I’ve teased in the last few chats that some big updates on the various prospects lists will be out in a few weeks, but I wanted to address some of the most-asked-about prospects I’ve recently scouted in one piece as an appetizer for the big update.
Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays
In Hoffman’s offseason scouting report I noted that he was in contention to go #1 overall until his elbow surgery, just before the 2014 draft where he went ninth overall. He made his first pro appearance this year and started making buzz right away, showing big velocity in a late big-league spring-training appearance, then in extended spring training and in his regular season debut at High-A Dunedin (he was just promoted to Double-A in the last few days). In the video, the first game shown is when I saw Hoffman about a month ago and the second game is when our own Chris King saw his first start for Dunedin about a month before that.
I like to keep all the clips we have of a player in the official video on the FanGraphs YouTube page (now over 1 million views and 1,000 videos in less than a year) for reasons just like this, so we can see the changes over time. Notice from the third game in the video (the summer before he was drafted, in the Cape Cod League) how aggressive Hoffman’s delivery is (and the knockout curve at 3:00) and note that much of that is still there in the second game, his pro debut in Dunedin. Now look at the first game, the most recent one, and notice how much more upright, stiff and generally tall-and-fall his delivery is, rather than attacking the plate.
This lower effort approach manifested in Hoffman’s stuff as well: he still threw 93-97 mph as usual, but intentionally didn’t throw his best curveball with the most arm speed, except once or twice in the game. Other scouts confirmed they’ve seen the same thing recently, where he dials down the curve on purpose. This effectively took a 65-70 pitch and made it a 55 pitch, in most cases. In my look, Hoffman was also trying a new pitch at 87-88 mph that looked like a cutter, but had little action on it and he put it away pretty quickly.
With Hoffman now having very similar mechanics to another Blue Jays righty, Aaron Sanchez (Video), it would appear Toronto is looking to decrease the risk of re-injury for a power pitcher coming off elbow surgery. There’s less aggression in the delivery, a little more crossfire in the mechanics, less spin on the curveball, more changeups and a pitching style designed to draw weak contact early in the count, which explains the low strikeout rate and low pitch-per-inning figures.
These aren’t all bad things: there’s real value in improving the changeup, which was above average at times for me, increasing deception and having shorter at-bats. That said, if this is the plan going forward, Toronto is taking a potential monster (think peak Adam Wainwright or Justin Verlander) and making him into just a solid starter. This could just be a short-term approach until the elbow surgery gets further in the rear-view mirror (Hoffman threw 61 pitches over five innings in my look) and then let him loose later, allowing Hoffman’s athleticism to show up on the mound. I hope that’s the plan, because Toronto is considerably lowering Hoffman’s upside with these changes and I don’t think it’s increasing his probability or shortening his path to the big leagues enough to justify it.
Hoffman is still a 55 FV as I had him preseason, though once the delivery is let loose and the old stuff is showing up on every pitch, I would bump him up a tier and maybe two, eventually.
Alex Reyes, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals
Reyes was making a lot of buzz with his first starts this spring and I talked to a scout in April who saw one of those appearances: Reyes was 96-99, touching 101 mph for four innings before slipping to 94-97 mph. Entering this year, I had Reyes’ sitting 92-95, hitting 97 mph, so while this is a nice jump, Reyes was exactly the kind of pitcher that could exhibit a velo increase — although no scout projects a guy to hit 101 mph. I was also told that Reyes’ curveball that flashed 60 in most 2014 outings was now at least a notch better and his changeup/command were still in the playable area to allow him to continue starting.
That report checked out when I saw Reyes about a month ago in Florida, in what ended up being his last start before going on the DL with shoulder soreness. There was no indication of that forthcoming soreness in the start I scouted and Reyes just had his first rehab start, so he should be back to normal soon. Reyes hit 101 mph for me in the first inning and sat 96-100 for the whole six-inning outing, only throwing three fastballs below 96 mph (all three were 95 mph) and hitting 100 or 101 mph on 10 occasions.
The fastball is so explosive out of Reyes’ hand that the movement varies from pitch to pitch. There was plus cut at times and above-average two-seam life at times, usually varying based on what side of the plate he was throwing to, underlining how much raw talent is here once Reyes can harness it. He had 35 or 40 command early in the outing, but after he settled in and relaxed a bit, he flashed the elements for 50 command and left me thinking there’s a starter in here with some work. Reyes’ delivery has some effort at release, as you’d expect, but the arm circle is short, as with most elite velocity starters, and the arm is very fluid.
This indicates to me that if Reyes tones down the effort at release and recoil, the command should improve due to the ease and limited circle of the arm action. The shorter arm circle means the arm travels less ground from glove break to release and there are then less potential timing issues for hitting his spots. Go look for a long arm action on a big-league starter with average or better command and you won’t find many: this is a near prerequisite to project command to improve at this late stage of development.
The curveball is a present 55 and future 65 for me, but I wouldn’t argue with a scout that saw this as a future 70 — there are so few curveballs this good that scouts’ scale will differ. The shape can turn into a slider at times and it doesn’t appear to be on purpose, but that consistency in shape will likely come with a toned-down delivery. The changeup was 87-90 mph and flashed solid average once or twice, but it’s very firm with mostly vertical movement, so Reyes has to locate it down in the zone or else is turns into not a BP fastball but actually a near-league-average fastball. I think it can turn into a consistent average pitch and reminds me of the changeups of Taijuan Walker, Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow at the same stage: big power arms with some feel trying to figure out consistency with a hard changeup.
I would guess Reyes spends the rest of the minor-league season in the minors working on these things, but limiting his innings so he can be a short- or long-relief option for St. Louis down the stretch. If the command stays around the 35 or 40 that it was early in this game, he won’t last long in the bigs, but if Reyes can stay healthy and make slight adjustments, 45 command will work just fine for an inning or two with this kind of stuff.
Reyes was a 55 FV in my preseason rankings (76th overall), but he would now be a 60 FV and there’s still a little ceiling to get even higher than that if he makes the necessary adjustments.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.