SF Giants 2021 first-round pick hoping to live up to the expectations of a top pick

The 2021 first-round pick begins his comeback trail to relevancy
Here's to hoping for a healthy year for Will Bednar
Here's to hoping for a healthy year for Will Bednar / Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

SF Giants 2021 top pick Will Bednar has missed substantial time due to injury in recent seasons. He is in the midst of a rehab assignment with the San Jose Giants and is starting to look like the pitcher who was once a first-round pick not that long ago.

SF Giants 2021 first-round pick hoping to live up to the expectations of a top pick

In the eyes of many, myself included, the 2021 draft class for the SF Giants has been a disappointment. If we wind back the clock a bit, the Giants went pitcher-heavy in the 2021 draft class with their first nine picks selected were players that specialize on the mound. There are a couple of now fan favorites such as Mason Black and Landen Roupp, but players selected up top have been lost in the prospect shuffle.

Second-rounder Matt Mikulski has been a shell of himself ever since stepping on the professional level, having an ERA over six in both 2022 and 2023 seasons while only just a tick under six this season. Massive control issues, a huge downtick in velocity (from up to 97 mph in college to 88-91 mph in the pros), and a lack of a reliable swinging-strike pitch ultimately destroyed Mikulski's chances pretty much right away. He has struggled to regain relevance ever since.

While Mikulski did not garner much attention when he was drafted, it was their first-rounder who more than made up for it. Coming off a meteoric rise in the College World Series where he won the MVP in the first championship in Mississippi State's history, Will Bednar has been hit with the injury bug ever since getting drafted. That bug bothered his back on more than one occasion over the years, with him missing parts of both the 2022 and 2023 seasons as well as the Arizona Fall League.

Bednar was not yet ready to play at the start of the 2024 season due to his back troubles. However, he was back in action on May 7 as part of a rehab assignment with the San Jose Giants. the pitching prospect was originally slated to pitch for the Eugene Emeralds to start the year. His rehab appearances have been good, in my opinion. He has struck out 11 batters, allowed six hits, two earned runs, and more importantly, just one walk in eight innings pitched as he was usually deployed in two-inning stints.

The biggest takeaway from Bednar's outings so far has been the control of his fastball. Bednar's fastball is only in the low 90s but some crossfire and very good backspin allows it to miss bats when thrown up in the zone. He lost control of his fastball in his early years as a professional, oftentimes, being effectively wild and becoming a scattershot pitcher. And with him not having that standout velocity, it hurt his overall results. The thing with back injuries is that it is difficult to do anything to improve physically.

In 2024, that has not been the case as Bednar has been consistently showing the ability to pound the strike zone with his fastball, resulting in a 67% strike rate so far. He's been spotting the ball in the edges of the strike zone. One strikeout was particularly impressive as he just missed on the edge of the zone down and away with a fastball but then pumped a fastball exactly on the edge down and away for the called strikeout.

While the fastball is definitely taking the attention, Bednar's specialty pitch, the slider, is actually a grade down. He can still generate big, sweeping movement off his pitch but his feel for it is actually pretty bad so far. It is actually the inverse of what we've seen in the past where the slider is the only pitch that he could confidently throw for strikes.

Like in the past, he is not throwing the changeup he once had. There is a possibility that he can make it work with his fastball-slider combo, just ask his draftmate Mason Black. But the biggest thing for Bednar though is that he is healthy. He's looked good on the mound, and the control seems to be trending in the right direction. If his slider control comes back in the summer, we will be talking more about Will Bednar once again in 2024.