Blue Jays draft Gunnar Hoglund at No. 19

July 12th, 2021

The Blue Jays selected right-hander Gunnar Hoglund with their first-round pick, 19th overall, in the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday, betting on the Mississippi product’s eventual upside after he underwent Tommy John surgery in May.

Ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 22 prospect in this year’s Draft class, Hoglund was originally a candidate to go much higher in the Draft prior to his elbow injury. This is a risk the Blue Jays have taken before, too, selecting Jeff Hoffman ninth overall in 2014 when he was coming off the same surgery.

Working with one of the smaller bonus pools in the 2021 Draft and without a second-round pick after signing George Springer this past offseason, the Blue Jays are confident that this pick gets them off on the right foot, with director of amateur scouting Shane Farrell calling it a “very opportunistic pick” for the organization.

“We’re really excited about how it shook out for us, knowing some of the different strengths of the Draft and especially how it relates to Gunnar,” Farrell said. “His trajectory along the year, he was pitching his way into a top-10 pick. Unfortunately, the injury kind of derailed that. We were extremely fortunate for him to be there when we selected today.”

Now 21, the Florida native was originally drafted out of high school by the Pirates in the supplemental first round, 36th overall, back in 2018. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, however, and Hoglund went off to Mississippi.

When Hoglund is healthy, he features a fastball that sits in the 92-95 mph range, which represents an uptick in velocity compared to the earlier years of his NCAA career. He’s also tightened up his slider in the mid-80s and throws a changeup and curveball to round out his arsenal. Hoglund’s control has always been one of his greatest strengths -- he walked just 2.0 batters per nine innings over his NCAA career.

The Blue Jays like the mix of polish and upside they see in Hoglund. While the control he has over his entire arsenal gives the Blue Jays optimism he’ll recover well from Tommy John surgery, the club also believes there is potential to develop his seldom-used curveball or add a cutter to his repertoire.

“He’s a strong, physical kid with above-average control and command of his fastball and an above-average slider as well,” Farrell said. “The changeup is a pitch that was good for him in high school, and we saw a little bit less of it at the college 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 an upper-level ability to command the ball on both sides of the plate and command the slider off the fastball. That’s what really drove us to make this selection.”

Prior to undergoing surgery, Hoglund had posted a 2.87 ERA through 11 starts for Mississippi, striking out 96 batters over 62 2/3 innings. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds with an easy delivery, there’s plenty to like about Hoglund’s physical projection once he’s back to full health and begins his professional career with the Blue Jays.

Hoglund will join a Blue Jays farm system that is turning over a new wave of top pitching prospects after Nate Pearson and Alek Manoah have made their MLB debuts. Right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson is ranked No. 4 in Toronto's system and could make a push for the Major Leagues by 2022, while Adam Kloffenstein and CJ Van Eyk, both at High-A, rank No. 9 and No. 10 in the system, respectively.

College right-handers are no stranger to the Blue Jays, either. They last dipped into these ranks in 2019, selecting Manoah 11th overall before his meteoric rise to the big leagues. That continued a trend in the first round with Pearson (2017), T.J. Zeuch (2016), Jon Harris (2015) and Hoffman (2014).

Farrell said that Hoglund is now six to seven weeks out from his operation, and at this point he’s recovering well with all signs positive. This is obviously a long recovery process that will stretch through the offseason and likely well into 2022, but the Blue Jays don’t make this pick unless they’re confident in the pitcher they’ll see on the mound when that day comes. 

“We’re obviously diving into everything about Gunnar, what makes him tick, what his routines and work habits are like,” Farrell said. “And we’re diving into strength and conditioning, the athletic training staff at Ole Miss, getting to know their coaches and also having a strong relationship with Gunnar from his days in high school being a fairly local kid in Tampa. Our history, similar to Austin Martin, goes back to the high school days with our area scouts and regional supervisor.”

Hoglund’s rehab will stretch on from here as a member of the Blue Jays, and they’re betting on him returning to a form that would have seen him selected well before the 19th overall pick.