Tommy John surgery may be scaring some teams away from taking right-handed pitcher Jeff Hoffman within the early picks of the 2014 MLB draft, but those teams will be missing out on one of the next great pitchers of the bigs.
The East Carolina standout presumably hurt himself during a 117-pitch outing on April 17, as Bret Strelow of the Fay Observer pointed out:
After recording 16 strikeouts while throwing 117 pitches over eight innings in a 1-0 victory against Middle Tennessee on April 17, Hoffman missed his last two scheduled starts due to arm soreness. With a 97-mph fastball, power slider, 12-to-6 curveball and changeup at his disposal, he was ranked recently as Baseball America's No. 5 draft prospect, putting him two spots behind N.C. State ace Carlos Rodon.
OK, MLB fans: Which star pitcher in the bigs does that scouting report provided by Strelow remind you of?
I'll give you one guess.
Just in case you're stumped, baseball journalist Danny Knobler noted a comparison he heard to a pitcher that won the American League MVP a few seasons ago:
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
Yes, Justin Verlander.
Verlander, of course, owns a career record of 143-81 with a 3.43 ERA and 1,728 strikeouts over 1,851 innings pitched as of June 4. He was also the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year and winner of the 2011 AL Cy Young and MVP.
Calling somebody "the next Justin Verlander" is a bit ridiculous, as he is one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball. In terms of Hoffman's arsenal, though, the similarities are obvious. Even their builds are similar. Verlander is 6'5", 225 pounds. Hoffman is 6'4", 180 pounds. Hoffman will fill out with time.
Tommy John surgery should not scare teams away from MLB's next big ace. Jon Heyman, of CBS Sports, noted the surgery has about a 90 percent success rate, meaning Hoffman is well worth the calculated risk.
It's amazing that teams might be willing to pass up on Hoffman for a lesser prospect just because he'll be unable to pitch in games for about a year. As a college prospect, Hoffman is already farther along in his development than a high schooler.
If this was a high schooler we were talking about, then it would make much more sense to pass.
When will Hoffman get drafted?
There are plenty of talented arms in this year's draft. Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek and Rodon headline the list of names, but Hoffman belongs right up with them. Tommy John surgery is a largely successful operation, and it's probably better for a young pitcher to get the procedure done before making it to the bigs.
Given the alarming number of elbow injuries in the bigs, taking preventative measures by getting the surgery done earlier in a career would be better for teams. Of course, getting the surgery once doesn't mean you'll never need it again, but the chances of needing another fix are unlikely.
Hoffman's elbow will not inhibit him from reaching his maximum potential. If he turns into anything close to a Verlander-like hurler, then every single general manager who passed on him will regret it.
Hoffman will be one of the best players to come out of the 2014 MLB draft—even if it takes a little longer for his debut than teams would like.