Eighteen-year-olds don’t usually turn down $2 million job offers.
That’s exactly what Gunnar Hoglund, an elite pitcher from just north of Tampa, Fla., did last Friday. As the 5 p.m. deadline for MLB teams to sign their draft picks came and went, the righty wasn’t inking a contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who took him in the first round* last month. He was attending summer school at Ole Miss.
*Technically he was drafted in what the MLB calls a “competitive balance” round between the first and second rounds.
Few people thought Hoglund would honor his commitment to the Rebels after he came off the board as the No. 36 overall pick, which carries a draft slot value of $1,967,900. The day after being drafted, Hoglund himself said that he’d already reached a verbal contract agreement with the Pirates.
That contract never got signed. Hoglund hasn’t commented publicly on his decision, but it sounds like it had less to do with some sort of financial dispute with Pittsburgh and more to do with just wanting to play ball in Oxford.
“We had conviction that we would be able to sign Gunnar when we made the selection,” a Pirates scouting director said in a statement, “but as the signing process evolved, it became clear that Gunnar viewed attending [the] University of Mississippi as the best decision for him at this point in his life.”
News broke two weeks ago that Hoglund had shown up at Ole Miss freshman orientation, prompting speculation that he would turn down the Pirates. Rebel fans had to sweat it out through last week’s deadline, but to hear Mike Bianco tell it, Hoglund’s mind was made up as soon as he stepped on campus.
“Once he got here, it was pretty evident this is where he will be for at least three years,” Bianco told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It was a big decision and a tough decision, but I think they got to the point where a decision had to be made. At some point, the negotiations broke off.”
Hoglund will be the second highest drafted player to ever suit up for the Rebels (Alan Horne was the 27th pick in 2001), and its not hard to see why he went so high. He has a curveball and changeup to go along with a fastball that’s already touching 95 and he has mind-boggling control with all three pitches: of the 186 batters he faced as a senior, he struck out 105 and walked just two (both of which came in the final game of the season while he was sick with the damn flu). Hell, he told Rebel Grove that he had just six three-ball counts through his first 50 innings of the season.
Getting such a developed talent is huge for Bianco, who just lost all three of his weekend starters to the draft. Will Ethridge, Jordan Fowler and Houston Roth are the early favorites to step into those roles, but Hoglund will probably have a legit chance to join the competition. He could also step in for Fowler as the midweek guy or help replace Ethridge and Roth in the bullpen.
Not that he’ll be limited to the mound: Bianco said that Hoglund, who hit .385 with four homers last season, could be a two-way player in Oxford.
Get ready to hear this dude’s name a lot over the next three years.