MLB enthusiasts know very well the plight of East Carolina pitcher Jeff Hoffman, a consensus candidate for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 MLB draft before undergoing Tommy John surgery last month.
For all intents and purposes, Hoffman's stock took a nosedive as soon as he went under the knife.
Don't count on it.
It is fun to blow injuries out of proportion, but media narratives have not exactly caught up with how the folks in the know actually feel about these sorts of things.
Look to the NFL for a quick example. The 2014 iteration of the draft featured a defensive tackle out of Florida by the name of Dominique Easley, who tore both ACLs during his collegiate career. Despite this, the New England Patriots took him at No. 29 overall in the first round.
Like knee ligament tears, the dreaded Tommy John surgery is not exactly as serious as it used to be. According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, the operation is a success about 90 percent of time.
Now, MLB front offices are surely not too keen on taking risks of any sort, no matter what the percentages say. But we're talking about a 6'4" hurler at 21 years of age who has a fastball that has touched 98 mph and an overall arm that may still be the best in class.
There are statistical implications that only further this argument, as Heyman details:
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.
Sorry, but those sorts of numbers and measurables will not just be ignored for a 10 percent risk. It hurts Hoffman that the 2014 class is hailed as an extremely deep one, but he is, at a minimum, the third-worst pitcher on the board after one ponders his injury predicament.
There is a reason Hoffman garnered rave reviews such as the one detailed by journalist Danny Knobler back in April:
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
For his part, Hoffman seems mentally prepared for a draft-day tumble, as captured by Tyler Kepner of The New York Times:
The competitor in me makes it hard for me to see, maybe, a bunch of guys get picked ahead of me — guys that I know aren’t better than me, some guys out of high school that don’t really understand the game of baseball yet. It’s going to be tough if I fall a little further. But everything happens for a reason, and whatever team takes the so-called risk and drafts me is going to get the best player in the draft.
My attitude is, it’s done and over with,” he said. “With pitchers these days, I hate to say it, but it’s bound to happen, especially when guys are throwing at high velocity for a long period of time. It’s just too much on the human body. They’re going to have to get repaired sooner or later.
Hoffman hit the nail on the head near the conclusion of his thoughts—at this stage of baseball's evolution, the operation is a rite of passage for pitchers thanks to ludicrous workloads on their way to the majors.
Where will Hoffman be selected?
Perhaps teams in the majors should be happy Hoffman is getting his out of the way.
Also, remember that Hoffman, along with N.C. State's Carlos Rodon, is viewed as a safer pick than high school pitchers such as Brady Aiken and Tyler Kolek—meaning, it takes just one team in search of an elite and experienced arm to choose Hoffman over younger players in the top five.
Drafts in each and every league around the globe have a way of shocking fans. There is a major chance Hoffman's situation is one of the bigger surprises come draft day, so don't be surprised when he comes off the board in the top five despite all of the turmoil raised over a recent injury.