Jeff Hoffman Debut, Electric Boogaloo

I first saw Jeff Hoffman pitch in February of 2014, when he was a junior at East Carolina, and thought I was seeing the guy who would later go first overall in that June’s draft. Hoffman was electric, sitting 92-96 mph, touching 98 and showing feel for four pitches on a chilly, late-winter’s day in Virginia. Best amateur slider I’ve ever seen aside, Hoffman was better than Carlos Rodon that spring in every way and likely would have demanded consideration for the top overall selection (which eventually became Brady Aiken) in a class full of prospects with question marks up top.

But Hoffman broke. He had Tommy John in May of 2014. It was the second year in a row (Lucas Giolito) that the draft’s most talented right-handed arm was injured. The situation was a precarious one for Hoffman. If the injury torpedoed his stock, it would be hard for him to thumb his nose at the team that drafted him and return to school because, even with an aggressive recovery from TJ, he’d only be able to make a couple of starts as a senior before the 2015 draft and maybe not pitch at all. Alas, the Blue Jays saw the opportunity to grab a top-three talent at pick #9 and signed him for slot value, $3.1 million.

Hoffman made his pro debut in May of 2015, just about a year after surgery, and was touching 97. He made just 13 starts for the Blue Jays organization before headlining the Troy Tulowitzki trade later that summer.

The 2016 season has been Jeff Hoffman’s first full pro one, all of it coming at Triple-A. He sports a 4.02 ERA (PCL caveats apply) and has struck out 124 innings in 118.2 innings while walking 44.

Hoffman will mostly sit 93-96 and touch as high as 98. His fastball lacks horizontal movement and, because he frequently doesn’t finish his delivery out over his front side, he leaves it up. Making one’s living by working up in the zone with a fastball at Coors Field is a bit of a high-wire act, but at the Futures Game in July, Hoffman’s fastball exhibited a well above-average spin rate. Perhaps Hoffman’s combination of spin and location will lead to lots of swings and misses. He’ll at least have more margin for error because of the pure velocity.

Hoffman’s best secondary offering has been a low-80s curveball. It flashes plus-plus and is routinely plus with lots of depth and bite though, as with his fastball, Hoffman will throw some complete duds when he doesn’t finish his delivery. He can throw the curveball for strikes in the zone and often does so to start off at-bats.

We know that Coors suppresses curveball quality and that might make Hoffman’s burgeoning slider more important as his career trudges forth. Though he uses it far less frequently than the curveball right now, Hoffman’s slider is flashing plus and he has some feel for locating it down and to his glove side. His use of the pitch is fairly limited at this point, purely as a pitcher’s count surprise to garner swings and misses, but on pure stuff it looks like it’s going to be a significant weapon and, because of what Denver does to Uncle Charlie, I think there’s a chance it eventually becomes his primary breaking ball.

Hoffman’s changeup is fringe average but I think it still has some projection. Hoffman is 23 but, remember, this is still just his first full pro season, he lost a year to TJ and hails from New York. There are some late-bloomer elements to his background and I think we’ll see an above-average changeup eventually.

Hoffman’s command has waxed and waned this year, but his last few starts have been better. He hasn’t had consistent strike-throwing issues since June and is more readily locating his fastball inside to left-handed hitters (and his fastball actually does exhibit decent run when he locates it there) which helps set up both of his breaking balls and, as I said before, he’s throwing the curveball for strikes as well. It’s probably only fringe-to-average control and command right now but I think it will be above average with time.

As Hoffman has retained his pre-injury stuff so, too, have I retained my high opinion of his future. I think discourse about the quality of his fastball beyond its pure velocity is legitimate and the odd concoction of its movement (or lack thereof), spin rate and how those two things interact with the way Hoffman locates it make it a hard pitch to evaluate — but also that will be particularly fascinating to watch in the majors. Regardless, he throws hard, which I like, and the palette of secondary offerings Hoffman deploys is robust. I think he has a chance to be a #2/3 type of starter and make some All-Star teams despite pitching in hell.

Jeff Hoffman, Tool Profile
Tool Present Future
Fastball 60 60
Curveball 60 60
Slider 50 60
Changeup 45 55
Command 45 55
FV 65

Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Trey Baughn
6 years ago

This reads like a fairly glowing report on Hoffman. He’ll have a tough test vs. Cubs in his first start (in COL), but looking forward to his debut. Do you see higher upside with Hoffman than Jon Gray?