Scouting the Prospects in the Tulowitzki Trade

Lead Prospect Analyst Kiley McDaniel is currently scouting the East Coast Pro prep showcase in Tampa, Florida. What follows is a collection of scouting reports written by McDaniel concerning the three players traded by Toronto to Colorado in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki — compiled and updated to account both for recent developments and/or likely role with the Rockies.

Jeff Hoffman, RHP, Colorado Rockies, FV: 55

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, in which 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. It may not be worth doing for Colorado for the rest of this season, but they’ll have a chance to get the most out of Hoffman if they loosen the reigns in 2016.

Miguel Castro, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Video), FV: 50

The currently 6-foot-5/190-pound Castro signed for a smaller bonus as a projection bet in 2012; he sat in the low 90s with rough offspeed and not a ton of feel, but a clean arm and projectable frame. He’s taken off since then with 2014 his breakout season. Castro sat 93-96 mph the entire season and got even stronger as the year wore on, sitting 96-98 mph in a short instructs outing last fall.

Castro is still young, very long-limbed, and a power arm more than a pitcher at this point, so there’s still plenty of work to be done but the starter traits are here. Castro’s changeup is his best offspeed pitch and it’s consistently above average, helped by the deception from fastball arm speed and the threat of his fastball. The question, along with the command, is the breaking ball. Castro’s slider is below average in some outings and flashes solid average in others, and it is best at his peak velocity, with the arm speed making the pitch crisper.

There’s a lot of elements of Yankees RHP Luis Severino here and there’s more projection, but the command, consistency and changeup are all a little behind at this point. I got some very late positive reports and slid him up to a 50 FV just before Opening Day, from the 45+ FV grade I put on him for the top-200 list.

I’m not sure we’ve learned much about Castro in 2015 with the Blue Jays peculiar usage of the 20-year-old. He’s been used mostly in relief and two or three levels above where he should be for the ideal development as a starter. I could guess he’d have problems throwing strikes against the best hitters in the world at an age where most top prospects are in college or A-Ball. I’ll leave him as a 50 FV (projected fourth starter or closer, with solid chance for a notch more or less, due to injury/general young pitcher risk). The Rockies have two very impressive balls of clay to work with between Castro and Hoffman.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Video), FV: 40+

Tinoco signed for $400,000 in September of 2011 out of Venezuela and, despite signing for the least, was the best of the triumvirate of top-shelf Venezuelan pitching prospects in the Jays system, ahead of Juan Meza and Adonys Cardona. Tinoco is 6-foot-4/190 pounds and projectable, but already sits 92-95, hitting 97 mph with heavy sink. His slider and changeup both flash above average and some in the Toronto organization thought his upside is right there with Matt Smoral and maybe even higher, since Tinoco is a year younger and has more feel. The starter traits are here, but it’s still early in the process. Tinoco was 90-92 mph in instructs last fall, so there’s still a young pitcher getting stretched out early in his career. He’s performed well this year, in the same age-20 season as Castro, and possesses the raw ingredients to become a future starter at any point. That said, a scout with whom I spoke today said that, while Tinoco’s stuff remains about the same as in the past, the feel is not quite as good and he profiles more as a reliever right now.

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.

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CC AFCmember
8 years ago

Is the idea behind changing Hoffman’s delivery to protect against re-injury common for minor leaguers? You mentioned the Jays doing the same thing with Sanchez. Do other teams do this?

Is there any evidence you’re aware of that Hoffman’s prior delivery would lead him to be injury prone, or is it just kind of a guess that a more upright delivery might reduce the injury chance? Or is just kind of a guess at a possible cause, like the Verducci effect? Not saying they’re wrong, I’m just curious to know more about the thinking behind a possibly temporary change in delivery.


Dick Trickle
8 years ago
Reply to  CC AFC

Hoffman’s arm is still late in the video above. Longevity is questionable.