Last week, Fangraphs posted a video on Youtube of Jays' prospect Jeff Hoffman, who is making his pro debut in High-A. The first half filmed him in pro ball this season and the second half showed the 22-year-old's domination in College at East Carolina. The difference is stark: not in a good way. My question is, given Hoffman’s pedestrian stats in High-A Dunedin (6.1K/9, 1.321 WHIP), is it time to be concerned about the 2014’s 9th overall pick?
I think, for the purpose of this article, it would be nice to provide a quick background on Hoffman. He was seen by many scouts, myself included, as the top arm talent-wise in the 2014 draft class. His fastball sat in the mid to high 90s with great breaking movement into right-handers, a pitch that was nearly impossible to barrel up. His curveball looked like a plus-plus pitch as well. To top that combo off, Hoffman’s change and control had the potential to above-average. An arm-injury that would require Tommy John held Hoffman back from being taken in the top 5, but, indicative of his upside, he was still taken by the Blue Jays at No. 9 overall.
Once an aggressive, athletic-looking, up-tempo starter, now Jeff appears tall and stiff and laid-back. He does not burst off the mound like he used to, and his delivery is incredibly slow compared to his college motion. The results of this new pace are clearly seen in his stuff. It just does not have the same bite anymore. Reports say his fastball has not lost velocity, which is a good sign for this recovery, but that pitch that dove into right-handers last season hardly moves at all right now.
Hoffman’s curveball may be the biggest casualty from the surgery and revised motion. You can observe for yourself in the video at the end of the article, but it does not take a scout to notice the parity between the 2014 and ’15 offerings.
Kiley McDaniel of Fangrapsh suggests that perhaps Toronto is attempting to lower the risk of re-injury for Hoffman by forcing him to "dial down his curveball" and put less effort in his delivery. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t know if I agree with taking a potential frontline starter in Hoffman and morphing him into a No. 3 or No. 4. That’s essentially what he’s become at this point. Two things could be happening here. Either Toronto is forcing Hoffman to neglect his athleticism and true talent in favor of a safe recovery, or he is just struggling to consistently put away A-ball hitters, as the low strikeout and high hit totals show. I think it is a combination of both the front office erring on the side of caution and Hoffman’s diminished abilities.
Now it's your turn: are you concerned about Hoffman's struggles? And how do you feel about Toronto's strategy regarding one of their top pitching prospects?