Ten hours of driving and a nasty case of facial sunburn were modest prices to pay for escaping the snow-covered everything of Eastern Pennsylvania. The baseball wasn’t bad either, as I journeyed to Charlottesville to see East Carolina ace Jeff Hoffman, take on a talent-laden lineup from the University of Virginia. The highly touted right-hander did not disappoint.
Hoffman’s physiological build is immediately striking. At a broad-shouldered 6-foot-4, Hoffman checks in at a projectable 19 2 pounds with a set of disproportionately long arms. It’s really a body you’d associate with an NBA combo guard –- Jamal Crawford came to mind in this case –- more so than a baseball player. This isn’t a bad thing, as far as I’m concerned, as Hoffman’s long-limbs give him room to add weight without mechanical disruption as he develops. Right now those mechanics are just fine; exceptionally loose and athletic, but the control and command are not as solid as Hoffman’s athleticism would indicate. Such is the plight of the pitcher with long levers; minor mechanical variances from pitch to pitch are magnified and the control and command suffer. For Hoffman, this manifested in difficulty pitching to his glove side.
There’s enough athleticism here that I’m optimistic about Hoffman developing average control and command, though it may take a little while before he claims acute control of his extremities. If and when that happens, look out, because the stuff is explosive. Hoffman’s fastball sat 94-96 mph and touched 98 early in his start Friday before dipping to the 92-95 range as his outing wore on. That sort of drop doesn’t really concern me in February. It’s a plus-plus fastball on velocity alone but it plays down a little bit because it lacks movement. I’d like to see more two-seamers. He certainly has the arm and finger length to put RPMs on the fastball, and RPMs mean movement.
Hoffman compliments the fastball with three secondary pitches, two of which project as major league weapons. Most frequently Hoffman showed an average changeup in the 86-90 mph range that featured good arm speed and flashed bat-missing, arm side movement. He used the change often, sometimes three pitches in a row, and showed a willingness to pitch backward with it. It showed true plus once or twice and projects there, comfortably, as he continues to learn how to spin it.
The other swing and miss offering on display Friday was what Hoffman calls a slider, a two-plane breaker in the 79-81 mph range that also flashed plus. Hoffman showed a penchant for backdooring this breaking ball for strikes and back-footing it for swings and misses against lefties. He’ll need to tighten it up but it’s another future plus pitch.
Hoffman also showed what was, for me, a throwaway curveball in the low 70s. It was more vertically oriented than the slider but was too loopy and blunt to do any damage at the upper pro levels.
The total package is very enticing. For me, Hoffman’s ceiling is that of a No. 2 big-league starter with three pitches that project to grade out in the 60-70 range to go along with 45-50 command and control, and a body that looks like it will handle a 200-inning workload. Barring injury or some other unforeseen malady, Jeff Hoffman won’t have to wait very long before he hears him name called in June.
Overall Future Projection: 65/70 (No. 2 starter)