Jeff Hoffman Surprisingly Polished in Return from Surgery by Chris King May 29, 2015 The Blue Jays’ farm got stronger last week, as last summer’s first-round pick, right-hander Jeff Hoffman, made his pro debut for High-A Dunedin. Hoffman was in the mix to go #1 overall last year until he underwent Tommy John surgery just before the draft and slid to ninth overall. The 6-foot-4 righty has the size and athleticism to support his frontline starter stuff, which was already back in his first regular season after surgery. Fastball – 65/75 Hoffman came out establishing his fastball and showed his premium arm speed, sitting 95-98 and touching 99 mph early on. The pitch had life up in the zone and, when located down, the heater had good run and sink. It’s a heavy pitch that has the ability to swallow up opposing hitters’ barrels. In the second inning, Hoffman was leaving the pitch up and out over the plate, causing it straighten out. He was hit hard and loud that inning, but that was the only bump in the road. Hoffman allowed four runs on four hits that inning, but put up zeros in the other four innings, scattering another four hits. He also showed the ability to hold his premium velocity while working out of the stretch, sitting 93-97 mph. The fastball command was better than I anticipated, as well. Even though he was getting squeezed a bit, Hoffman was regularly working the fastball to both corners and moving it up and down in the zone. Fastball command is usually one of the last traits to return after an injury like his, so it’s an encouraging sign to see glimpses of it this early. Curveball – 55/65 To go along with the smoke, Hoffman mixed in his secondary pitches as the outing wore on: a filthy power curve and a changeup for which he didn’t have a great feel early on. The breaking ball was 79-81 mph and featured sharp, late bite and length to the break. He has extreme confidence in this pitch and will throw it at any time, to both lefties and righties. It was best used in this outing versus lefties, as he would back door it when ahead in the count. The curveball caused some very awkward and defensive swings, but he had some trouble throwing it for a strike to his glove side, which is understandable at this stage of his rehab. Changeup – 45/50 Hoffman’s third-best offering is another power pitch, a changeup, that he ran up to 90 mph but threw mostly in the high 80s. Early in the outing, Hoffman’s feel for the pitch was non-existent, but he slowly worked it into his pitch mix and found his touch with it in the later innings. He did a good job of keeping it below the knees once he gained feel for the pitch. When it was right, there was good depth, some fade and, overall, enough flashes to project it as an average offering in the future, though I’m told it was above average in some pre-surgery outings. Command – 40/50+ Hoffman had a successful first outing, with crisper stuff and command than many were expecting. I would project his command to settle as average to slightly above, given the positive indicators with the athleticism, delivery and feel he showed today. The size, mechanics, demeanor, and arsenal are all in place for Hoffman to develop into a front-of-the-rotation starter if he can stay healthy and keep progressing. Notes on other players from this game: Abiatal Avelino, SS, Yankees: Avelino has been a bit under the radar in his young career, but he played well in the GCL two years ago and looked great again here in the FSL. He has quick, soft hands, solid range and an above-average arm that’s plenty strong for the left side. At the plate, he makes consistent contact and has a good feel for the barrel, with enough speed to contribute on the bases as well. Last time I saw him, he was more of a slap hitter, but he showed more strength in this viewing, looking to drive the ball. His above-average bat speed is still there and it was plenty fast enough to square up premium velocity against Hoffman, also hitting a homer later in the game. Tyler Wade, 2B, Yankees: Wade and Avelino are a fun middle-infield duo to watch. Wade has a lot of shortstop in his game (he’s played there in pro ball and still can) and makes playing second base look easy. He’s very smooth and fluid with his actions and showed excellent footwork working around the bag. At the plate, Wade has a short and sweet-looking lefty stroke. While he showed some swing and miss in this game, the swing plane he has keeps the bat in the zone long enough and should allow him to make plenty of contact moving forward. I can see why Wade landed on Kiley’s prospect list last offseason, as the ability to play either middle-infield spot while squaring the ball up on a consistent basis with feel for the game is plenty to consider Wade a solid prospect.