On Friday afternoon, Thomas Harding of MLB.com reported that Jeff Hoffman would be called-up for Saturday’s game against the Cubs. The Rockies placed Tyler Chatwood on the disabled list following his August 14 start, and the 23-year-old flamethrower will be taking his turn in the rotation. There have been rumblings that Hoffman would join the team for quite some time now (they began as early as May), and this weekend appears to be a perfect storm of merit and opportunity. Let’s backtrack a bit first, though.
Heading into the 2016 season, Hoffman was a consensus top-100 prospect, with MLB.com, Minor League Ball, our staff, and Baseball America all placing him in the 52 to 68 range. Baseball Prospectus was the highest on the 2014 first-rounder, ranking him 24th overall. There is little debate as to the quality of his stuff, which begins with a mid-to-high 90s fastball with a great deal of movement. He supplements that offering with an above-average to plus curve and a plus slider, both of which profile as swing-and-miss pitches. An argument can be made that Hoffman has the best stuff in the minors this side of Lucas Giolito.
The variance within prospect rankings, however, has always revolved around his change-up and his command. The change has limited movement, and it has been rated anywhere from well below-average to average. And his command is similarly discussed, as he has struggled to consistently throw quality strikes (which may be the cause of how hittable he has been as a professional, as he moves further from his 2014 Tommy John Surgery). His floor is fairly high, but his ability to reach his borderline ace potential depends on the improvement of these issues.
Heading into this weekend, Hoffman has pitched to the following line - 118.2 IP, 117 H, 44 BB, 124 K, 4.02 ERA, 1.36 WHIP. Albuquerque is a high-offense environment in a high-offense league, which certainly plays a role in his middling ERA and walk rate, but he has struggled more as the season wears on (the strikeouts have climbed, but so too have the runs and the hits). He climbed mid-season prospect rankings a bit, yet that seems to be a result of attrition ahead of him as opposed to his own performance.
In the short-term, and in fantasy terms, Hoffman’s role is up in the air. Chatwood cannot return until September 1st at the earliest, and this is his second stint on the disabled list with a mid-back strain. His return is entirely up in the air. Hoffman’s numbers may not be up to the standards that his stuff dictates, but he has been solid for the majority of the season. Moreover, Jon Gray is the only starter in the rotation that stands to be on the next contending Rockies team. Those factors, when taken hand-in-hand, suggest that Hoffman’s stay should be wholly dependent on his performance. Unfortunately, as of this writing, we cannot be sure whether that is the case.
Numbers-wise, Hoffman should strike out plenty of batters - but pitching in Coors Field against an excellent Cubs lineup is a hell of a way to make one’s Major League debut.