These 2021 Draft picks had red-hot debuts

September 29th, 2021

With the Draft staged in July for the first time, players signed later than ever and had less time to make a strong first impression in pro ball. Yet even with fewer at-bats and innings, several 2021 Draftees stood out with their debuts.

Most of the 15 position players selected in the first round had no trouble adapting to pro pitching, as they combined to bat .302/.401/.468 in 1,263 plate appearances. No. 1 overall choice Henry Davis hit a robust .308/.387/.808 for the Pirates, albeit in just eight games before straining his right oblique in mid-August.

Below we present 15 players (listed alphabetically) who made dynamic debuts this summer.

Jay Allen, OF, Reds (supplemental 1st round, HS/Florida)
One of the best all-around athletes in the prep class, Allen also starred in football and basketball at Carroll Catholic High in Fort Pierce, Fla. He used his solid speed and advanced baserunning instincts to steal 14 bases in just 15 attempts and 19 games while batting .328/.440/.557 in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League.

Alex Binelas, 3B, Brewers (3rd round, Louisville)
Binelas shook off a rough start to finish strong at Louisville and carried that momentum into pro ball, leading all 2021 draftees with nine home runs while batting .309/.390/.583 in 36 games between Rookie ball and Low-A. He performed better at the higher level, posting a 1.014 OPS and all nine of his homers at Carolina.

Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles (1st round, Sam Houston)
The highest pick (fifth overall) in Sam Houston history, Cowser had the best debut of any first-rounder this summer. After spending a week in Rookie ball, he jumped to Low-A and hit a combined .375/.490/.492 in 32 games, logging the best on-base percentage among 2021 draftees (minimum: 100 plate appearances) and more walks (25) than strikeouts (23).

Ryan Cusick, RHP, Braves (1st round, Wake Forest)
After leading the ACC in strikeout rate (13.9 per nine innings) during the spring, Cusick went 24th overall in July and boosted that mark to 18.7 in pro ball with 34 whiffs in 16 1/3 frames in Low-A. Armed with a fastball that can reach 102 mph and an improved curveball, he recorded a 2.76 ERA while walking just four after demonstrating inconsistent control in college.

Harry Ford, C, Mariners (1st round, HS/Georgia)
The Mariners had a lot of success taking college right-handers (Logan Gilbert, George Kirby, Emerson Hancock) in the previous three Drafts but switched up and went with Ford, one of the most athletic catchers in recent years, at No. 12 this year. He batted .291/.400/.582 with three homers and as many steals in 19 ACL games, while also throwing out three of eight basestealers and not committing a passed ball in 13 contests behind the plate.

Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers (1st round, Boston College)
Frelick went 15th overall in July on the basis of his hitting ability, speed and center-field defense, all of which were on display in his debut. He batted .442 at his first two pro stops before dipping to .167 in High-A, combining for a .329/.414/.466 line with 12 steals in 35 games.

Zack Gelof, 3B, Athletics (2nd round, Virginia)
Gelof is the lone player on this list whose debut is ongoing because the A's promoted him to Triple-A for the Final Stretch, and he has responded by going 4-for-7 in his first two games. He overcame a shaky start to lead Virginia to the College World Series and has since hit .323/.417/.564 with seven homers in 35 games, mostly in Low-A.

Alek Jacob, RHP, Padres (16th round, Gonzaga)
Because he operates with a mid-80s fastball, Jacob lasted 16 rounds after earning WCC pitcher of the year honors and throwing a no-hitter for Gonzaga during the spring. His deception and ability to locate three offerings continue to work in pro ball, as he threw more innings (19 2/3) without allowing an earned run than any 2021 draftee and posted a 29/2 K/BB ratio, mostly in Low-A.

Chayce McDermott, RHP, Astros (supplemental 4th round, Ball State)
McDermott's older brother Sean averaged 2.2 points per game with the Memphis Grizzlies in his NBA debut last season, while Chayce fanned 40 of the 85 batters he faced in his introduction to pro ball this summer. He logged a 2.95 ERA and .162 opponent average, mostly in Low-A, thanks to his mid-90s fastball and downer curveball.

Griff McGarry, RHP, Phillies (5th round, Virginia)
McGarry can reach triple digits with his fastball and flash a plus slider, but he struggled with his control throughout his career at Virginia before coming up big in the NCAA super regionals and the College World Series this June, no-hitting eventual champion Mississippi State for seven innings at the latter event. He stayed on a roll after turning pro, topping all 2021 draftees with 43 strikeouts in just 24 1/3 innings between Low-A and High-A while recording a 2.96 ERA and .153 opponent average.

Corey Rosier, OF, Mariners (12th round, UNC Greensboro)
After ranking among the Southern Conference leaders in several categories during the spring, Rosier continued to serve as a catalyst in pro ball, batting .380/.451/.570 with 13 steals in 32 games and pacing all draftees in hitting and OPS (1.022). He's a contacted-oriented hitter with plus speed and solid center-field defense.

Dylan Spain, RHP, Braves (10th round, Hawaii-Hilo)
Spain completed his communications degree at Hawaii-Hilo but hadn't pitched for the Vulcans since 2019, though showing off a mid-90s fastball in workouts got him selected in the 10th round. He didn't permit a run in 17 2/3 innings between three levels, reaching High-A while posting a 21/2 K/BB ratio and limiting opponents to a .133 average.

Trey Sweeney, SS, Yankees (1st round, Eastern Illinois)
Sweeney made a run at the Ohio Valley Conference triple crown while winning the league's player of the year award this spring, then continued to pound the ball after the Yankees took him with the 20th overall pick. He batted .261/.384/.548 with seven homers in 32 games, mostly in Low-A.

James Triantos, 2B/SS, Cubs (2nd round, HS/Virginia)
Triantos reclassified from the 2022 Draft last fall and emerged as one of the best hitters in this year's prep crop. He has earned offensive comparisons to Alex Bregman and David Wright, and he didn't hurt those by batting .327/.376/.594 with six homers in 25 games the ACL and topping all 2021 draftees in slugging.

James Wood, OF, Padres (2nd round, HS/Florida)
Wood had first-round tools but dropped to the second round after hitting .258 with a 29 percent strikeout rate as a high school senior. His whiff rate remained high at 32 percent in his debut yet he raked in the ACL, batting .372/.465/.535 with three homers and 10 steals in 26 games.