The Toronto Blue Jays took the leap of faith and pulled the trigger on East Carolina starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman.
MLB reported the pick:
Heading into the 2014 season, Hoffman was a near lock for the top five of the MLB First-Year Player Draft. Then came news in May that he would have Tommy John surgery, per ESPN's Keith Law:
RHP Jeff Hoffman of @ECUBaseball will have Tommy John surgery next week. Had been a probable top 4 pick in the draft before injury.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) May 7, 2014
The procedure and subsequent recovery will wipe Hoffman out until the middle of the 2015 season at the earliest. The Blue Jays know this but decided that drafting the junior right-hander was worth it anyway.
Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan thought that Hoffman wouldn't fall much further than the middle of the first round. That's how talented he is:
Jeff Hoffman almost assuredly will still be a mid-first-round pick. Lucas Giolito had elbow problems and eventual TJ and went 16th to Nats.— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) May 7, 2014
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com also crafted a defense of selecting the Pirates ace early:
Consider that the top-5 picks, which Hoffman would have been without the surgery, produced an average 9.2 WAR over a recent 10-year period (2001-10), while picks 6-10 produced an average of 6.3 over the same period. If you factor in that Tommy John surgery has close to a 90-percent success ratio, the numbers suggest Hoffman may be worth a try at 6-10 since he's seen as a top-five talent.
Some execs might still prefer not to take any risk, especially if they have only one high pick. That is leading many to speculate that the Blue Jays, who have picks No. 9 and No. 11, could be the one to take that chance.
CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler spoke to a scout who compared Hoffman to Justin Verlander to put everything in perspective:
One scout after watching East Carolina’s Jeff Hoffman: “This guy has to be Justin Verlander’s brother.” Cubs execs were in to see him.— Danny Knobler (@DannyKnobler) April 28, 2014
Clint Longenecker of Baseball America provided a brief scouting report of Hoffman once the news came down that he'd have Tommy John surgery:
The last time Hoffman took the mound was April 17, arguably his best outing of the season in front of many key evaluators picking in the first five overall picks. His fastball sat 94-96 mph, touching 97 in a 16-strikout performance. But his velocity briefly dipped to 89-90 at the end of the outing. [...]
The righthander has easy mid-90s velocity and two offspeed pitches that show at least plus potential in addition to above-average control. In 67 innings this season, Hoffman struck out 9.6 per nine against 2.7 walks per nine.
Back in November at ECU's scout day, Longenecker praised Hoffman's command, especially on the outer thirds and his fastball, which Longenecker wrote is "impressive not only because of its pure velocity but because of the above-average movement and life he generates."
Also notable about the scout day was Hoffman's slider. He commented on the development of his pitch, via Longenecker.
"I was a true curveball guy all the time until the middle of last year, and then I developed this slider," he said. "It is not a true slider but more of a curveball that I throw harder. I try to use it against good lefthanded hitters and back-foot them with two strikes. It is more of a two-strike wipeout pitch."
Between an overpowering fastball and above-average breaking ball, Hoffman should have the arsenal necessary to succeed in the major leagues once he arrives there.
Over time, Hoffman could prove to be one of the 2014 draft's biggest steals. Take out the Tommy John surgery, and he could've potentially been picked No. 1 overall. Instead, Toronto got him at a cut-rate price. You can't ask for more out of the first round.
Drafting Hoffman comes with some risks, but the Blue Jays have to be all too happy to take the chance that he'll fulfill his massive potential.