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Blue Jays Minor League Review – The Aftermath

The title of this post and the reason it’s a day or two late (although, let’s be honest, me saying I’m going to do an ‘on time’ weekly piece is rather amusing) is, of course, in reference to the debut of Jays 2014 first round pick Jeff Hoffman.

I know everyone knows the story, but for the one reader that just woke up.  The Jays tabbed Hoffman with the 9th overall pick last June even though he’d had Tommy John surgery the month before.  So, instead of him making his pro debut last summer (of course, if there was no TJ, the Jays would never have had the opportunity to draft him), we waited in anticipation as reports filtered in about his rehab and how it was going.

With the Jays, especially their pitching staff, getting off to a rather uneven start and reports from Hoffman’s extended spring training outings getting rave reviews commentators started to wonder.  What if?  What if a college aged pitcher with advanced stuff came back firing bullets.  Whose to say the Jays, in a fit of desperation wouldn’t promote him aggressively with a September call-up (to an, all of sudden, contending team) a strong possibility.

While this is a nice — and exciting — idea I think it’s a bit of fantasy.  I know I’ve been wrong (once) before but I think it’s rather irrational to think Hoffman would play any part above, say, New Hampshire this year.

This is a kid whose last ‘game’ action was April 17th, 2014.  And this was in college.  To expect him to not pitch competitively (extended ST outings aside) for over 13 months, make his pro debut — against guys who are far better hitters than he was used to — and then throw well enough to fly through the levels?  Rubbish.

I received a pretty in-depth report on his first start for the D-Jays and will get to that in a bit but for now, let’s compare Hoffman with Roberto Osuna, one of the few brights spots on the Jays staff thus far.

Osuna made his last appearance for the Lansing Lugnuts on the 3rd of July, 2013 before undergoing his TJ shortly thereafter.  He made his return with a one game appearance in the GCL on the 8th of July — so similar to Hoffman in that it was about a year after surgery.

They righty then took about a month off before taking regular turns in Dunedin for the month of August before throwing nine and a third innings (all in relief) in the Arizona Fall League.

Looking at the stats from that time, although Osuna was missing bats, and not walking guys, he was getting knocked around pretty good.  Often you can attribute high minor league BABIPs against to indifferent defending but the amount of scouts that were laying eyes on him (check my site as I was making fairly regular updates on Osuna) put paid to that notion.  Roberto was catching too much of the plate too often.  The scouts were always quick to point out that the stuff was there but he was just not hitting his spots.

And what do people say is the last thing to come back after the surgery?  Control.

So, what did the scouts say about Hoffman’s debut, one that was, if you re-call, not bad, bar one inning where he got hit pretty hard.

(Hat tip to Ewan Ross who not only asked the questions but was kind enough to share the responses with me)

In response to the second inning:

In the 2nd he was leaving the FB over the plate. It was pretty straight and it got smoked

There was a sportnet.ca article (which I can’t find for some reason) that suggested Hoffman was throwing a slider on the day.  The report I have poo poos that:

I only had him throwing his CB. He would get on the side of at times causing the shape to tilt more, but for me, it’s still a CB.

On whether Hoffman’s change had enough separation with the broadcasters saying it was sitting in between 86 and 90 mph:

‘The first couple innings it didn’t matter what the velo was. It was a shitty pitch. As the game went on and he threw it more, it was getting more depth and deception and started to be an average pitch.’

I think ‘shitty’ equates to ‘below-average’ in scout speak.

And finally, on Hoffman’s money pitch.  The fastball.  The reports we’d been getting leading up to this start were that he was sitting mid-90s, touching 99 at time with life.  So hopes were high:

The 4-seamer has life up in the zone. It had much more movement in extended last week. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still electric, but it wasn’t getting as much run as I’ve seen. When he threw 92-93 it was from the stretch. I didn’t mark it as a 2 seamer because it only happened a couple of times.

Not bad, not great, but overall for a first start, pretty impressive, especially considering the lack of walks:

His command wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. He was working both corners very well and was getting squeezed a bit by the umpire. For his first game, I have no issues with the command. It’s usually the last thing to return when coming back from an injury like his

And it’s not going to come back overnight.  For those hoping he rides into Toronto on a white horse, pull the reins a bit.

Some might argue he’s ahead of Osuna experience wise but remember, Roberto was pitching against men in Mexico when he was only 16.  In pitching ‘age’ I’d say they are about equal.  Hoffman is coming back over a month before Osuna (May vs July) but Roberto also had a lot more pro innings under his belt so had an idea of what to expect.

Get the Hoff some MiLB innings, if he’s feeling strong, send him to Arizona then let’s see what he’s got come spring training.

No doubt the return is exciting.  I just think people are getting a little over-excited.

Speaking of which.  A couple of outings where Daniel Norris had over a K per inning in Buffalo had some — and I’m talking about the twitter-verse, message boards, etc here — seeking the man who lives in a van’s return to Toronto.  Somewhat unsurprising given his starts in Buffalo to line up with Estrada’s in the bigs, making for a seamless transition if and when it does happen.

I’d hoped to have this written prior to Daniel’s last start, which was flat out bad, and probably quieted the masses a bit.  Either way, throwing out his last start, Norris hasn’t been that great for the Herd.

In his first three starts he went 5.2, 6.1 and 6 innings throwing 94, 103 and 91 pitches respectively.  The reason he was demoted was because he wasn’t using his pitches effectively.  A problem that has plagued him a bit during his career.

You can’t say he’s been any better.  Averaging 6 innings per start with 95 or so pitches in Buffalo probably equates to (and there is no scientific formula here) 4 to maybe 5 innings in the bigs.  I don’t need to say that the hitters are better but the scouting is better as well.

Without listening to any of the games, or seeing much in the way of ‘eyes on’ reports, I’m speculating a bit here but my guess is he’s preying on some over-eager AAA hitters right now.  That won’t happen in the majors.

With Estrada giving the Jays useful innings, Buffalo is probably the best place for Norris at the minute.

Since we’re 1200 odd words in without mentioning a single hitter, let’s leave it that way and save those guys for the next post (there’s one or two that are heating up).

We’ll end with, statistically speaking, the Jays best minor league hurler.  Matt Boyd, the 2013 6th rounder, has started twice since I last posted.  In those two outings he went 14 innings, giving up a single run on 10 hits with 12 strike-outs against only two walks.  The one run was actually on his first home run allowed this season.

After some rather indifferent — read poor — outings in double-A last season, Boyd now leads the Eastern League in ERA and FIP (1.05/2.19) is second in K/9 with 9.82 and third in WHIP at 0.84.

Al Skorupa of BP saw Matt in late April — something I paraphrased here — and wasn’t overly impressed.

I know I always preach a scouts eye over reading a statline but I think in this case you can’t deny what Boyd has done.  That being said, I think Washington native is at the right level, and will be for for the forseeable.

Any Buffalo promotion probably won’t happen until mid-July at the earliest.  Still, an interesting guy to keep an eye on.

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