By: Alykhan Ravjiani
Canadian Baseball Network
DUNEDIN, Fla. – For Jeff Hoffman, the road to professional baseball has been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride, one that is finally beginning to stabilize.
The 22-year-old Toronto Blue Jays prospect is in the midst of completing his first spring training, just 10 months after undergoing Tommy John surgery to replace the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow, interrupting a strong final season at East Carolina University.
A native of Latham, N.Y., the lanky right-hander finished his 2014 college campaign 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA in 10 starts. He began throwing again just weeks ago in February, putting together the final touches towards a return to live action.
“It’s tough to come into work knowing you’re doing the same thing every day, [that] you’re not going to be out on the field with the guys,” Hoffman said, sitting at a picnic table in the Blue Jays’ Bobby Mattick Training Center.
“Knowing that I was going to get drafted and have something to look forward to, [that] I was going to be ready for spring training, was definitely something to calm my mind.”
The first-round pick, selected ninth overall in last year’s draft, was projected by some scouts to go as high as the very first selection. Because of his injury he fell to the Blue Jays, a team in recent years that has emphasized the development of potential front-line pitching talent.
Despite the drop, Hoffman’s value around the league remained sky-high, with the Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles rumoured to have pursued the 6-foot-4 right-hander this off-season in any deal regarding outfielder Justin Upton, or general manager Dan Duquette, respectively.
“It’s something that a player can’t control, we don’t have any say in it,” Hoffman mentioned in regards to the trade speculation. “We kind of have to sit back and do what we do; go to work every day.”
It’s easy to see why the Blue Jays refused to part with their crown pitching jewel, with comparisons of his potential ranging from Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers, all the way to Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals.
His former pitching coach at East Carolina, Dan Roszel, went on local Toronto radio and compared Hoffman to Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale, noting the combination of work ethic and talent that both possess.
“Obviously those names are huge to be compared to, but at the same time you’re trying to make a name for yourself,” he said. “You want to hope that someday in the future, Coach Roszel is saying that a guy below me is going to be the next Jeff Hoffman – you want to try make a name for yourself.”
With a mid-90s fastball complimented by a plus changeup, power slider, and improving curveball, the pitcher’s tools place him well on his way to making that name, joining the growing influx of Toronto’s young, homegrown talent.
For his part, the former ECU Pirate is more than happy to emerge from the off-season as a Blue Jay, and looks forward to remaining one well into the future.
“Obviously I’m very happy,” the Shaker High School alumni said smiling. “I’d like to stick with the same team for a career like Derek Jeter did, that’d be pretty cool.”