The Giants stuck to their recent plan of college prospects with their top pick in this year's MLB draft. However, they bucked a trend of taking bats and went with an arm in the first round for the first time since 2015.
Six years ago, they landed on right-hander Phil Bickford out of the College of Southern Nevada. Before that, it was Tyler Beede in 2014, Chris Stratton in 2012 and Kyle Crick in 2011. San Francisco did select Zack Wheeler in the first round of the 2009 draft, but he was traded before he ever made an impact with the Giants.
To find a pitcher who made a real impact on the Giants after being picked in the first round, you'd have to go all the way back to Madison Bumgarner in 2007 and Tim Lincecum in 2006. Fast forward to 15 years after taking Lincecum and watching him quickly turn into a two-time Cy Young Award winner, the Giants believe they struck gold going with Will Bednar at No. 14 overall.
And it all starts with how the former Mississippi State Bulldog performed under the bright lights.
"What we really liked about Will was just kind of what he showed at the College World Series," Giants director of amateur scouting Michael Holmes said to Giants media Sunday night. "He's a physical college right-hander with a fastball that misses bats in the zone, has the ability to miss bats with his secondary stuff and I think anyone that got a glimpse of him in Omaha saw the type of competitor that he is.
"He checked a lot of boxes for us as a starting pitcher, and we're real excited to be able to select him."
The first words Bednar used when describing his pitching style was "competitor." He lives for the big moment, and took college baseball's biggest challenge head on.
Leading Mississippi State to their first national championship in any sport, Bednar was named the Most Outstanding Player at the College World Series. Over three starts, he allowed just three earned runs and five hits while striking out 26 batters and walking six. Go back to his start against Texas in the College World Series, and you'll see just why the Giants liked him so much.
Squaring off with Texas' Ty Madden, a right-hander who was taken by the Detroit Tigers with the No. 32 pick this year, Bednar allowed one hit over six shutout innings and piled up 15 strikeouts in a Mississippi State win. But Holmes wanted to make it clear the Giants have had their eyes on Bednar long before his dominance in Omaha.
"He's been on our radar for a while now," Holmes said. "It's not like something had just came across here lately. What the run through the Regionals, Super Regionals and World Series allowed us to do was continue to evaluate. Basically just gave us more of an opportunity to scout and continue to watch him.
"I know I've said it before, but there's no bigger stage in college baseball than where he performed. So, certainly gave us great comfort."
Bednar had a 1.76 ERA in four appearances (one start) during the shortened COVID-19 season last year. After focusing on an improved fastball and slider, Bednar went 9-1 with a 3.12 ERA this season and struck out 139 batters in 92 1/3 innings. As someone who fills up the strike zone, Bednar fits exactly what the Giants are looking for.
With a fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s and can reach 97 mph, Bednar knows how to change speeds and be effective up in the zone and paint the corners. He struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings this season and walked only 2.5 per nine, and finished his two collegiate seasons with a 0.99 WHIP.
"It's obviously something that's of great importance to us," Holmes said. "I think guys who are able to create swing and misses in the zone with their stuff is obviously things that stand out. As you move up the ladder through the minor leagues and obviously when you get to the major leagues, you're facing hitters who control the zone a lot better. The strike zones get smaller. There's a lot of things that tends to work against the pitcher.
"Guys that tend to get swing and misses with their stuff in the zone at the elite level that Will's been able to is obviously something that interests us about him."
Baseball's draft is much different than the other major sports in the fact that need is often overlooked for best talent available, and signing ability comes into play. It doesn't hurt adding a pitcher to a hitter-heavy farm system, though. The Giants' top pitching prospects -- Kyle Harrison and Seth Corry -- are 19 and 22 years old respectively, left-handed, haven't yet reached Double-A and both were drafted out of high school.
Bednar feels like a prospect the Giants could push through the system, especially as he polishes a second off-speed pitch. Holmes and Co. felt he was the best prospect at the time of the draft, and he also might have been the best fit.
"When we do our boards, we try not to focus too much on need, as much as just talent," Holmes said. "We obviously know there's different paths to the big leagues for all these players that we select. Although need does sometimes creep into your head, you try to focus on what the player can do and what you think the value is.
"A nice little string of college position players since I've been here, but nice to add an arm as well."