GREENVILLE, N.C.—East Carolina’s scout day was held Friday night, giving in-state scouts a look at righthander Jeff Hoffman, who ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Cape Cod League this summer. Hoffman dominated the Cape with sharpened stuff that produced 12 strikeouts per nine and a 6.6 strikeout-walk ratio.
Hoffman sat 93-96 mph with his fastball through two innings Friday and did not throw a fastball below 94 in his second inning. He has a loose, easy arm action and the ball jumps out of his hand with downhill plane and minimal effort from a three-quarters slot. Hoffman largely pitched off his fastball.
“I treated it like a normal game, and in the normal game I am going to attack with the fastball until they prove they can hit it,” Hoffman said. “Tonight they didn't prove they could hit it. So I kept pounding away.”
Hoffman’s fastball is impressive not only because of its pure velocity but because of the above-average movement and life he generates.
“If the guys were swinging with wood today, he would have broken about four or five bats,” an NL scout said. “A few of us were talking about whether he or (ECU righthander) David Lucroy, who is also a groundball pitcher, will have a higher groundball rate this year. It will probably be Lucroy because at this level, guys are going to swing over the top of Hoffman’s fastball because of how much sink he gets. But at the next level, it will be Hoffman.”
Six of the seven balls Hoffman allowed in play were ground balls.
“I pride myself on the sink that I get, and that helps me get a lot of ground balls,” Hoffman said.
Hoffman located well down in the zone and showed above-average command, locating to either outer-third of the plate. His control was improved due to a change in his mechanics.
“I used to drop my head on my step back and now I keep my head locked on my target the whole time,” Hoffman said. “I think that has helped me a lot. Now I can throw my fastball where I want to. I can go to the four corners of the plate. That is what (pitching) coach (Dan) Roszel and I work on, and tonight I feel like I did that well. When I wanted to get the ball in, I was able to get it in, as well as down in the zone, which obviously helped me get a lot of ground balls.”
Hoffman threw just two curveballs; that pitch drew plus-or-better grades this summer.
“I was backing up first on a groundout (in the second inning) and coach Roszel goes, ‘Start this guy out with a curveball. The scouts want to see it,’ ” Hoffman said.
He also showed a short, sharp slider in warmups that he did not use in the game.
“I was a true curveball guy all the time until the middle of last year, and then I developed this slider,” Hoffman said. “It is not a true slider but more of a curveball that I throw harder. I try to use it against good lefthanded hitters and back-foot them with two strikes. It is more of a two-strike wipeout pitch.”
Hoffman also threw two 87-88 mph changeups with good tumble.
“Some people say they think I drop my arm slot on my changeup, but I don't try to drop it,” Hoffman said. “It acts more like a split-finger, and many scouts think it is. But it’s not. It's a circle change and I just throw the crap out of it and it acts like that.”
The 20-year-old Hoffman has a stride that is longer (measured at more than six feet) than the major league average (5 feet, 10 inches) and gets good extension out front.
“Coming in as a freshman I didn't really use my legs much, it was all arm, but that's why I was 88-90 mph and I didn't have the power behind it like it should,” Hoffman said. “Gaining the power from my back leg and driving off the mound helps with my longer stride, and my athleticism helps me get over my front foot, which is huge because I am releasing the ball at 53 feet instead of the normal 55 feet.”
“He understands his delivery now and he has good tempo, rhythm and momentum to the plate while still being in control,” a second NL scout said. “It really developed and he does it easily. He can really pitch off his fastball because of it and gets good fastball movement to both sides of the plate.”
The 6-foot-4 Hoffman has a lean, angular build with long levers, offering projection and additional strength gains. His physique has changed substantially since he first got to campus after not lifting weights in high school.
“I came into school at 166 pounds, and (ECU head) coach (Billy) Godwin used to call me ‘bones’ when I first got here but said that I would be ‘meat’ when I left here,” Hoffman said. “Now I am fluctuating between 192-194 pounds and I am trying to get consistent upper 190s.”
Hoffman has grown mentally as well as physically.
“I felt that I have always had the athleticism to pitch at the highest level, but what really clicked was the mental side of the game,” Hoffman said. “I have become a student of the game, which I don't think I was last year. It was more about going out there and getting by with a mid-90s fastball, which now I can tone it down at times when I need to in order to pitch, and not just throw hard. After every start, I go home and write some notes about what I did, what I was successful at and what I wasn't. So then every day at practice I try to come out and get better at those things. Studying when I have had success and when I haven't has been a big key for me.”
Hoffman will throw again in a Nov. 8 scrimmage.