13 Hitters From The 2021 MLB Draft Class Off To Strong Professional Debuts
For many recents draftees, it’s tough to get a full picture of how they are acclimating to professional baseball until their first full season. It can also be tricky to evaluate the various successes and failures of prospects in small samples during pro debuts after players have spent time playing for high school and college programs in the spring.
So while it’s best to avoid moving the needle to a large degree in either direction in regards to our assessment of players, it’s still worth noting which players are having a smooth transition from the amateur game to the professional one.
Below are 13 2021 position player draftees who stood out with strong professional debuts.
Alex Binelas, 3B/1B, Brewers
Binelas entered the 2021 draft cycle as a first-round talent and one of the top hitters in the class after a strong freshman campaign with Louisville in 2019 (.291/.383/.612, 14 HR), but he struggled out of the gate and eventually fell to the third round, where he signed for $700,000.
Binelas was assigned to the Arizona Complex League where he spent seven games, before being promoted to Low-A Carolina, where he hit .314/.379/.636 with nine home runs and 11 doubles. His 20 extra-base hits were among the best that any 2021 draftee tallied and he was one of the reasons Carolina scored more runs per game (6.42) than any team in the league.
Tyler Collins, OF, Braves
Collins stood out for his plus-plus running ability with Boyd High in McKinney, Texas, and ranked as the No. 319 player on the 2021 BA 500. The Braves liked him enough to give him a $447,500 signing bonus in the eighth round and he had a strong debut in the Florida Complex League.
Collins hit .347/.424/.453 through 23 games, with a pair of triples, four doubles and 12 stolen bases in 16 tries. Collins’ production certainly seems buoyed by a .500 BABIP that isn’t sustainable moving forward and is second to only Phillip Sikes (.553, Red Sox) in the Florida Complex League, among players with 80 or more plate appearances. Atlanta has plenty of center field talent in the system and Collins could be next in line after the club hit on third-rounder Michael Harris in the 2019 draft.
Colton Cowser, OF, Orioles
The Orioles made Cowser the second-highest paid college bat in the 2021 class after Henry Davis, when they selected him with the fifth overall pick and signed him for $4.9 million. So far, he’s lived up to the hype, with a .375/.490/.492 line between the Florida Complex League and Low-A East, with most of his playing time coming with the latter.
Cowser received plenty of praise for his ability to manage the strike zone as a collegiate hitter, and while he wasn't pushed aggressively in his debut, he walked more (25) than he struck out (23). With Delmarva, Cowser’s line drive rate was impressive (36.7%) and he also used the opposite field at a high rate (41.3%) as well.
Additionally, he crushed lefthanded pitching (.611/.692/.722), but the sample is so small (26 plate appearances) that this is more of a fun note than anything to read into too much.
Colin Davis, OF, Mariners
Davis was the Southern Conference Player of the Year after hitting 11 home runs and slashing .351/.434/.624 for Wofford last spring. The Mariners bought into that performance and signed him for $150,000 in the seventh round—one of several collegiate players from the Carolinas that Seattle popped in the 7-12 round range.
Davis performed well with Low-A Modesto after a two-game stint in the Arizona Complex League, hitting .315/.408/.444 with 18 walks and 17 strikeouts in Low-A. He walked at a high clip, hit for extra bases (eight doubles, two home runs) and stole seven bags in eight tries while playing center and left field. He also played one game in right field in Arizona.
Max Ferguson, INF/OF, Padres
Ferguson’s production this summer was keyed by ridiculous walk rates more than power or innate feel for the barrel, but it’s worth noting nonetheless, especially given his defensive versatility and speed. With 31 walks and 15 stolen bases, Ferguson is at the top of both categories when comparing 2021 draftees.
Ferguson recently turned 22 and spent most of his time in the Arizona Complex League, where he hit .239/.415/.324 with 22 walks and 22 strikeouts. After being promoted to Lake Elsinore, Ferguson hit just .170/.328/.255 with nine walks and 20 strikeouts. It’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts when pitchers start to challenge him more in the strike zone, as Ferguson entered his draft year with high opinions from amateur scouts on his hit tool, but he showed a power-oriented approach with Tennessee that might not be best suited for his tool set.
Ferguson spent most of his time at second base, but logged time in center field and at every non-catcher infield position.
Sal Frelick, OF, Brewers
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that one of the top-rated college hitters in the class surfaces on this list, but it’s still nice to see nonetheless. Frelick had no issues with Low-A East as part of the Carolina team we mentioned previously with Binelas, hitting .437/.494/.592 with six doubles and six stolen bases in 16 games.
Frelick scuffled after being promoted to High-A Wisconsin (.167/.296/.267) but his overall body of work in his pro debut was more than enough for him to appear on this list. Between all three levels he played at this summer, Frelick hit .329/.414/.466 with 21 walks, 25 strikeouts, 13 extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases in 14 tries (85.7%).
Zack Gelof, 3B, Athletics
Gelof ranked as the No. 78 player in the 2021 draft class and signed with the A’s with the 60th overall selection for $1.2 million. After spending a game in the Arizona Complex League, Gelof moved to Low-A Stockton, where he showed a blend of power (seven homers, eight doubles), speed (11-for-13 stolen bases) and patience (13.1 BB%).
Gelof tallied 13 multi-hit games, and after posting a solid .306/.397/.484 line through August, took things to another level in September, hitting .313/.413/.625 with five home runs and five doubles in 16 games. He also tallied a five-hit game against Modesto, where he homered twice and doubled.
Scouts were split about Gelof’s defensive ability in college and he made eight errors in 65 defensive chances (.877 fielding percentage) at the hot corner in his pro debut.
Prospect Report: Sal Frelick Gets Five Hits; Alek Thomas Hits A Walk-Off
Sal Frelick came into Wednesday as a .200 hitter. Thanks to five hits, he left it as a .300 hitter. Alek Thomas not only hit a walk-off grand slam, he also came within a single of the cycle.
Jackson Glenn, 2B/3B, Pirates
Glenn was one of the older prospects in the 2021 class as a fifth-year senior, but he landed on the BA 500 thanks to loud production with Dallas Baptist offensively (.366/.483/.527, 21 homers) while also providing some defensive versatility.
Yes, Glenn will turn 24 in October and is almost two years older than his peers in Low-A Southeast, but he continued to be a productive hitter in his debut. Glenn hit .340/.454/.491 with more walks (23) than strikeouts (22).
So far the home run power he showed in college hasn’t translated, and Glenn will need to prove his bat against older competition given his age, but he did well with his assignment. After signing for $12,500 in the fifth round, he is looking like a savvy money-saving pick by Pittsburgh.
Austin Murr, OF/1B, Tigers
Murr signed for $200,000 in the sixth round with the Tigers and was the first college bat Detroit took in a class that was heavy on pitching. Murr stood out for his on-base skills in college after reaching at close to a 40% clip for his career with North Carolina State, and that was also the case for him during his pro debut.
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound outfielder and first baseman played a game in the Florida Complex League before slashing .262/.492/.333 in 13 games with Low-A Lakeland, and produced in 25 games with High-A West Michigan. Murr hit .344/.412/.422 with 10 walks and 20 strikeouts in the league with his first pro homer as well. His 27 combined walks were second among 2021 draftees, behind only Max Ferguson.
Barring continued .400-plus OBP numbers, Murr will need to hit for more power to profile in a corner outfield spot or at first base. Keep an eye on his ground ball rate moving forward, as it was solidly above 50% in his pro debut.
Corey Rosier, OF, Mariners
There are a few 2021 draftees who have posted batting averages over the .400 mark, but Rosier flirted with that mark before dropping just under in his final games of the season. After a one-game stint in the Arizona Complex League, Rosier dominated Low-A West while showcasing the speed and zone control that made him an intriguing small school pick out of UNC-Greensboro.
Rosier stole 17 bags last spring in college, while walking 25 times to 28 strikeouts in 52 games. In 31 games with Modesto, he stole 13 bags in 16 tries and walked (18) near as often as he struck out (20). While Rosier doesn’t project to be a big power threat, he has continued to show bat-to-ball skills in his pro debut, and with a center field profile the bar for his power is a bit lower.
He’s been one of the better day three performers.
Michael Sandle, OF, Astros
Houston took Sandle in the 10th round as a money-saving senior sign ($47,500) and he was one of the better impact bats of the 2021 class in his debut. His 20 extra-base hits rank among the top three of 2021 draftees and with Low-A Fayetteville he posted a .287/.350/.538 slash line.
Sandale turned 23 on Sept. 21 and was slightly old for the level he was at, but after a breakout power performance with South Alabama last spring, he's so far translated that pop to a wood bat in pro ball.
Trey Sweeney, SS, Yankees
Sweeney benefitted from a down college hitting class this year, but was also one of the better performers in the country and became the first Eastern Illinois first-rounder since Stan Royer in 1988. After hitting .382/.522/.712 with 14 home runs, the Yankees signed him for $3 million with the 20th pick of the draft.
Scouts saw improved hitting ability and defensive actions this spring, and while playing 100% of his innings at shortstop, Sweeney hit .261/.384/.548 with seven home runs and four triples between Low-A Tampa and the Florida Complex League. He showed more power than most 2021 draftee bats and compared to the two who are in the same category as him (Gelof, Binelas) he has the edge at a premium defensive position.
Scouts wondered how consistent he would hit at the next level given some of the moving parts in his swing, so that’ll be worth monitoring as he progresses and faces tougher competition.
James Wood, OF, Padres
Wood entered the spring as perhaps the highest-upside prep hitter in the class thanks to a combination of size, power, athleticism and a solid summer track record of hitting. His spring performance was poor, however, and he fell to the Padres in the second round, where he signed for $2.6 million—the highest bonus of San Diego’s 2021 draft class.
Wood spent all of his time in the Arizona Complex League, but as an 18-year-old was still almost two years younger than the competition there. He hit .372/.465/.535 with three home runs and five doubles, while going a perfect 10-for-10 in stolen base attempts. Wood walked at a 12.9% clip but also struck out 31.7% of the time. That swing-and-miss rate will be a key number to watch for him as he moves up the minor league ladder.
While big for the position, Wood spent almost all of his innings in center field in his debut.