Name: Jeff Hoffman
Born: January 8, 1993 (21), Latham, New York
Height/Weight: 6'4", 190 pounds
School: East Carolina University (North Carolina)
It's hard to look at Jeff Hoffman and not draw parallels to Matt Harvey, both right-handed pitchers from the northeast who went to college down south. A plus fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touches the upper 90s. A great swing-and-miss breaking ball. Underwhelming college numbers. And now, unfortunately, Tommy John surgery.
For two consecutive years, Hoffman was the captain of the Shaker High School baseball team in Latham, New York. Despite a 1.56 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 63 innings in his senior season and a gutsy performance in the New York State championship game where he tossed a complete game shutout to clinch the win, he went undrafted out of high school. He had previously committed to East Carolina University down in North Carolina and went off to college, where he decided to major in recreation and parks management.
Hoffman earned Conference USA All-Freshman team honors his first year at ECU, going 3-2 with a 3.67 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 73.2 innings. He finished fifth in the league for batting average against (.224), sixth for hits allowed (60), and tenth for runs allowed (33). Though he opened the season in the bullpen, he was used intermittently in it and in the Pirates' starting rotation as the season progressed. The highlight of his season was when he won the Conference USA Pitcher of the Week Award for his performance against Elon University on April 10, when he struck out ten in eight scoreless innings. That summer, he went to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League, where he opened some eyes pitching for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks.
Hoffman's sophomore season built upon his first. Posting a 6-7 record in 15 starts with a 3.20 ERA and 84 strikeouts in 109.2 innings pitched, he led his team in quality starts (11), innings pitched, and strikeouts. Scouts began taking note of his starts. Though he wasn't dominating on the mound, his stuff had made leaps and bounds in terms of its quality, and their interest was piqued. He returned to the Cape Cod Baseball League that summer, and though he pitched a handful of games, his stock shot up. With 33 strikeouts to only 5 walks, it appeared as if Hoffman had harnessed control of his stuff.
Both Baseball America and Perfect Game USA ranked the right-hander as the number two overall prospect in the 2014 MLB Draft before this season, and the young pitcher looked the part as the season began. Through ten starts, Hoffman posted a 2.94 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 20 walks. After a 16-strikeout game against Middle Tennessee on April 17, Hoffman skipped his next start because of arm soreness. It was understandable, given the high strikeout total, but the fact that his velocity had dipped into the high-80s despite sitting in the mid-90s for most of it raised some red flags. He missed a second start, and Dr. James Andrews was consulted when the soreness continued. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Hoffman needed Tommy John surgery.
"It was disappointing for all of us to hear the news regarding Jeff," his coach, Billy Godwin said. "After speaking with Jeff, he and his family have decided this is the best thing for him to do at this time. We are hopeful he will have a quick recovery and be back on the mound very soon. Jeff is one of our leaders on the field, inside the clubhouse and is a tremendous competitor who will definitely be missed."
The Tommy John surgery has obviously hurt his stock some, but the talent and projection that existed before the injury and subsequent elbow surgery still exists, and Hoffman had so much of it that he is unlikely to drop out of the first round completely. In 2011, the Washington Nationals selected Lucas Gioloto with their first round pick, 16th overall, and in 2013, the Kansas City Royals selected Sean Manea with their supplemental first round pick, 34th overall. Both were seen as damaged goods, Gioloto recovering from Tommy John and Manea with a torn hip labrum.
"The competitor in me makes it hard for me to see, maybe, a bunch of guys get picked ahead of me—guys that I know aren't better than me", Hoffman said. "It's going to be tough if I fall a little further. But everything happens for a reason, and whatever team takes the so-called risk and drafts me is going to get the best player in the draft...In the short term, my goal was to be the No. 1 overall pick, because I feel I'm the best player in the draft. That's kind of changed a little bit, but my long-term goal of making an impact on a big league team within two years—that's not changed at all."
What The Scouts Think
Hoffman throws easy heat from an three-quarters arm slot. It sits in the mid-90s and has been clocked as high as 98 miles per hour. Standing 6'4" and weighing 180 pounds, he is a bit lanky, and it stands to reason that he might fill out a little more, possibly adding even more velocity to an already plus fastball. The pitch flattens out a bit when high in the zone, but when the right-hander keeps it down, it has good movement.
His best offspeed pitch, arguably, is his curveball. It is a swing-and-miss plus pitch, clocking in at around 80 miles per hour with good two-plane break. His changeup is also shows plus potential. It sits in the low-80s, giving it a 10-to-15 miler-per-hour gap with his fastball. Hoffman sometimes has a little trouble locating the curveball, which is why it and the change could be switched as his best pitch. The curveball is a better pitch overall, but the changeup can be more consistently thrown. In addition, he also throws a slider, but the pitch lags well behind his other offerings. It has potential, but it needs work to be more than just a pitch in his repertoire that he sometimes throws.
The Tommy John surgery raises a lot of questions about how he will pitch when he recovers. Generally speaking, most pitchers do not show any major negative effects after the surgery, so there is reason to have a positive outlook on Hoffman's future as a pitcher.
What Alex Nelson Thinks
Hoffman's season has ended due to Tommy John surgery, but it's his raw talent that could still get him selected tenth overall. Before the surgery, Hoffman was considered a guy who could go in the top three, and it's easy to see why. He's capable of throwing 98, and he will usually sit 93-96 with the room to add more strength as he develops. Arm strength like that is rare in any draft, and it really stands out in this one. What bothers me the most about him is that his command isn't the best—or even good—and he'll occasionally lose the feel for his curve, which can get a little loopy. When it's on, it's a hard, big breaker, and he'll also show a plus changeup, which has a tendency to be on point more often. His slider should just be scrapped.
He needs to watch his location, because he can be hit hard when he overthrows and leaves his fastball up. Mechanically, I think he's pretty clean, though I wish he'd be a little more aggressive toward the plate to help take the stress off his shoulder. It's unusual for a player as talented as Hoffman to still be available with the tenth pick, but due to the injury, there's a very real chance that Hoffman will still be there when the Mets make their selection. It might be hard to say no.
"I don't know that he will be a top of the rotation arm, but I can see him be a #2/3 type that any team would be happy to have."
—Matt Garrioch, minorleagueball.com