BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The past two months have featured some extreme highs and lows for Gunnar Hoglund, the Blue Jays' first-round pick, 19th overall, in the 2021 MLB Draft.
Back in May, Hoglund heard the three words no pitcher wants to hear: Tommy John surgery. His surgery was successful and his recovery has been smooth to this point, but so close to the Draft, it pushed Hoglund down the board from a potential Top 10 pick. The Blue Jays weren't complaining, though, and feel they landed tremendous long-term value in the right-hander.
"I was devastated, not just for the Draft but for the season, for Ole Miss," Hoglund said Monday. "That was really what I was thinking about. I knew it was out of my control, so I didn't focus too hard on it. I was trying to take it one step at a time. Then the Draft happened, and to be selected by the Toronto Blue Jays, I was just ecstatic. I was there with my family, my friends and it was just an unbelievable moment."
At this point, Hoglund is doing exercises to strengthen the areas around his elbow, like his shoulder. He's also doing range-of-motion exercises with his elbow, and has full range back, which he's encouraged by. This will be a long-term project for both the Blue Jays and Hoglund, with his full recovery expected to land in the 12- to 15-month range, but Hoglund was showing plenty of growth prior to the injury.
"The biggest things were my fastball velocity and my repertoire as a whole," Hoglund said. "I really developed my changeup this past year. That was a big pitch for me in the spring. I was a three-pitch guy with great command and my fastball velocity was up. Those were the big things that I worked on."
One of Hoglund's biggest strengths as a pitcher, and one of the reasons the Blue Jays are so confident he'll bounce back well from the surgery, is his control. Hoglund controls his fastball well on both sides of the plate, which sets up his slider and developing changeup. "Strike throwing" and "athleticism" are two words you'll hear the Blue Jays use constantly to describe what they target in young pitchers.
Hoglund's fastball was reaching as high as 95 mph prior to the surgery, which was an uptick from his previous seasons. That's not always his priority, but it helped him jump to the top of Draft boards by showing his upside. That top-level control, though, will always be Hoglund's carrying tool.
"It's something that I've always had," Hoglund said. "It goes back to when I was younger. A lot of guys teach velocity first, but for me it was kind of the opposite. I was always about control and location."
Blue Jays agree with 5th-rounder Carter above slot
High school right-hander Irv Carter was one of the Blue Jays' riskier picks, but the club has agreed to a deal with the fifth-round pick worth $850,000, according to Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline. The club has not confirmed the deal.
The Blue Jays were working with a small bonus pool in 2021, without their second-round pick after signing George Springer in free agency. Carter was clearly a priority, though, given that the slot value for his pick is $350,300. Carter will be a long-term project, but with a big frame and a fastball that's already reaching to 94 mph, there's a lot for Toronto to work with.
Borucki a key piece to bullpen turnaround
The Blue Jays are still expected to address their bullpen before the July 30 Trade Deadline, but some of that improvement needs to come from within, too. Ryan Borucki needs to be part of that solution, now back from missing more than two months with a left forearm flexor strain. Borucki returned on Friday with a scoreless inning against the Rangers, striking out two, and he offers a unique challenge from the left side for opposing hitters.
"He's one of the guys that we missed when our bullpen struggled," manager Charlie Montoyo said. "Of course, we have to be careful, but it was a good sign the other day, the way he pitched. He was 100 percent. He's going to be a big part of our bullpen going forward."