By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
2016 season (Minors): 22 G, 22 GS, 118 2/3 IP, 4.02 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 124 SO, 44 BB
2016 season (Majors): 8 G, 6 GS, 31 1/3 IP, 4.88 ERA, 1.72 WHIP, 22 SO, 17 BB
When Spring Training ended and the 2017 season began, it was a bit of a surprise to see Jeff Hoffman down in Triple-A rather than slotted in the Colorado Rockies’ starting rotation.
Hoffman — a former Top 10 overall draft pick (2014), current No. 2 Rockies prospect and the centerpiece of the Troy Tulowitzki trade with the Toronto Blue Jays — was beaten out for the final two spots in the rotation by lower-ranked prospects Antonio Senzatela and Kyle Freeland.
The young right-hander’s spring wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t enough to get the job done. Hoffman gave up four runs (three earned) on nine hits and two walks with four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings. While Freeland (the Rockies’ No. 6 rated prospect on MLB.com) pitched well in camp, Senzatela (4.61 ERA) wasn’t particularly good so it was a bit of a surprise to see him make the team. It’s clear that the Rockies still think Hoffman needs to work on things before he’s ready to stick in the bigs.
While Hoffman will start the year in Triple-A, he does have a good chance of making his way back up to Colorado sooner than later if he can find some consistency. Hoffman’s performance at Triple-A last year was uneven at times, and things were even worse in the majors. The righty was exposed and didn’t help himself with his poor control (4.88 BB/9). That was an issue at Triple-A too, but at the lower level he was able to work his way around the walks. In order to have success in the Majors — especially at a place like Coors Field — he’s going to need to severely limit the free passes.
Hoffman’s arsenal has the potential to be incredible, as his raw stuff is graded very well. His fastball sits around 92-95 miles per hour with movement, his big looping curveball can earn his some K’s, if he can throw it for strikes, and his slider can also be effective. He also uses a changeup, which was his lowest rated pitch (-3.78) according to Fangraphs’ Pitch Values. That seems to be the pitch that needs more work if he’s going to keep it in his arsenal. He can work the changeup in at around 86 mph, which is a fine gap when he’s throwing 95 mph-fastballs, but the consistency with the pitch is still developing.
Last year was just Hoffman’s second pro season, and at 24 years old he’s still developing. It’s difficult for a starter to adjust to Major League hitters, and it’s even harder when they have to do so at Coors Field. The Rockies’ No. 1 starter and former top prospect Jon Gray is still just 25 years old and coming off a rollercoaster of a rookie season, and he’s ahead of Hoffman in terms of development.
This season will be a crucial one for the Hoffman’s future. If he shows he has nothing left to prove at Triple-A this year, then there probably won’t be anything keeping him from Colorado. Once he gets there, there will be growing pains, but the likely ceiling and hopeful future there for Hoffman is to be right behind Gray to form a 1-2 punch the Rockies have been searching for for years.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo