Five Sun Devils Selected in 2021 MLB Draft
TEMPE – Sun Devil Baseball saw five additions added to the historic ranks of Arizona State professional draft picks this week with the selections of Drew Swift, Erik Tolman, Justin Fall, Cooper Benson and Tyler Thornton in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Swift (Athletics/Round 8/No. 248), Tolman (Nationals/Round 14/No. 413), Fall (Marlins/Round 17/No. 509), Cooper Benson (Blue Jays/Round 17/No. 512) and Thornton (Indians/Round 17/No. 516) mark the fourth consecutive season ASU has had at least five draft selections and the fifth season in the last six.
With four pitchers selected in this year's draft, it was the highest total since the 2015 Sun Devil squad saw five pitchers taken. It was just the seventh time since 2000 that four or more pitchers were selected out of Arizona State.
This year's draft, while not as short as the condensed five-round draft of 2020, was still notable for being only 20 rounds as opposed to the 40 rounds of previous seasons, making the Sun Devil accomplishments that much more impressive.
The 2021 haul brings ASU's all-time MLB Draft selections to an NCAA-leading 452, including secondary phase and January drafts throughout history. ASU's 161 draft selections since 1999 are also the most of any team in the nation. ASU has had 124 players that were drafted AND signed since 2000 – six more than any team in the country entering this year's draft.
Swift became the ninth Sun Devil to be drafted in the Top-10 rounds of the draft in the last four seasons and the 68th to go in the Top-10 rounds since 2000. ASU has had at least one Top-10 round pick in all but three drafts since the MLB Draft began in 1965.
The Bay Area has been fond of Sun Devils in recent history with the likes of R.J. Dabovich (Giants, 2020), Hunter Bishop (Giants, 2019) Carter Aldrete (Giants, 2019), Sam Romero (Athletics, 2019), Seth Martinez (Athletics, 2016) and David Graybill (Giants, 2015) all heading to the area in the last couple of seasons.
The Sun Devils have been glutton with talent at shortstop through the years as Swift adds his name to recent MLB Draft success out of ASU at the position following the lead of Alika Williams (Round 1, 2020), Colby Woodmansee (Round 5, 2016), Drew Stankiewicz (Round 11, 2014), Deven Marrero (Round 1, 2012), Andrew Romine (Round 5, 2007), Dustin Pedroia (Round 2, 2004) and current Sun Devil head coach Willie Bloomquist (Round 3, 1999) as part of the illustrious list in the past two-plus decades. All told, nine of the last 12 starting primary starting shortstops (since Bloomquist in 1999) have gone in the first 15 rounds of the MLB Draft with seven of those going in the Top-8 rounds.
Swift was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, the first in Sun Devil history. He was also honored with the 2021 ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove as the best defensive shortstop in the nation, as voted on by the collegiate coaches.
Swift recorded hits in 45 of 53 games he has played this season and finished the season with a .314 average. Swift was second on the team with 38 RBIs this season and first with 21 two-out RBI as well. His 42 runs scored were second on the team. He reached base on 33 out of 91 leadoff opportunities this season (.363). He had 21 games this season with multiple hits - just shy of the team lead while posting multiple hits 29 of his final 62 games, dating back to last season.
His slugging percentage finished at .475 - a notable evolution for a player who had just two extra-base hits in 55 games as a freshman and slugged just .333 as a sophomore. He had six homers this season after just having one in his first three seasons combined. He finished with a final tally of 20 extra-base hits on the season (10 doubles, 4 triples, 6 homers) after having just 16 total in his career prior to the season.
Where Swift truly shined throughout the season, however, was his defensive play at shortstop. Swift turned 42 double plays on the season and 118 in his career. He finished the season with an incredible .981 fielding percentage at shortstop on 260 chances with 171 defensive assists and his five errors were second among Pac-12 shortstops, though USC's Tyler Pritchard (2 errors on 178 chances) had significantly less opportunities. Swift finished the season with a 20-game streak without an error at shortstop, dating back to April 27. His 171 assists were second in the Pac-12 while his 42 double plays turned were third in the Pac-12 and tops among shortstops. He finished 492 defensive assists in his career while helping to turn 118 double plays.
LHP Erik Tolman missed the majority of 2021 after undergoing UCL surgery following his third start of the year. In 31 appearances with 10 starts over the past three seasons, Tolman struck out 93 batters in 79.1 innings. He allowed just two home runs, one triple and 12 doubles while limiting opponents to .191 hitting in his career and posting a 3.29 career ERA.
In the shortened 2019 season, opponents were batting just .143 against him over 18.0 innings while he posted 30 strikeouts – fifth in the Pac-12 for the season. He was 18th nationally with 15.00 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a career-high 12 strikeouts against #24 Oklahoma State in just six innings – the most in six or less innings at ASU since 2009. He was deadly with two strikes to his credit, holding opponents to just 3-for-45 hitting for the season.
Thrust into a starting role due to the loss of three starting pitchers this season, LHP Justin Fall embraced moving from the backend of the pen to becoming a pivotal part of the weekend rotation. Fall went at least 5.0 innings in nine of 12 regular season games since making the transition to weekend starter, including a then-career ASU best 6.2 innings of shutout ball against Washington State before topping it with ASU's first complete game since 2019 in a win over Cal. He followed that up with 7.1 innings in his win against #23 Oregon State.
He posted three consecutive quality starts - the only Sun Devil with multiple quality starts this season - against Washington State, Arizona and Washington. He would bump that up to five on the season with back-to-back quality starts against Cal and #23 OSU.
His seven victories on the year were good for third in the Pac-12 in the regular season. In two starts against two Top-25 offenses in Washington State (8.5 runs per game) and Arizona (9.2 runs per game), Fall pitched 12.2 innings and allowed just a single earned run between them.
Fall induced a team-best 15 double plays this year. He was at his best with two outs, getting out of innings by holding opponents to just 15-of-76 hitting with two outs (.197). He also excelled at not giving up hits with runners on the basepath, holding opponents to .230 batting with runners (28-of-122).
LHP Cooper Benson entered the season tabbed as ASU's Friday night ace but unfortunately left his second start of the year early and would undergo season-ending UCL surgery. Benson was electric on Opening Night against Sac State, striking out eight with no walks and only one hit allowed in 6.0 innings of work. In the shortened 2020 season, Benson was 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA in four starts. He struck out 25 in 20.0 innings.
RHP Tyler Thornton assumed the mantle of Friday night started following a slew a injuries in 2021 and took the challenge in stride. He led the team this season with 78 strikeouts over 76.1 innings – including a career-high 11 in a victory over Rhode Island in which he earned a rare seven-inning save – the first in ASU history.
In the shortened 2020 season, Thornton posted a quality start in three of four starts and went 2-0 with a 3.48 ERA with 25 strikeouts and seven walks in 24.0 innings pitched - tied for 6th in the Pac-12. His 25 strikeouts were 11th in the Pac-12.
ASU won 15 of the 20 games Thornton has started in the past two seasons. Thornton transferred to ASU after being named the National Freshman of the Year by Collegiate Baseball and the NCBWA at Saint Mary's. He was the WCC Freshman of the Year after going 10-2 with a 2.71 ERA over 13 starts.
In addition to the five Sun Devil draftees, Arizona State 2021-22 signees for the upcoming season INF Wes Kath (White Sox/Round 2/No. 57), RHP Mat Olsen (Giants/Round 9/No. 266), LHP Caden Vire (Brewers/Round 12/No. 357) and C Will Rogers (Brewers/Round 17/No. 507) were also selected in this year's draft.