GREENVILLE, N.C.—After winter flurries earlier in the week, the weather complied to allow East Carolina righthander Jeff Hoffman to make his regular season debut Friday against James Madison. Hoffman demonstrated why he is a presumptive top-five draft pick, showing three pitches that were at least plus in the Pirates' 6-5 victory.
The season began inauspiciously when Hoffman surrendered a leadoff home run to third baseman Ty McFarland, the son of James Madison head coach Spanky McFarland. The ball was carrying well to right field Friday and the lefthanded-hitting McFarland took advantage to hit one of three home runs to right field on the day.
In the first three innings, Hoffman's fastball sat 94-96 mph with ease and touched 97. In the later innings, Hoffman pitched at 92-95 mph. A premium athlete, Hoffman showed the potential for at least plus command, capable of locating consistently on the outer-thirds of the strike zone to both sides of the plate. Hoffman established his fastball for strikes early in counts, and nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of his fastballs went for strikes, while more than two-thirds (67 percent) of all his pitches were strikes. He walked two of the 27 batters (7 percent) he faced.
Working from the first base side of the rubber, the loose, long-limbed Hoffman showed the ability to create tremendous plane to his fastball and worked in the lower half of the zone. Hoffman relied more on his four-seam fastball Friday, and his two-seam fastball has plus life with heavy sink and arm-side run. He produced eight groundouts (and another groundball that should have been an out) against four flyouts and two infield flies.
Hoffman showed a clearly defined plan for facing right- and lefthanded hitters. The 6-foot-4, 192-pound Hoffman got ahead of righthanded hitters with his fastball and relied on his breaking balls as put-away offerings, as all six of his strikeouts came on breaking balls. His 80-83 mph curveball flashed at least plus, even better at its best. But the offering lacked consistency as Hoffman failed to get on top of the offering. Eight of his 19 breaking balls (42 percent) went for strikes, though five of the eight that did generated swings and misses. He also mixed in a few slower breaking balls at 76-78 mph.
Against lefthanded hitters, Hoffman showed tremendous feel for his improved changeup that was a legitimate plus offering. All but one of his 12 changeups were thrown to lefthanded hitters and all but two (83 percent) went for strikes. Twice Hoffman doubled up on changeups to lefthanded hitters to start the at-bat. Hoffman released his changeup from a lower arm slot than his fastball, which created fade and generated weak contact.
Although the 21-year-old Hoffman allowed four runs, only three were earned in his 6 2/3 innings, during which he allowed four hits. His third earned run occurred when he was pulled with two outs and a runner on second in the seventh inning, as Hoffman threw 87 pitches and had a 90-pitch limit. The baserunner scored on a hit surrendered by the reliever.
Hoffman displayed his athleticism while fielding his position, handling a bunt well and snaring a chopper back through the box, a play very few pitchers could have made.
"You can't walk away from this outing and not be impressed," an American League scout said. "He is special. His changeup was a lot better today and he showed the ability to spot up his fastball where he wanted it."
Hoffman will next pitch against No. 1 ranked Virginia in Charlottesville next Friday in a highly anticipated matchup.