The Scold III: Hog Land Rising

(Plus: The Draft, Best Bird Update, All-Star Game tidbits, the "Return to Canada" proposal)

Been a while since we did one of these, eh?

With one more day to go until the regular season resumes (not so if you’re the Red Sox and Yankees, who play tonight for some reason), there’s a bit of news to get through regarding the draft, and also a weirdly eventful All-Star Game, and the Jays maybe, possibly, coming back to Toronto? It’s certainly one possibility among many!

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GUNNER HOG LAND (The Draft)

It’s a little hard for Blue Jays fans to get super excited about this year’s MLB draft, for more than just the usual reasons. Those being A) As is the case with most drafts, no one knows who these kids are, and B) most of these guys are two to five years away from making the Major Leagues, assuming they even make it at all.

But also, with the Blue Jays picking 19th on account of being good last year, there wasn’t much of a chance of one of the top names (Marcelo Mayer, Jack Leiter, Kumar Rocker, Henry Davis, Kahlil Watson, Jordan Lawlar, etc.) falling to Toronto. An Austin Martin situation almost certainly wasn’t going to repeat itself. With that said, the Jays still managed to come away from the draft with some serious upside in first-round draft pick Gunnar Hoglund, among others.

Gunnar Hoglund, Right-handed Pitcher (Round 1, 19th Overall)

Of the Jays’ 20 draft picks, 15 of them (and nine of their first 10) are pitchers, ten of whom are college arms. Their first pick is the excellently named Gunnar Hoglund, who will hopefully give me an excuse to absolutely litter future posts with pictures of noble feral hogs

I don’t care if Hoglund’s last name isn’t pronounced “hog” as in “pig”. The hogposting will continue until morale improves.

Don’t like the hogposting? Here’s the subscribe button. A little monetary incentive goes a long way.

Hoglund was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates as the 36th overall pick in the 2018 draft. Continuing their time-honoured tradition of “being chronically unable to do anything right”, the Pirates didn’t end up signing Hoglund, and he wound up at the University of Mississippi.

At Ole Miss, Hoglund blossomed into one of the best pitchers in the SEC, working himself into Top 10 pick discussion. Unfortunately, his UCL had other plans, and he went under the knife for Tommy John surgery in May 2021.

Hoglund features a tailing mid-to-low 90s fastball, a mid-80s slider that he can place on the corners extremely consistently (Fangraphs’ Day 1 Draft Day recap lists “elite slider command” as his best attribute), a curveball, and a changeup. Fangraphs’ overview of Hoglund on the “Board” (which also has him as the 14th highest-ranked prospect in the draft) spreadsheet says the following on him:

“Through 2021 Hoglund was arguably the most polished college arm in the class, sitting in the low-90s, while dotting a plus slider on the corner with remarkable consistency. Healthy Hoglund has the best command in this draft.” 

Blue Jays’ amateur scouting director Shane Farrell said this about Hoglund:

“He’s a strong, physical kid with 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, 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.”

Hoglund’s TJ surgery is a bit sobering and means that he won’t make his professional debut until later in the 2022 season. People who are paid to think about this kind of thing seem to be optimistic about this, though. In the Draft Day recap, Eric Longenhagen says the following:

I love this for Toronto. I think Hoglund’s TJ rehab presents his parent club the opportunity to rework his body and maybe coax more velo out of him, the same way the Dodgers did with Walker Buehler. Hoglund’s slider command is incredible. He was carving up the SEC sitting 80-92 — imagine him parked in the mid-90s.

I mean, I will gladly take One (1) Walker Buehler, please.

It’s a high risk, high reward pick for sure, but I don’t think anybody could reasonably argue that the potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Ricky Tiedemann, Left-Handed Pitcher (Round 3, 91st Overall)

Ricky Tiedemann, younger brother of Texas Rangers minor leaguer Tai Tiedemann, went undrafted last year as a high schooler, with Baseball America explaining that teams were unable to meet his bonus demands. He plied his trade in junior college in 2021, where he underperformed, but still shows promise with three plus pitches; a fastball, a changeup, and a slider. He hits the mid-90s with his fastball and may add more velocity as he develops. MLB Pipeline’s Jonathan Mayo compared him to Oakland A’s starter Sean Manaea.

Chad Dallas, Right-Handed Pitcher (Round 4, 121st Overall)

Finally, some Chad representation on the Blue Jays. It’s long overdue.

Dallas was the Number One starter at the University of Tennessee, where he helped them to a College World Series this year. At 5’11’’, he’s a little small for a pitcher, but that, uh, doesn’t seem to bother him too much, as a quote included in Keegan Matheson’s draft coverage would indicate.

“When Dallas arrived at Tennessee, two of his teammates -- Connor Pavolony and Evan Russell -- didn’t think he was a pitcher. Instead, they admitted to him later that they first thought he was a catcher, as Dallas told Knox News.

‘Size is for the eyes, wins are for the stats,’ Dallas said.

Dallas features an excellent mid-80s cutter, a curveball, and a hard if straight, mid-to-high 90s four-seam fastball. Baseball America says that "scouts have confidence he can start at the next level, with the sort of breaking stuff that should be able to miss pro bats."

Irv Carter, Right-Handed Pitcher (Round 5, 152nd Overall)

Carter was overshadowed at Calvary Christian Academy by Phillies first-round pick Andrew Painter but is seen as a legitimate prospect in and of itself, with Baseball America referring to him as “the best No. 2 high school arm in the country” thanks to a good slider and potential for more velocity on his fastball in the future. He’s messed around with Johnny Cueto-esque delivery variations and earned comparisons to Atlanta starter Touki Toussaint.

He’s committed to the University of Miami, and his lower draft round would seem to suggest that he would go to uni instead, but I get the feeling that the Jays might end up snagging him based on the fact that he seems pretty stoked on being drafted.

And then there’s the quote from the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, which, uh, lays it out pretty neatly.

“I feel I’m in a great place with Toronto,” Carter said. “They’re just a great team, a young team. The spring training’s in Florida.”

The slot value for the No. 152 pick is $350,300, but Carter could sign for more money. He is a Miami Hurricanes signee, but Carter said Monday that he would forego his commitment to Miami and would sign with Toronto.

“I’m a Blue Jay,” Carter said. “I’m signing.”

That’s an agent’s worth nightmare in terms of negotiating position, but it’s still awesome to see. He’s absolutely gonna be an easy guy to cheer for.

IT’S COMING HOME (Pending Federal Government Approval)

To pressure the Canadian government into hurrying up and making a decision on something, the Jays sent out a press release Tuesday morning outlining their “Return to Canada” plan.

Here is the text:

The Blue Jays are currently awaiting a decision by the federal government on a proposal that would allow the team to return to Toronto on July 30. We remain hopeful to be back home this summer, playing in front of Blue Jays fans at Rogers Centre for the first time in nearly two years and being part of our community’s recovery from the pandemic.

Our proposal to the federal government is based on the following:

  • MLB’s health and safety protocols and high league-wide vaccination rates

    • Over the past two seasons, the league’s COVID-19 protocols have been extremely effective and in the rare event that a positive case has occurred, the league has demonstrated the ability to contain the virus, including no instances of on-field transmission.

    • More than 200,000 COVID-19 monitoring tests have been conducted since the start of the 2021 season, resulting in a 0.03% positivity rate.

    • MLB has extremely high vaccination rates, with more than 85% of players and personnel across the league being fully vaccinated.

    • Significant efforts have been made by the league and teams to provide education, access, and incentives to increase vaccination rates.

  • Additional measures that address Canada’s border restrictions

    • Fully vaccinated individuals on the home and visiting teams will follow the same rules to enter Canada as the general public, which is showing proof of a negative COVID-19 test with no quarantine requirement; fully vaccinated individuals will also undergo weekly testing.

    • Unvaccinated and partially vaccinated individuals on the home and visiting teams will adhere to a modified quarantine for their first 14 days in Canada. They will be permitted to leave their residence only to participate in baseball activities at Rogers Centre.

This isn’t a one hundred percent risk-free plan, and every decision made under COVID always has a certain baseline of existential dread behind it, but this seems pretty much fine to me. So long as visiting players are vaccinated or can provide proof of a negative test at the border, I don’t think there would be much potential to spread the virus, especially if most of their teammates and opponents are vaccinated.

While I’d much rather prefer it if unvaccinated people weren’t allowed to enter the country in the first place (and not just because that would immediately provide the Jays with a massive competitive edge), the reality is that the border has been open to unvaccinated people this whole time, as is the case with truckers and vacationing politicians.

Of course, there isn’t a direct equivalency. Truckers and athletes, after all, contribute some value to society, and truckers are essential workers. But with regards to baseball, we’re talking about a relatively small amount of unvaccinated people dwarfed by not only vaccinated players and personnel, and a growing number of Canadian fans who are getting vaccinated. It’s far from the most pressing issue of the times, but as a non-medical professional in Edmonton who wasn’t going to see a Blue Jays game this year either way, it seems like a pretty reasonable plan, at least.

BEST BIRDS

Hitter: Santiago Espinal (1) 9 plate appearances, .444/.444/.556, 7 total bases, 2 Weighted Runs Created, 0.02 Win Probability Added, 0.05 WPA/LI

In a series where the Jays’ bats were mostly silent, Santiago Espinal was the best performer, claiming his first Best Bird. I decided against giving him the Double Take Award this time since he’s actually been well above average with the bat this year (117 wRC+) and about average throughout his two-year career (101 wRC+). For a defensively-minded singles hitter with very little power, that’s not bad at all.

Honourable Mentions: Teoscar Hernández, Danny Jansen

Pitcher: Robbie Ray (7) 7 innings, 23 batters faced, 1 hit, 0 earned runs, 11 strikeouts, 1 walk, 0.45 FIP, 89 Game Score v2, 0.36 Win Probability Added, 0.45 WPA/LI

Robbie Ray had his best start of the season yet, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning and only allowing one walk, with the only hit coming in the form of a double off the bat of Yandy Díaz. Ray re-takes the Best Bird lead for pitchers, undoubtedly being the best starting pitcher of the first 85 games for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Honourable Mentions: Trevor Richards, Alek Manoah

All-Star: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (10) 2 plate appearances, .500/.500/2.000, 4 total bases

Yes, I’m giving one to Vladdy. Yes, the All-Star Game doesn’t matter. No, I do not care.

Vladdy’s mammoth blast and MVP win aside, the energy around the All-Star Game was truly electric this year. I usually check out about thirty minutes after the player introductions, which are always the best part of the event. But this actually felt like it was worth watching from beginning to end, from Shohei Ohtani pitching and hitting in the same All-Star Game for the first time in history, to every Blue Jay playing a part offensively or defensively, to a mic’d-up Fernando Tatís Jr. talking about Vladdy, to Vladdy taking Corbin Burnes to the moon, to that weird Shohei Ohtani anime they showed at one point.

Andrew Stoeten does the event justice in an appropriately Vlad-centric way over at the Batflip but suffice it to say that it made me excited not just for the future of the Jays, obviously, but also for the game of baseball as a whole.

One more time in Spanish to wrap us up:

Honourable Mentions: Teoscar Hernández, Marcus Semien

BEST BIRD STANDINGS

Hitters:

  1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.- 10

  2. Bo Bichette- 5

  3. Marcus Semien- 5

  4. George Springer- 2

  5. Joe Panik- 2 (now on the Miami Marlins)

  6. Randal Grichuk- 2

  7. Santiago Espinal- 1

  8. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.- 1

  9. Cavan Biggio- 1

  10. Teoscar Hernández- 1

Pitchers:

  1. Robbie Ray- 7

  2. Hyun Jin Ryu- 6

  3. Alek Manoah- 4

  4. Steven Matz- 4

  5. Ross Stripling- 3

  6. Julian Merryweather- 2 (60-day IL)

  7. Anthony Kay- 1

  8. Anthony Castro- 1 (sent down to Triple-A)

  9. Ryan Borucki- 1 (10-day IL)

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