Finding a better prototype than Jeff Hoffman is hard. At 6-foot-5, the young hurler has the look of a bonafide ace. The results have been the only thing missing.
The Colorado Rockies decided to give Hoffman one last shot in 2019 before throwing in the proverbial towel. Each of his two starts since becoming the first beneficiary of expanded September rosters has been sterling. They’ve also brought visions of a possible front-line starter yet again.
Against the Padres Saturday, Hoffman charged through arguably his best start of the year. In 5.2 innings, he allowed only three earned runs. A pair of opposite-field home runs made up the damage.
The first four innings were more important.
Each of the 13 hitters that Hoffman faced in the opening four stanzas found little success. He allowed only one hit and struck out five. In the fourth inning, he worked around a one-out walk, striking out both Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado.
Control issues have been a kryptonite for Hoffman. In the loss, the hurler induced nine swings and misses and 23 called strikes across 87 pitches. The misplaced balls were fewer, allowing him to take advantage of the pitcher’s haven that is Petco Park.
The fastball is a sink-or-swim offering for Hoffman. Of the 32 missed offerings by the Padres, 20 came on the fastball. In his last start, that total was 10.
Across the two outings, Hoffman has gone 10.2 innings and allowed five earned runs. He accomplished both without aid from the Rockies’ offense. The pressure was placed solely on the right arm of Hoffman as his offense failed to score during either of his last two starts.
Both starts afforded Hoffman a chance to fold. His career’s entirety has done much of the same.
Formerly a top prospect, Hoffman has seen a downward trajectory since entering the Rockies’ system. Since his debut in 2016, he’s appeared in 48 games (34 starts). In that span, he’s registered a 6.19 earned run average.
The same 34 starts have yielded five-or-more runs, nine times. Debacles have been the enemy for Hoffman. The 13 starts with two-or-fewer earned runs allowed have been overshadowed by the dreadful turns.
Just this year, Hoffman allowed seven earned runs and four home runs to the Arizona Diamondbacks that spurned his August demotion. A whopping 41 percent of balls put in play against him this season have been hard-hit balls – an exit velocity greater than 95 miles per hour.
Finding consistency is the only thing left for Hoffman. A consistent changeup and ability to locate the fastball is all that’s left between an out-of-the-league starter and a rotation stalwart. The curveball, when he’s able to locate the heater, is already ready for success.
Now, the time is running out for Hoffman, creating uncertainty for his future.
Prospects like Rico Garcia and former prospect Peter Lambert are aiming for a 2020 rotation slot. Kyle Freeland, German Marquez, Jon Gray and Tyler Anderson – if healthy – figure to make up the other portions. The small window for Hoffman has created a late-season audition with large implications.
If he’s able to succeed, Hoffman could find his way into next year’s rotation. The high-velocity ways of the youngster may even slot him into a long-relief role in the future.
A departure from the team is also a possibility. An exit from the Rockies has served others well. Tommy Kahnle, Juan Nicasio and Jhoulys Chacin – among others – have all found success elsewhere.
Departing the roomy outfield of Coors Field would likely be beneficial for a starter like Hoffman who isn’t a groundball-heavy pitcher.
Sometimes, a change of scenery is more than just a cliche. For now, Hoffman is doing his best to ensure a solidified home at 20th and Blake.