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The rise of David Bednar belongs in the “storybook” category. How else to describe how a 35th-round draft pick out of Lafayette College ascended through the San Diego Padres organization in three short years?
On Sunday, the right-hander from Mars High was called up from Class AA Amarillo, where he dominated as a closer, to the major leagues. He is the latest-round draft pick to reach the big leagues under Padres general manager A.J. Preller.
He is also one of only eight pitchers in MLB history to make it to the majors as a 35th-round pick. Bednar was the 1,044th player chosen in 2016.
“It’s always been my dream to play professional baseball,” Bednar told the Post-Gazette last year.
Now, he is living that dream. And he made his MLB debut this past Sunday in front of 38,701 at Oracle Park in San Francisco.
Summoned by Padres manager Andy Green to pitch the bottom of the ninth, Bednar registered a 1-2-3 inning to ensure an 8-4 victory.
The hard-throwing Bednar (his fastball has reached 98 mph) induced three outfield flyouts, first by Joey Rickard, then by Stephen Vogt and finally by Brandon Belt.
As the final out was recorded in left field, Bednar slowly walked from the mound with little reaction. He was then greeted by catcher Austin Allen, who wrapped his arm around the young pitcher. The rest of the Padres soon followed, giving their new teammate high fives and handshakes.
Bednar, 6 feet 1, 220, flashed a smile.
It was a perfect beginning to what has been a perfectly crafted story.
“David Bednar was drafted in the 35th round with the 1,044th overall selection,” the Padres tweeted (and younger brother Will Bednar, a freshman pitcher at Mississippi State, retweeted). “Today, he’s a Major League pitcher. Never ever give up.”
Bednar was used in the ninth to keep closer Kirby Yates fresh for the Padres.
“Great team win,” Green said. “Lot of contributions from a lot of different people.”
While most late-round selections toil in the minors for years (if not for careers), Bednar, 24, has blazed a strikingly different trail.
Since the All-Sar break, he converted 10 of 10 save opportunities for Amarillo. He also struck out 44 in 27.1 innings and posted a 1.98 ERA during that span.
What’s more, he had converted 14 consecutive save opportunities prior to his promotion to the big club. He finished his AA stint with 86 strikeouts and a 2.95 ERA in 58 innings.
“I just go out and attack the zone no matter who’s out there or the situation,” Bednar told the website Baseball Essential. “I’m just going to go out there and pitch to the best of my ability and put it all out there.”
While the Padres are out of playoff contention, the future looks bright. Their minor league system is ranked No. 1 by MLB.com and seven of their prospects are rated among MLB’s top 100 players.
Bednar appears to be in their long-term plans as a reliever after posting potent numbers in the minors: 303 strikeouts in 219⅔ innings; 2.70 ERA; 38 saves.
The son of Mars baseball coach Andy Bednar, David Bednar has refined his splitter and curveball, to go along with that fastball. Interestingly, he threw in the high 80s in high school, but his velocity has increased annually since entering college in 2014.
Earlier this season, FanGraphs described Bednar this way: “The barrel-chested Bednar has developed a good split in pro ball, making him an excellent three-pitch option for when relief usage minimums change in the future. He throws in the mid-90s (he was 89-92 as a starter in college) and has a snappy, 12-6 curveball. The curveball is probably what got him drafted, while the fastball/split development is driving a modern relief profile. He’s paving over Double-A and could reach the big leagues this year.”
Andy Bednar said his son has found success, in part, due to a laser-like focus.
“He’s a really hard worker off the field,” dad said. “He’s stayed religious with the workouts. And he’s poised on the mound. He doesn’t get frustrated a whole lot. A sign of a good player is, when things get rough, they’re at their best.”
For David Bednar, his best has taken him on a “storybook” journey to the major leagues.