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Hoffman tantalizes in pro debut

Hoffman flashed premium stuff and recorded 3 strikeouts, but was touched up for 4 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings.

We don't have a picture of Jeff Hoffman, but this is the pitching mound he threw from last night
We don't have a picture of Jeff Hoffman, but this is the pitching mound he threw from last night
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Last night in Dunedin, Jeff Hoffman made his much anticipated professional debut against the Tampa Yankees in his comeback from Tommy John surgery that prematurely ended his junior season and caused him to fall to the Blue Jays in the draft. The initial reports on his stuff from extended spring have been excellent, but it's not the same thing as showing pitchability in live game action and translating stuff into getting outs. While I listened to both broadcasts, Perfect Game's Chris King was in attendance, and I'll drop in some of the observations he tweeted out.

Hoffman started off with a clean first inning, sandwiching a strikeout looking around a routine flyout to right and a grounder to second, establishing his fastball in the upper 90s and only once going away from it. After getting ahead of Tyler Wade 0-2, he tried at fastball out of the zone at 98 before turning to his curveball, which was also taken for a ball. Hoffman then came back with back-to-back fastballs at 98 that were first fouled off and then taken for a called third strike.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Hoffman sitting 95-98 T99 once. Threw one backdoor CB at 81. 1-2-3 inning. F9, K looking, 4-3. 12 pitches. Impressive <a href="">#BlueJays</a></p>&mdash; Chris King (@StatsKing) <a href="">May 20, 2015</a></blockquote>

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The second inning proved not to be so easy. Leadoff batter Mike Ford lined a 0-1 fastball up the middle, and then 2014 7th rounder Mark Payton himself hammered a 0-1 pitch over the left fielder's head for an RBI double, taking third on the throw. He scored as the next batter routinely bounced to third. Ericson Leonora was then greated by the first fastball to hit 99 on the stadium gun, and then hit a bouncer and reached on an infield hit to shortstop.

Hoffman then coaxed a flyout on six pitches, bringing the 9-hitter Kyle Higashioka to the plate (a 2008 draftee of Edison HS in Huntington Beach, the same school as Christian Lopes). After taking a fastball to fall behind 0-1, he launched a second fastball to left field for a long home run and a 4-0 lead. It was essentially a welcome to the pros moment for Hoffman, as hitters at the bottom of college line-ups rarely have the power to deposit mistakes out of the park.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Hoffman getting hit hard pretty hard in the 2nd. Lots of loud contact. 4 runs on 4 hard hit balls. Leaving the FB over the plate <a href="">#BlueJays</a></p>&mdash; Chris King (@StatsKing) <a href="">May 20, 2015</a></blockquote>

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The third inning featured the first extended pitch sequences for Hoffman, as only two of the first 10 batters saw more than two pitches (27 total pitches through two). Wade lead off by lining a 3-1 fastball at 96 back up the middle, but was immediately erased on a first pitch caught stealing. Hoffman again fell behind 3-1, mixing in his first change-up of the night at 90, before inducing a popout to short. That brought Ford, who had the first solid contact and hit against him back up, but Hoffman made sure that wasn't going to happen again. He started Ford off by dropping in a curveball for a called strike, blowing a fastball by him for his first missed bat of the night, and after a fastball out of the zone he froze Ford on a backdoor curveball for strike three. Hoffman threw 14 pitches in facing the minimum.

Payton lead off the fourth, and he too would not come close to repeating his second inning success. Hoffman got ahead 0-2 on two called strikes (the latter at 96), and then went to the hook. Payton tried to check his swing, but instead hit an excuse me roller to no man's land between the pitcher and 3rd for a cheap infield hit. After the a routine fielder's choice, the Yankees had their second runner in successive innings thrown trying to steal with Leonora up. He then flew out routinely as Hoffman again faced the minimum on 13 pitches.

The fifth started routinely, a flyout to centre and a popout to third on five total pitches. Hoffman started both batters off with change-ups at 86 and 90 respectively, He did the same to the third hitter, falling behind 2-0 on a fastball at 96 before yielding a ground ball up the middle for a solid single. Wade then lined a single to left field, and Hoffman was in his first jam since the 2nd inning. Not to worry, as he got ahead of Miguel Andujar 1-2 with a called strike at 97 and then turned back to the curveball which was fouled off and then swing through for his third strikeout to his last batter of the day.

Overall, it was a solid debut for Hoffman, as he showcased the premium stuff that made him a potential top-5 pick before getting injured last spring despite being touched up due to some command wobbles. He held his top-90s velocity throughout, and was able to mix in his big curveball at 79-81 and his change-up later in the game mostly at 90. His final line was 4 earned runs on eight hits, with no walks and three strikeouts in five innings. Listening to the broadcast, I counted 69 pitches, 23 balls and four swinging strikes.

Hoffman didn't buzzsaw through the Yankee line-up the way he typically did in college, but the FSL is a major step-up in competition and he's still only about a year removed from his Tommy John surgery. Even if the results weren't quite there, the good news is the raw stuff is obviously back now the focus will be on refining command:

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="">@gosensgo101</a> CB was dropping in. FB got hit hard when he left it up over the plate. The command will come. Takes time</p>&mdash; Chris King (@StatsKing) <a href="">May 21, 2015</a></blockquote>

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After all, you can't teach this:

<blockquote class="twitter-video" lang="en"><p lang="de" dir="ltr">Hoffman 97 FB <a href="">#BlueJays</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Chris King (@StatsKing) <a href="">May 20, 2015</a></blockquote>

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