HUDSON — There is a 5-foot space between the backstop fence and the press box at Fivay High School's baseball field. On a night in early April, as the Falcons prepared to play district rival Nature Coast, that space was jam-packed with Major League Baseball scouts.
An unofficial count had 19 scouts jockeying for position. They were there to see Fivay ace Gunnar Hoglund pitch against Nature Coast ace J.P. Gates. Gates, a left-hander who is committed to Miami, has been dominant since his freshman year. Hoglund, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander who is committed to Mississippi, has been almost as good in his high school career.
As Hoglund rocked back on the mound to throw his first pitch, the radar guns went up. Scouts glanced at the screen before jotting down notes. Most of the guns had Hoglund throwing between 88-93 mph. At his best, he can reach 96.
Another pitch and up went the radar guns. Hoglund is always highly aware of the scouts' presence.
"I notice it," he said. "I just try to take it as just another game. The way I look at it, when they are there it just gets me pumped up even more. It's more nervous and exciting, but I like that."
This season was much different than any other he has had.
Hoglund was the lone bright spot on a team that went 7-16 in 2017. He pitched 50 ⅓ innings, struck out 86 and walked eight. He went relatively unnoticed on a team that didn't make the postseason. In fact, prior to this season, he has never played on a Fivay team that has had a winning record.
The Falcons ended the year 17-8, losing to Hernando in the Class 5A, District 7 semifinal. Hoglund pitched that game while trying to shake the flu and recorded his first two, and only, walks of the season. He had an eye-popping 105 strikeouts.
He finished his senior year 7-0 with a 0.27 ERA.
"He's very accurate," senior catcher Casey Schaub said. "He might miss a spot every once in a while, but that's very rare."
Hoglund has vaulted himself into being a possible early-round pick in Monday's first-year player draft. He is considered a top 100 prospect by many analysts. If that happens, he will have a decision to make: college ball or pro?
"We've been hearing a lot of things, especially with the season I'm having," Hoglund said. "It's definitely a possibility and I'm trying to decide."
He is more than just a pitcher. Also a first baseman, he hit .385 with 20 RBIs and four home runs. He's good enough in the field that he could also be drafted as a position player.
"Whatever they want me to do," Hoglund said.
Hoglund did not attend Fivay as a student. He graduated from Dayspring Academy in Port Richey, part of the school's first graduating class (21 students) in the secondary division. He had a 4.4 grade-point average. If he does go to college he will already have earned a two-year degree due to his classes at Dayspring.
Fivay has never been known for its baseball, and Hoglund thought about transferring to a team with better playoff chances.
"That was a possibility for sure," Hoglund said. "I had one coach my freshman year, then another my sophomore year, then our coach quit my senior year and C.J. (Smith) took over. So I was thinking about making a change. But ultimately I decided to stay here."
His teammates were grateful. When Hoglund was on the mound the Falcons had a very good chance of winning. Florida High School Athletic Association rules limit a starting pitcher to 105 pitches. Hoglund was held to about 80 per game, which is why he only completed four of the 10 games he started.
Hoglund actually had legendary status before he started playing for Fivay. In Little League and summer travel ball, Hoglund was the player no one wanted to face.
"When I was younger I was terrified of him," Gates said. "He was huge. He was hitting balls 300 feet at 12 years old. He was dominant, crazy good. They used to hit home runs off me left and right. Him and (Mitchell's) Jakob Mattos."
And he was the player coaches left alone.
"He was the only pitcher we didn't call pitches for," former Team Florida travel team and current Seminole coach Rob Ciaravino said. "He was 11 years old and he was already smarter than us. He was unhittable as a kid and he's unhittable now."
Soon, Hoglund will find out what his next step will be. He has earned high praise at every level he has played, but he was never sure he would be considered a major-league prospect.
"It's a blessing," Hoglund said. "Just to see how far I've come. Four years ago I never thought I'd be in this situation. It's crazy."