Jeff Hoffman has flown under-the-radar since turning pro in 2014, but his most recent start on Sunday against the San Diego Padres solidifies his place among the best young pitchers in baseball. The youthful starting pitching of the Colorado Rockies has warranted high praise from the baseball world thus far in 2017, but Hoffman has a higher ceiling than teammates Kyle Freeland, Antonio Senzatela, and German Marquez. Baseball pundits often write off pitchers who call Coors Field home, simply due to the fact that their numbers will become inflated from pitching in the hitters’ heaven. But Hoffman is different; his repertoire, poise, and pedigree give Hoffman all the makings of a future ace.
Drafted ninth overall out of East Carolina by the Blue Jays in 2014, Hoffman would sit out the remainder of the year recovering from Tommy John surgery. If not for his injury, Hoffman was positioned to be drafted higher, possibly even first overall by the Houston Astros. Hoffman wouldn’t make his debut until the middle of the 2015 season. The New York native quickly put together a solid debut campaign in thirteen starts between High-A Dunedin and Double-A New Britain. In July, though, Hoffman was one of the main prospects traded to the Rockies in the deal for Troy Tulowitzki. Colorado obviously coveted Hoffman in order for them to trade their franchise cornerstone.
Hoffman has now been called-up on five separate occasions since 2016 to make spot-starts. In his six starts last season, Hoffman struggled, pitching to the tune of a 4.88 ERA with an alarmingly high BB/9 rate. The righty has always featured a plus package of pitches, but he struggled with his command upon being called-up . He allowed seven home runs in just 31 and 1/3 innings, forcing Colorado to have him begin the 2017 season in Triple-A.
Hoffman has yet to make a permanent stay in the big leagues thus far in 2017, but he’s certainly been compiling a compelling case. In three starts, Hoffman has a 2.33 ERA and 24 strikeouts in just over 19 innings. The East Carolina alum’s most impressive improvement lies in his command; Hoffman has surrendered just two walks in his three starts. Most recently, he carved up the San Diego Padres lineup over seven innings, allowing just one run on three hits while striking out nine.
Some may claim that Jeff Hoffman’s stellar outing is a fluke, or it was due to the fact that he faced a not-so dangerous Padres’ lineup in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. But based on Hoffman’s ability and pitching prowess, this was hardly a fluke. So far in 2017, Hoffman has been nearly unhittable when ahead in the count. Opposing hitters who fall behind against Hoffman are hitting just .103, and they often fall victim to the devastating curveball he relies on with two strikes. His four-seam fastball averages nearly 95 MPH while also running in on right-handed hitters. His hook had San Diego guessing all afternoon, especially when he followed it up with fastballs up in the strike zone. Hoffman also features a change-up and a slider, but he doesn’t use them nearly as often as his two best pitches. Thus far in 2017, albeit a small-sample size, Hoffman has an impressive Fangraphs Soft-Contact Rate of 20.4%, similar to Max Scherzer (21%), Jacob deGrom (20.6%), and Zack Greinke (20.3%).
Hoffman is scheduled to start on Saturday against the Cubs, which will be a solid test for the 24 year-old to prove his dominance is legitimate. After this week, Rockies’ manager Bud Black will have to decide whether or not to keep Hoffman in the rotation as Tyler Anderson will be coming off of the 10-day DL. If Hoffman has a strong outing against the defending World Series champs, the Rockies may have no choice but to let their new ace take his rightful place in the rotation for the long haul.