Players travel great lengths to get to the Toronto Blue Jays' newly renovated player development complex in Dunedin, Florida—across the United States, down from Canada, and up from the Dominican Republic.
Gunnar Hoglund takes the 15-minute drive south, past the 7-Eleven and Winn-Dixie Supermarket.
Toronto’s 2021 first-round pick arrives at the Dunedin complex at 7:30 am daily. He's eight months into a 12- to 15-month recovery from Tommy John surgery that ended his final college season at Ole Miss and dropped him to the Blue Jays with the 19th pick in the 2021 draft.
Working his way back onto a mound before his first professional season, the right-hander is Toronto’s top pitching prospect before ever appearing in a minor league game. Hoglund has hit every milestone in his recovery, he said, with the shoulder and elbow feeling great. But, until that first pitch for a Blue Jays affiliate comes, he’ll take things one day at a time.
“I just want to make sure each day counts,” Hoglund said.
Born near Toronto’s spring training home, Hoglund now lives in Palm Harbor, just up County Road 1 from TD Ballpark. While his reconstructed elbow fully heals, Hoglund’s back living at his family home—maybe for one final stretch before the rigours and schedules of a professional baseball journey take him away. On the weekends it’s pretty standard home living, watching the NFL Playoffs or, when healthy enough, getting back out on a golf course. But when he gets to Toronto’s development complex, it’s all focus on the rehab.
Hoglund works with rehab coordinator Phil Dimino, physical therapist Alex Suerte, and the entire Toronto staff down in Florida. Every weekday he hits three or four scheduled ‘blocks’ or stations at the complex, which include the weight room, rehabilitation, field work, and conditioning.
For his elbow, recovery milestones started out small like regaining full range of motion and then grew to throwing a ball and increasing intensity and distance. So far, Hoglund’s hit them all on time. He’s currently throwing at 90 feet and 60-65% effort while working up to 120 feet before the next big box to check: Throwing off a mound.
In his final college season, Hoglund was working on a new curveball to add to his current three-pitch mix. While the injury halted his on-mound adjustments and progression, the first-rounder is focusing on refining and improving what he can currently control. Strength and mobility in the weight room are an obvious focus and Hoglund has worked with Toronto’s nutritionists on a meal plan and specific goals (“quite a bit” of protein with each meal). He’s also put emphasis on daily recovery, with hot and cold tubs, soft tissue massages, and even dry needling. Hoglund was hesitant with the needling at first—a practice where needles pierce the skin and hit 'trigger points' to relieve muscle pain or inflammation—but he ultimately gave in and admits it helps.
“When they first tried to do it,” Hoglund said. “I watched some other guys go first.”
The 22-year-old also tries to glean everything from the players he’s working alongside and meets at the development complex. He met a few big leaguers prior to the lockout (members of the 40-man roster can’t currently use team facilities) and currently works with other rehabbing Blue Jays prospects like Troy Watson and Jackson Rees. This was Hoglund's first major baseball injury, he said, aside from a few rolled ankles, so he leans on his new teammates all recovering from their own ailments and surgeries at the same time.
Hoglund also leans on three former Ole Miss teammates—Tyler Myers, Calvin Harris, and Max Cioffi—who underwent Tommy John before Toronto’s top pitching prospect. Meyers and Harris had the surgery a year before Hoglund and Cioffi lost his 2021 season to Tommy John a month before Hoglund’s season-ending arm tug. The trio present Hoglund with a sort of Tommy John support group, but the former teammates also show him first-hand the lengthy recovery process he’s only just in the middle of.
Hoglund will still be rehabbing when minor league seasons start this year, and the Blue Jays haven’t had a discussion with him about a potential starting team or league level. The current focus is on furthering his recovery every day and continuing to hit milestones until there’s none left and he’s back on a mound.
“I don't know what’s gonna happen in the next couple months,” Hoglund said. “But I’m just gonna take it one day at a time.”