The Seattle Mariners are a few years removed from their Control the Zone™ mantra, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still at the forefront of Jerry Dipoto and his player development staff’s minds.
Should that be the case, Ole Miss righty Gunnar Hoglund will certainly whet the palate. Hoglund is one of the best strike throwers in the entire country having issued just 18 free passes in 91.1 innings pitched. He boasts a solid three-pitch mix in a fastball, slider and changeup, all of which, as you can imagine, are commanded well.
At 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, Hoglund is certainly built like you want to see. He’s a strong-bodied hurler with wide shoulders and a well-built lower half. It’s already a sturdy frame that looks ready to hold up over the course of a long season. It’s an awfully easy operation on the mound that doesn’t have excessive moving parts or any loud actions. The mechanics are sound as Hoglund moves efficiently straight down the mound.
Polish is the word you’re looking for.
While there are effortless actions, Hoglund doesn’t get very much extension. At just over 6 feet, it’s a far-cry from some of the arms we’ve seen the Mariners select in the first round the last few years. As previously noted in this series, guys like Logan Gilbert and George Kirby get well over 7 feet of extension. Emerson Hancock gets 6-and-a-half feet of extension. You’d expect a 6-foot-4 body like Hoglund’s to get further down the bump, but every pitcher is different. You can succeed without it.
Hoglund should move through whomever’s minor league system fairly quickly. He’s an already-developed arm with a matured pitch-ability.
But with the 12th pick in the draft, Dipoto and Co.™ will still want upside. There’s value to be had that early in the draft. Does Hoglund have the gasoline and ceiling to warrant such a draft slot?
TOOLS (Future Value)
Hoglund threw 204 fastballs in 2020, topping out at just 92.4 mph. The average over the course of those pitches was 90 miles per hour. It’s by no means a dynamic fastball, but when you can command it like Hoglund can, it plays up a smidge. As an update, Hoglund is throwing a bit harder in 2021, and now is sitting 92-95 most nights.
Hoglund has shown the ability to paint all four quadrants. He especially likes to run the offering in on righties hands and spot it low and away to lefties. The fastball is more often than not a ride-and-run heater, though it’s doesn’t have the type of movement profile that will jump off the page.
With just under 10 inches of vMov, you can certainly find more explosive fastballs in the draft. And at 92-95 mph, it’s probably enough gas to pop the leather consistently at the top of the zone. Given his strong body, there’s always a chance Hoglund takes the bump next spring throwing harder, but the radar gun hasn’t taken significant strides in the last two years, so for this exercise, we’ll err on the side of caution when forecasting more velo.
The 6.1 inches of hMov on his fastball is fine, but again, not a number you’d like to see from a guy who’s prerogative is to run the fastball in on righties’ knuckles.
At the end of the day, Hoglund’s fastball is a good, not great offering that will rely more-so than others on exemplary command, especially at the next level. We’ve seen guys like Marco Gonzales and Kyle Hendricks reach mid-rotation status with elite strike-throwing ability. Hoglund can do-so as well, but the command absolutely must persist.
The slider is without a doubt Hoglund’s out-pitch and it shows as it was the second-most deployed pitch in 2020. Having thrown the slide piece 131 times (37% of the time), it’s pretty clear the confidence he has in throwing it at any point in the count.
Hoglund’s slider is a good one. It’s one of the better tunneled breaking balls at the top of the class. The breaking ball topped out at 85 mph in 2020, but comfortably sits in the 83-86 in 2021.
It’s gyroscopic in its spin axis lacking much horizontal action, instead relying on late vertical bite to induce ground balls and swing-and-miss. Having struck out 37 hitters in just over 21 innings pitched last season, it’s clear the pitch was effective. That said, like his fastball, it’ll be paramount his slider be commanded well at the next level.
This sort of slider can get you in a lot of trouble when left up in the zone. Hoglund got beat up a bit against Louisville in February, and the main culprit was a hanging slider. These sorts of things are going to happen, but when the ‘stuff’ isn’t elite, the margin for error is obviously much thinner.
When Hoglund’s breaking ball is spotted at the bottom of the zone, it’s an above average offering. There’s plenty of late life, and it tunnels very well. With more experience, coaching and refinement, he should have no problem wrangling this into the 55-grade offering it should be.
The changeup is comfortably his third-best pitch as it was only used about 6 percent of the time in 2020. It’s got a good bit of fade and tumble to it, but at 82-84 mph, there’s a little more separation left to be desired from the fastball. It runs just 6 inches off the slider plane, and with a similar velo, there will be times the two meld into each other.
On the operation side, Hoglund has shown the ability to throw the pitch for strikes, and the arm action has conviction. Given his track record of success pitching, the command profile, and his comfortability throwing the pitch whilst not ‘aiming’ it, I do think there’s an average changeup in his future, even if it isn’t quite there yet.
Gunnar Hoglund isn’t going to give you the highlight reel radar guns, and he probably won’t be a strike out pitcher at the next level, but his advanced ability to pitch and throw strikes suggests he’s one of the safer bets to reach his big league starting pitcher ceiling. He may not be a top of the rotation arm, but he’s comfortably a big league rotation arm that teams could lean on for good innings; potentially as a low 3 or high 4 type guy.
As it stands, Hoglund is probably fairly comfortably a first round arm, but with a little added velo and additional performance in 2021, he’ll likely further his discussion as a Top 15 pick.