Blue Jays sign 1st-rounder Gunnar Hoglund

July 16th, 2021

The Blue Jays wasted no time with , signing their first-round pick from the 2021 MLB Draft on Friday, the team announced.

Terms of the deal were not released, but a source told MLB Pipeline's Jim Callis that it's worth $3,247,500, just under the 19th pick’s slot value of $3,359,000. By saving just over $100,000 against the slot value, the Blue Jays can pad their bonus pool for this Draft, which was one of the smallest in the league, to use elsewhere on higher-risk signings.

Hoglund likely would have been off the board before the Blue Jays’ pick if he’d remained healthy, but the right-hander out of Mississippi underwent Tommy John surgery in May. That didn’t deter Toronto, though, which sees long-term value in the 21-year-old.

“His trajectory along the year, he was pitching his way into being a top-10 pick,” said Shane Farrell, the club’s director of amateur scouting. “Unfortunately, the injury kind of derailed that a little bit. We’re extremely fortunate for him to be there when we selected.”

This is the type of risk for which the MLB Draft and baseball’s development curve allow. This isn’t like the NFL, for example, where a first-round pick is expected to play an immediate role on Day 1. Hoglund still has development in front of him as a pitcher in the Minor Leagues, and the next year he spends recovering from Tommy John will be part of that. It requires extra patience from both sides, but the talent is there.

While the surgery itself and the recovery process have improved over the years, no two rehabs are the same. What gives the Blue Jays confidence that Hoglund will bounce back, though, is the exceptional control he had on his pitches prior to the surgery.

“He’s a strong, physical kid with above-average control and command of his fastball and an above-average slider as well,” Farrell said. “His changeup was good for him in high school and we saw a little less of it at the collegiate level, but I’m sure that will develop more as a pro. We saw a tick up in fastball velocity this year, combining that with his upper-level ability to command the ball to both sides of the plate and throw the slider off the fastball -- [that] is what really drove us to make this selection.”

Given the nature of prospect development, this unique pick isn’t a broader commentary on the Blue Jays’ farm system or MLB competitiveness, either. This choice was made because the Blue Jays like Hoglund and like the value, period.

“It relates to Gunnar specifically,” Farrell said. “One of the main drivers was just how polished he is as a pitcher. The injury was just unfortunate timing. We feel like this is a very opportunistic pick for us as an organization, knowing the trend that he was going on and he had cemented himself as one of the better college pitchers, aside from a couple of guys at Vanderbilt. We’re excited to get him where we did.”

From this point in Hoglund’s recovery, which is nearing two months post-operation, he still has a long road ahead of him. Rehabilitation times fall in the range of 12 to 16 months, but it’s too early to put a timetable on Hoglund, and the Blue Jays will obviously proceed with caution. If he is able to see some consistent game action in the Minor Leagues in 2022, that would be viewed as a success. He’ll begin that buildup at the club’s newly renovated player-development complex in Dunedin, Fla., too, which is a fine place to start.

With a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, Hoglund has everything the Blue Jays could be looking for physically. His fastball had ticked up into the 92-95 mph range prior to his surgery, and Toronto likes how his slider complements that pitch as he navigates his way through a lineup.

When he’s back on the mound, Hoglund will also represent that next wave of young pitching in the Blue Jays’ system. Now that Nate Pearson and Alek Manoah have reached the Majors, Hoglund will slide in alongside No. 4 prospect Simeon Woods Richardson, No. 9 Adam Kloffenstein and No. 10 CJ Van Eyk.