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The Toronto Blue Jays rolled the dice with their first-round pick of the 2021 MLB Draft on Sunday night, selecting right-handed pitcher Gunnar Hoglund with the No. 19 pick.
The Ole Miss starter is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery after blowing out his elbow in a May 7 start. The 21-year-old was once projected as a top-10 pick and one of the best college pitchers in this year’s draft class.
There is a precedent of pitchers turning out just fine alright after getting Tommy John surgery early in their careers. Boston Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi, Chicago White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease, San Diego Padres’ Chris Paddack and Blue Jays ace Hyun-jin Ryu are among those who had the surgery before they were fully developed and reached the majors.
Even in the Blue Jays minor league system, Eric Pardinho (Toronto’s No. 14 prospect according to MLB Pipeline), and Patrick Murphy (No. 20 prospect) both had Tommy John before their 20th birthday.
For Hoglund, 21, he appears to be worth the risk. Before that disastrous May 7 start, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound righty pitched 62.2 innings spread across 11 starts, finishing with a 2.87 ERA while striking out 38.9 percent of his opponents against a 6.8 percent walk rate. Hoglund notched a 1.16 ERA and an outstanding 37:4 K/BB ratio in 23.1 innings in 2020 before the season was paused.
“We’re really excited about how it shook out for us,” Blue Jays amateur scouting director Shane Farrell. “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.”
The Blue Jays do not have a second-round pick due to signing George Springer as a free agent last winter, so betting big on Hoglund and signing him to the majority of their allotted bonus pool of $5,775,900 (the assigned value for the No. 19 pick is $3,359,000) makes a lot of sense.
Hoglund is now the third college pitcher taken in the first round by Toronto in the last five years, joining righty Nate Pearson and current hot shot Alek Manoah. Both pitchers saw a fast rise through the minors to eventually end up on the MLB roster.
Will Hoglund go through the same speedy trajectory? We’ll have to wait at least a year to see him pitching again, and then we’ll find out.