Pitchers Jeff Hoffman and Murphy Smith have something in common besides being teammates for the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Class A Florida State League. They are Capital Region natives.
However, Hoffman, a 2011 Shaker High School graduate, and Smith, a 2006 Shenendehowa grad, didn’t realize that they were both representing the Capital Region on the Blue Jays.
“It’s cool,” Hoffman said. “I actually didn’t even realize who [Smith] was at first. Then my dad sent me a text, saying that Murphy Smith was at Shen in high school. I was like, ‘Oh, really?’ I didn’t even know.
“We got to talking. It’s kind of cool to have someone who is right down from the road.”
Likewise, Smith was surprised.
“I hadn’t been keeping up too much with my Capital Region sports,” Smith said. “I didn’t know [Hoffman] was from the area. He came up to me my second or third day here and said, ‘Hey, man. My dad was telling me that you’re from Clifton Park.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘I went to Shaker.’
“You run into guys you play against or with, like college summer leagues. “Obviously, it doesn’t necessarily breed a ton of professional baseball players. Guys might get there, but it’s rare to run into another guy [from the same area]. That was a lot of fun to talk to him about the Capital District stuff.”
Hoffman and Smith are pursuing the dream of playing major league baseball.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow last May, the 22-year-old Hoffman made his pro debut last Wednesday. The ninth overall pick in last year’s MLB first-year player draft by the Blue Jays allowed four runs, all in the second inning, and eight hits in five innings against the Tampa Yankees. Hoffman struck out three and walked none in Dunedin’s 6-5 victory.
He was hitting between 92 and 99 mph on the radar gun.
“I felt really good,” said Hoffman, who pitched at East Carolina for three years. “I got into some trouble in the second inning, there. But for the most part, that start was about me feeling good and making sure I got through five innings. After that second, I thought I did a good job of battling back keeping the team in the game.”
Being able to get back on the mound made the year rehabbing from the surgery worth it.
“People talk about grinding,” Hoffman said. “It’s the definition of it. Same time, every day, going to the rehab complex and getting the same stuff done, working on your shoulder and keeping your shoulder strong. It’s a little bit easier once you’re able to pick up a baseball again.
“At the same time, it’s so repetitive. It kind of gets to some people that way. But if you’re mentally strong enough, it’s not an issue.”
While Hoffman is just starting his pro career, the 27-year-old Smith is in his seventh minor league season.
He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. He spent six seasons in the Athletics’ system, including the last three years in Double-A with the Midland RockHounds of the Texas League. He played in the Texas League All-Star game in 2012 and 2013.
He was a starting pitcher in his first five years. But the Athletics moved Smith into the bullpen last year, and that’s what kept him in Midland for a third year. He appeared in 31 games, 24 of them in relief, and was 2-5 with a 4.73 earned run average and one save.
“I thought I was going to have a good shot at being a starter in Triple-A,” said Smith, who was 36-43 with the Oakland organization. “At the last minute, they told me I was going back to Double-A as a reliever. It required a bit of an adjustment. I hadn’t really done it before. I don’t know if I was ever truly comfortable doing it. I had to figure out a routine because, for me, it was all about how to prepare yourself to pitch. As a starter, you have a set schedule to prepare. But as a reliever, you didn’t know when you were going to throw.”
Smith is glad he got to experience being a reliever.
“Whichever role would get me to the big leagues the fastest would be the role I’d be happy to do,” said Smith, who got a no-decision in Dunedin’s 3-2 victory over the St. Luice Mets on Wednesday. He allowed two runs on five hits in five innings, striking out two and walking two.
Smith doesn’t see pitching in Class A as a step back.
“From what I was told, the Blue Jays were interested in giving me an opportunity at a higher level,” said Smith, who is 2-2 with a 4.28 ERA in eight games with Dunedin. “It was the fact that it’s a tough time of year at the end of spring training. Everyone is trying to cut guys, and they just don’t have spots available.
“For me, I don’t look at it as a demotion. All I really wanted was a fresh start and an opportunity with a new organization. The change of scenery is going to help my outlook a lot.”
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