At some point this season we are likely to see Colorado Rockies prospect Jeff Hoffman in the majors. Currently pitching for the Albuquerque Isotopes in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, Hoffman is off to a good early start. In his first outing against Tacoma on April 9th he threw six shutout innings on five hits, three walks, and six strikeouts. Yesterday against Reno he went seven strong frames, allowing two runs on three hits and a walk, fanning three.
Hoffman was a key component in the big Troy Tulowitzki trade last summer. Here's my current thinking on his future.
First, the basics from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:
As you no doubt know, Hoffman was drafted in the first round by the Blue Jays in 2014 despite needing Tommy John surgery. He came back quickly, pitched well, then was traded to the Rockies in the Troy Tulowitzki blockbuster deal. The surgery hasn’t hurt his arm strength at all: he immediately regained his 93-96 MPH fastball with peaks at 98-99. Scouts rate his curveball as high as 70 on the 20-80 scale. The change-up isn’t as good as the fastball and curve but it is usable and should improve with more innings. Hoffman’s strikeout rate is not as high as you’d expect given his stuff and he’s probably a little less refined than the surface numbers and his reputation imply. Another year in the high minors to polish the change-up and build his stamina back up seems wise. Watch for any spike in K/IP, which would presage an accelerated timetable. Grade B+.
Hoffman didn't see much action in big league camp, just 4.2 innings in a pair of games, giving up nine hits, two walks, and four runs, fanning three. On the positive side he was clocked as high as 96 MPH and has clearly regained his pre-Tommy John arm strength.
Back in March, Tyler Maun at Milb.com interviewed Hoffman. There's some interesting stuff there, particularly Hoffman's comments comparing the Blue Jays approach to the Rockies more patient approach. He also noted feeling 100% physically and also not feeling out of place in big league camp, in contrast to how he apparently felt last spring with the Jays.
There were some comments last fall that Hoffman's mechanics had lost some smoothness compared to college; Dan Farnsworth mentions this in his Fangraphs report. You can see what he is talking about by comparing this 2014 video from Kendall Rogers of Hoffman in college
To this 2015 video from Fangraphs
To my eye, there does seem more effort in the delivery last year.
Here's another video from 2015, via Milb.com
Then compare that to video from yesterday's start.
Does 2016 look a bit smoother? I think so.
In any event, the environment in the Pacific Coast League will challenge Hoffman as it does all pitchers, though this is good training for what he'll face in Colorado. When he's right he has the stuff and command to be a number two starter in my view. We'll have to see how aggressive the Rockies are with pushing him, and keep track of that strikeout rate.