DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Gunnar Hoglund is starting to lean into that final turn of the Tommy John rehab process, the point where he can almost let it loose like he used to.
Hoglund, the Blue Jays' first-round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, underwent Tommy John surgery nine months and eight days ago on May 17, 2021. He’s worked through the less glamorous days of rehab, where gains are incremental and the daily exercises become repetitive for a pitcher accustomed to competing at the highest level. Now, throwing off flat ground at 120 feet, Hoglund is building up to get back on the mound.
“The first couple of months after I got here, I really couldn’t throw,” Hoglund explained Friday at the Blue Jays' Minor League camp. “I was just talking to people about throwing and getting to watch people go through the process. When I first picked up a baseball, I was pretty hesitant to do some things. It was an interesting first day of throwing.”
That was four months ago. At this point, Hoglund’s next step is to throw at 150 feet off flat ground and then get back up on the mound. It’s a long journey to get back to 10 inches off the ground, but Hoglund says the process has gone “very smoothly” and without issue. That’s exactly what the Blue Jays bet on last July when they selected him 19th overall, believing his immense talent and polish were worth the wait. So far, so good.
“His trajectory along the year, he was pitching his way into being a top-10 pick,” director of amateur scouting Shane Farrell said at the time. “Unfortunately, the injury kind of derailed that a little bit. We’re extremely fortunate for him to be there when we selected.”
The Blue Jays have built a pipeline of big, strong right-handers with Nate Pearson, Alek Manoah, Adam Kloffenstein and others, which Hoglund slides right into. It was his ability to throw strikes and locate his pitches at such an advanced level that drew the Blue Jays to Hoglund, and a belief in the depth of his arsenal.
Hoglund and the Blue Jays spoke leading up to the 2018 Draft, too, before he was selected No. 36 overall by the Pirates. He chose to play NCAA ball at Mississippi instead, but that memory still pops up as he sits in the bleachers at the Blue Jays’ new player development complex, the result of a nearly $100 million renovation.
“The facility and the team they have here is just incredible,” Hoglund said. “You never know what to expect coming in. … I had an idea, but then I saw this thing and I thought, ‘Wow. This is a lot different.’”
Saying that, Hoglund looks far into the distance past a field at the old building that once housed the clubhouse and weight rooms. Compared to the new complex, it looks like a shed tucked far behind a house.
Helping along the way has been the technology this complex holds. You’ll see plenty of players wearing a harness made by Catapult, which tracks their bodies as they train, and plenty of pitchers wearing a sleeve made by Motus, which tracks arm movements. These and countless other gadgets have played a part in Hoglund’s path back to the mound. Every pitcher has a dozen friends with scars on their elbows, too, so he’s been able to watch other Minor League pitchers work through their recovery timelines just ahead of his.
In a perfect world, perhaps Hoglund gets back up on a mound at some point in April and returns to game action midseason, getting in a good chunk of innings before springboarding into the offseason as one of the organization’s most exciting young prospects with potential to move very quickly in '23. There are still plenty of boxes to check off before that happens, though, and Hoglund is patiently looking forward to that first pitch in his first game back.
“You have to envision that in times like this,” Hoglund said. “There’s just excitement about getting back out there and competing. This is my first major injury that I’ve dealt with. It’s been quite a while, so I’m just anxious to get back. I want to compete again.”