DENVER – Through the early part of the college season, Gunnar Hoglund’s gains on the mound caught the eye of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Ole Miss right-hander, long known for the elite control and command of his three-pitch mix, had a slight bump in fastball velocity, sitting in the 92-94 m.p.h. range, and their sense was that he was pushing into the top-10 of the draft, well out of range for them at No. 19.
Then, during a May 7 start against Texas A&M, he blew out his elbow, prematurely ending his season. On May 18, he underwent Tommy John surgery and the momentum pushing him up draft boards immediately collapsed.
The Blue Jays' interest, however, didn’t wane and when the 21-year-old right-hander was available when they picked after a first-round that defied projections Sunday, amateur scouting director Shane Farrell didn’t hesitate.
“We’re really excited about how it shook out for us,” Farrell said on a Zoom chat shortly after making the pick. “It's the completeness of the package (that was carrying him into the top 10 before the injury). He's a strong physical kid with really above-average control and command of his fastball and an above-average slider as well. The changeup is a pitch that was good for him in high school, saw a little bit less of it at the collegiate level, but I'm sure that will develop a bit more as a pro. We saw a little pick up in fastball velocity this year.
"Combine that with his upper-level ability to command the ball to both sides of the plate and throw the slider off the fastball, (and it) is what really drove us to make the selection.”
Helping them get there was years of background work extending to Hoglund’s days at Fivay High School in Hudson, Fla., 35 minutes north of the club’s Player Development Complex in Dunedin.
Matt Bishoff, the club’s regional supervisor, was the area scout back then and built a relationship with Hoglund and his family that persisted into his days at Ole Miss, where Alabama area scout Don Norris picked up the coverage. After the injury, the Blue Jays “were in constant communication with both Gunner and the family,” said Farrell.
They invited them down for a visit to the complex in Dunedin to “give him a peek behind the curtains of the life he'll be walking into with the Blue Jays,” said Farrell. “The path that a pitcher is about to go down coming back from such an injury is lonely at times and there are a lot of unknowns. So trying to build that comfort for him and his family for the first day that he walks in through the door at the PDC, I think is something that was really important to us so he knew who he would be working with and what our organization is about and our values.”
Those underlying efforts suggest the Blue Jays have a good idea of what Hoglund will cost them. The assigned value for the No. 19 pick is $3,359,000, the vast majority of their $5,775,900 bonus pool, and the club won’t have a second round pick due to the signing of George Springer.
There may be room for some creativity there.
Either way, the surgery pushes Hoglund’s timeline back at least a year, although the Blue Jays are confident that because he had the control/command pieces locked down beforehand, the recovery shouldn’t negatively affect his trajectory.
Baseball America gave his control a grade of 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, while each of his three pitches graded out at 55. That took-kit gives him a higher probability of making it to the majors as a starter, an obvious organizational need.
“That was one of the big draws to him,” Farrell said of Hoglund’s positive projection as a starter. “We like his control/command and his feel for his present three-pitch mix and there potentially being room to add to his arsenal, mixing in a curveball or cutter or things like that. We feel like there are some ways to unlock a little bit more out of his pitch usage.”