Rockies fans were spoiled this past year by the successful debuts of so many of the club’s top prospects. Unfortunately, Jeff Hoffman’s debut wasn’t one of those immediately successful ones. While discouraging, it shouldn’t have been unexpected; the vast majority of prospects will struggle at first after being called up, even if most of the Rockies prospects managed to somehow avoid that this past season.
Hoffman has already had an interesting and unique journey to the majors. Once seen as a candidate to be selected first overall in 2014, he dropped to the Blue Jays at No. 9 after needing Tommy John surgery prior to the draft. The fact that he was still drafted that high after needing surgery speaks to how high teams viewed him pre-injury, as well as how common full recovery from that operation is these days.
After being acquired last season as the primary piece of the package that sent Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays, Hoffman has looked fully recovered from the surgery, demonstrating that he still has the stuff that made him a candidate for being a first overall pick.
Hoffman continued to build upon his impressive performance last year as he started the year in Triple-A Albuquerque and put up impressive results. Across 1182⁄3 innings, Hoffman struck out 124 batters while walking 44. The 4.02 ERA isn’t great at first glance, but considering the home field and league that he posted that in looks a lot better.
Hoffman earned an appearance in the 2016 Futures Game as one of three Rockies representatives and continued to impress. That contest was the first time that publicly available Statcast data would be recorded for Hoffman. He showed off a strong combination of velocity (average fastball was 97.3 mph) and spin rate (average fastball spin of 2,519 RPM), which were both well above major league average. Both of those factors also have strong correlation to strikeouts, which are extremely important when one is pitching their home games in Coors Field.
Hoffman was finally promoted to the majors and made his debut on Aug. 20, allowing seven runs in four-plus innings of work against the Cubs’ dynamic lineup. Not all was bad; he shut down the lineup for the first three frames before surrendering big innings in the fourth and fifth, after which he was chased from the game.
Hoffman made four more starts before being moved to the bullpen due to innings restrictions. Much like his first start, those four starts were plagued by big innings due to Hoffman being unable to limit the damage.
Hoffman made two multi-inning bullpen appearances before getting one last start to end the season due to Tyler Anderson being shut down with arm fatigue. In that final start, Hoffman finally showcased his elite stuff in the majors. Working on a strict pitch count, he still breezed through five innings, striking out seven and allowing only one unintentional walk and two hits.
While his overall body of work for the Rockies was still disappointing, once you factor in that Hoffman was pitching more innings than he’s ever pitched before and was possibly dealing with natural arm fatigue it’s not that surprising. Combine that with having to adjust to major league hitters and it’s perfectly normal that he would have some struggles.
While Hoffman’s struggles were more pronounced that Jon Gray’s from last year, it is still entirely possible that Hoffman’s second season will be similar to the one that we saw Gray have this year. There will continue to be struggles as he continues to adjust, but Hoffman’s stuff is on par with Gray’s and should provide some great moments in 2017.