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Colorado Rockies prospect Jeff Hoffman has top of the rotation stuff

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Purple Row Prospect No. 2, Jeff Hoffman

2. Jeff Hoffman (1,106 points, 39 ballots)

The prize in the Troy Tulowitzki trade back in 2015 was Jeff Hoffman, a pitcher who had received top overall draft pick consideration in 2014 due to his elite stuff before needing Tommy John surgery. Hoffman proved he was healthy pitching in the Blue Jays system in 2015 and as such became a coveted trade asset and one of the top 50 prospects in baseball. Once in the Rockies organization, Hoffman continued to regain his pre-injury form at the Double-A level.

The 24 year-old righty starter was assigned to Triple-A Albuquerque to start 2016, where he was pitching against players who were on average 3.7 years older. In 118 23 innings over 22 starts with the Isotopes, Hoffman showed why he was such a coveted arm. He posted a 4.02 ERA in the tough Pacific Coast League (4.13 FIP) with a 1.36 WHIP and 3.3 BB/9, but the most positive sign is that Hoffman was really starting to get the punchouts his stuff indicates he should have be getting. Hoffman had 124 strikeouts on the year for the Isotopes, good for a 9.4 K/9 rate. Hoffman's line was also marred by only three poor starts—11 of his outings were quality starts.

For his last five starts in Albuquerque, the Rockies reduced Hoffman's pitch count as he exceeded his 2015 innings total. Colorado felt good enough about the work Hoffman was putting in (and had enough confidence in his post-TJ arm) to get him a big league stint. In the Show, Hoffman was not good. In eight games (six of them starts), Hoffman threw 31 13 frames of 4.88 ERA ball—a number that his 6.27 FIP suggests was quite lucky. Hoffman never found the right combination of command and stuff, striking out just 6.3/9 and walking 4.9/9 with a 1.72 WHIP.

I’m willing to overlook a rough debut like that for a pitcher with Hoffman’s arsenal and pedigree, but it certainly casts some doubt as to how effective he’ll be at the major league level.

Hoffman is a consensus top 100 prospect in baseball for national prospect writers. The general feeling is that Hoffman wasn't even higher due to difficulty repeating his delivery, which hurts his command profile.

MLB.com ranked Hoffman 44th in the minors, second in Colorado’s system:

When Hoffman is on top of his game, both his fastball and curveball can grade as well above-average pitches. His heater usually operates at 92-95 mph with some sinking and riding life, while his big-breaking curveball can lock up hitters. He uses a slider when he wants a harder breaking ball, and his changeup shows flashes of becoming a plus offering.

With a repertoire that includes four solid-or-better pitches, Hoffman has the ingredients to become a No. 2 starter. He had a track record of not missing as many bats as would be expected given his stuff, and while he racked up more strikeouts in 2016, his control and command regressed. His time in Colorado taught him that he'll have to locate his pitches better to succeed against big leaguers, particularly at Coors Field.

Compared to MLB.com’s midseason list, Hoffman’s fastball, curveball, and control grades were down a tick. Still though, the scouts ranked him as having four pitches that rate as above average combined with average control. Heck, Baseball America rated Hoffman’s curveball as the best in the system.

Keith Law of ESPN.com was lower on Hoffman, ranking him 96th in his top 100 (4th in the system):

Hoffman is a great prospect, but one who just might be in the wrong organization for his repertoire and style of pitching. He's an outstanding athlete gifted with a great arm, throwing 92-97 mph pretty easily even after Tommy John surgery. But his delivery lacks deception and the pitch is true, so when he got to the majors hitters squared it up, putting it in play three times as often as they swung and missed at it. In many environments, that might be OK, but Coors Field punishes balls put in play, so Hoffman might need to pitch somewhat backward.

He can show you an average or better curveball, and above-average changeup, although nothing he threw was very effective in the big leagues last year. There's a mid-rotation starter in here somewhere, but he needs to make a significant adjustment -- it could be trying a two-seamer, or changing his pitching approach -- because the formula he used to get to the majors is going to hinder him from succeeding there.

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs places Hoffman third in the system:

Hoffman reached the majors in his first full season but his performance, stuff, and mechanics have drawn mixed reviews. His fastball sits 92-95 and will touch 97. It has life up in the zone and posted an above-average spin rate at the Futures Game, but Hoffman’s delivery lacks deception and the fastball doesn’t play that well within the strike zone.

He frequently deploys a mid-70s curveball that flashes plus. The pitch has great depth but Hoffman was babying it during his big-league stint and noticeably decelerating his arm as he tried to get it over for strikes. He also throws a mid-80s changeup and slider, both average offerings with projection, but Hoffman struggled with command so badly this year that he rarely worked into counts where he could throw them.

Scouts who have seen Hoffman this year have caught glimpses of the stuff that made him a tantalizing amateur prospect; because of the tough debut, though, his stock is certainly down. He still has a chance to be an upper-crust arm, something in the No. 2- or 3-starter range (which is what I graded him as mid-year) but what we saw in 2016 was not encouraging.

Baseball Prospectus also ranked Hoffman third in the organization:

The Good: Hoffman’s arsenal can go toe-to-toe with any of the best pitching prospects in the minors. His fastball sits in the mid 90s, and he can sink and run the pitch. It can show explosive late life at times, and the velocity comes easily. The slider has passed the curve has his best secondary, but both are potential plus offerings. The slider has sharp two-plane break and he can spot or bury. The mid-80s velocity makes it potentially a true wipeout offering with a bit more refinement. The curve showed more inconsistent than it has in past seasons, but the best ones are 12-6 hammers with big, late downer action. The delivery and body both check the “starting pitcher” boxes.

The Bad: The change is just okay, firm at times, but projects as average with decent tumble. The bigger issue is the command is only average and that might not fly in Coors (though the baseballs will). We generally don’t consider offensive environment for prospects—these evaluations happen in a vacuum—but Hoffman’s fastball can be too much like the chateaubriand of heaters—center-cut—for any park.

The Risks: Coors Field is a Catherine Wheel designed specifically to torture and break your pitching prospects. but Jon Gray had similarly big stuff and a similarly rough cameo and came out the other side as an above-average major-league arm. I’d expect Hoffman to do the same. The command does need to get better though or he may eventually be consigned to the back of the rotation or the bullpen.

Oh yeah, and he’s a pitcher.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball gave Hoffman a B+ as the system’s second best prospect:

Fastball 92-95 with higher peaks; mixes in curveball and change-up; showed steady command in difficult Pacific Coast League but was more tentative in the majors, not unusual of course; I don’t think he’s a future ace but should be a fine mid-rotation arm with more adjustments.

Hoffman has a level of explosiveness in his profile that is typically assigned to a pitcher with upper rotation potential, though his command has at times reduced the effectiveness of his stuff. It would stand to reason that the top of the development list for Hoffman in spring training this year will be improving his command as he bids to make the Opening Day starting rotation.

Will he make break camp with the big league club? I’m not betting against a pitcher with that arsenal despite his ineffectiveness in the majors last year. In fact, I predict he will have a year much closer to what Jon Gray did in 2016 than what he produced in his big league cameo. Either way, I had no qualms about ranking Hoffman second on my ballot and giving him a 60 Future Value as a No. 2 big league starter.