It’s still relatively early in the college baseball season, so to make drastic statements and predictions on the draft seems like a fool’s errand, but a fool I am. Teams are looking for top-end college talent thanks in part to a reduced developmental curve and fewer answers. Unfortunately, as the college season has progressed, fewer and fewer college bats are stepping forward while the college arms are doing just that. Boston College’s Sal Frelick has upped his game as I wrote last week, and Louisville’s Henry Davis has also stepped up, but that’s about it. This draft is starting to have a similar feel to the 2017 draft, with the college bats moving to the backend of the Top 10 picks.
The top two of the college pitching class is elite, with Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter at the top of it. Additionally, Ty Madden, a former Royals pick, is off to an excellent start at Texas to confirm his value near the top of the draft.
Between an abbreviated performance in ‘20 and this year, an Ole Miss strike machine named Gunnar Hoglund has also been solidifying himself as a Top 10 selection. Selected by the Pirates with the 36th overall pick in 2018. Hoglund passed up a potential bonus of around $2 million to head to Ole Miss. What may seem like a crazy move may pay off with the chance of going in the Top 10 and a $5 million payday.
His fastball working primarily in the low 90s doesn’t jump off the page like Rocker or Madden’s. Rumors of the fastball popping higher velocities didn’t ring true in his latest start against Auburn, working mainly 90-93 mph while topping with a couple of pitches at 94 mph. It was was colder weather with wind chills in the low 30s which may have played a factor. The four seam’s spin rate is above-average in the 2400 rpm range, which would place him in the Top 40 of qualified major league pitchers if he was in the league.
In his three seasons (123 innings) for Ole Miss, the right-hander has walked just 25 hitters (1.83 BB/9), proving the control is outstanding. His relentless strike-throwing keeps hitters behind in the count, allows him to work deep in games, and take command of at-bats. The key to his fastball is the command and control of it as he’s able to attack all quadrants and works it well the arm-side run, showing an ability to run it on the inside corner versus a lefty or tail it away. It’s a better than average pitch at his velocity and spin profile, but the extension dips below what one would expect for his 6’4 height moving the pitch back to average on profile at the next level.
What kept him out of the top half of the first round as a high schooler was a curveball that was average at best. Since arriving at Ole Miss, he’s moved over to a power slider. Some reports at different publications had the pitch working 85-87 mph range. Again, that wasn’t the case versus Auburn working primarily at 83 mph with a few early ones at 84 mph before dipping in the low 80s later in the outing. The two pitches tunnel incredibly well, offering very little difference for hitters to read. He spun a couple in the wash zone in this outing, but the control is above average. The spin rate is said to be in the 2450 rpm range, which would be in the Top 30 of qualified major league pitchers. With the way it tunnels off the fastball, I suspect it will continue to miss bats in the pro ranks while also inducing plenty of groundouts.
Gunnar Hoglund, Fastball & Slider, Overlay pic.twitter.com/0dR57iGmRN— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) February 27, 2021
The pitch that doesn’t get rave reviews that I came away very impressed with was the change up. He didn’t show any comfort working it against right-handers, limiting his use of it, but it’s still a weapon. The pitch has plenty of arm-side life, mirroring arm speed, and like everything else, he controls it to keep it off bats. After striking out Auburn’s three-hole hitter Steve Williams with a fastball in and a fastball away in his first two plate appearances, he put him away by piling three straight changes versus the accomplished Auburn hitter. The pitch was 81-84 mph with good late tail and should be something he leans on even more in the pro ranks. Should the fastball tick up into the average 94 mph range, this pitch will be another above-average offering.
Gunnar Hoglund, Filthy 84mph Changeup.— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) March 20, 2021
10th K pic.twitter.com/Hj2ahk7ROa
The command profile of all three pitches is above-average, and the control is well above-average. With a strong lower half (tree trunks for thighs), the above-average spin rate, and the mechanics he repeats easily, he should move quickly to the major leagues. The fastball rumors working 92-94 mph while topping out at 96 to 97 mph weren’t there versus Auburn as I had 53 fastballs charted 90-92 mph and just two hitting 94 mph. I think there is still some projection to be had, though, and I would expect him to hit those upper velo ranges in pro ball regularly after adding more strength at the next level.
Does he fit with the Royals with the seventh pick? The Royals have committed to older position players over the next few years, a move that could be questioned. If that’s the case, then committing to pitchers long-term may not be a smart move. A pipeline of young starters coming through wouldn’t be a terrible thing to offload the others as they go into arbitration. Should no position player put himself well at #7, Hoglund makes an excellent selection as a quick mover with more upside than some may project.