion is easier to repeat and is better for his health.

https://twitter.com/JohnSparaco/status/1366490976072724488

Bednar is much closer to the Taillon on the left with a long arm action and that can lead to command issues as well as injury risk.

The other concern for Bednar is a lack of a third pitch. All the scouting reports rave about his fastball-slider combination and say that his curve and changeup are still developing. As a two-pitch guy with great stuff Bednar would make for a great reliever, but just a great reliever. His stuff isn’t good enough to be a two-pitch starter. In the Texas domination, notice how many of those K’s come on his fastball.

According to Dan Zielinski III of Baseball Prospect Journal, Bednar said he “want[s] to have control of my secondary stuff this year. Last year, I was mainly fastball-slider, but I have worked really hard on developing my curveball and changeup to get them where I think they can be.” If the Yankees draft Bednar, it is because they believe they can help him develop that curve and changeup into average or above offerings.

Enough of the negatives, let’s talk about the positives. Bednar is the first pitcher we’ve looked at who is known for his spin rates and we know that is something the Yankees covet. In the Texas start, you can see him blowing 92 by hitters up in the zone, and that only happens with elite spin.

Lindsay Adler of The Athletic had an interesting piece in which she posited that the sticky stuff crackdown actually makes pitchers with high spin rates more valuable because the ones who can naturally generate spin will stand out more again. If we are to believe that pitchers won’t be able to artificially generate spin the way they have the past few years (and that the uptick in spin rates the past few season was due to sticky stuff), that makes a guy like Bednar more intriguing for me. This chart shows that might be the case:

https://twitter.com/DevanFink/status/1409978756027068423

The other plus to Bednar is his elite K/BB ratio. Despite his arm motion that leads to armside run misses, Bednar still maintained a ~6 K/BB ratio against great college competition. Throwing strikes remains the most important skill for a pitcher and it appears Bednar has it. That command can also mitigate some of the reliever risk.

Due to his size, mechanics, and current lack of a 3rd pitch, Bednar is not the first pitcher I would want the Yankees to draft based on the other guys we have profiled in this range. However, teams have more info than we do, and if the Yankees take Bednar you can bet that it is a bet on his spin rates that they believe will play up against professional competition. Due to his national prominence of late, Bednar has been rising up draft boards rapidly and could easily go before the Yankees pick despite him not being in CBS Sports or The Athletic’s recent mock draft. With the draft in less than two weeks, it will be interesting to see which teams get connected to Bednar’s new helium and if he is likely to go in the mid first round.

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4 Comments

  1. MikeD

    “Typically pitchers who are short have higher injury risk, and thus higher bullpen risk.”

    Rohan, nice writeup, but I do have a question regarding that statement above. I’ve seen conflicting evidence on this. I know “shorter” pitchers sometimes get sent to the pen believing they can’t get enough plane on their fastballs, although I’ve never seen anything to indicate shorter pitchers are more injury prone.

  2. Troy

    Hard no. Amongst all the other factors, I would stay away from guys that play up due to spin rate until MLB gets its act together.

  3. I thought about spin rate guys standing out right away.
    Then I pivoted to wondering how they would know it’s naturally generated.
    How do we know sticky stuff isn’t also in use at the college level and even in high school?

    • MikeD

      That to me is going to be a significant problem. The guy who created Spider Tack said his sales skyrocketed after it was mentioned in Cole’s press conference. Any pitcher, prospect or not, in high school or college, looking for edge, or looking to be drafted, will be using it.

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