About a month after Tommy John surgery ended his junior season with East Carolina University, Latham native Jeff Hoffman was at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum Thursday night as a first-round pick in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
He watched the draft with family and friends, but didn’t have to wait long as the Toronto Blue Jays selected him with the ninth overall pick.
After an elbow injury scratched him from a couple of starts with ECU, it was discovered he required the season-ending surgery and is expected to be out about 15 months.
“Obviously, with everything that happened, it was a little bit of a disappointment when it all went down, when I found out I needed the surgery,” Hoffman said during a conference call Thursday night. “But I didn’t let that feeling hang on for too long. Once I went under the knife and got the surgery, I just got right back to work, got back to the rehab, and now I’m excited to get back to business with a great organization.”
After having his surgery in May, Hoffman said he is pleased with the progress he has seen in just the first few weeks of his rehabilitation.
“It’s feeling absolutely phenomenal,” he said. “That’s something I can give all the credit to Dr. [James] Andrews for that. He was absolutely phenomenal with me. He literally did everything himself, was unbelievable, hands-on. And now, I’m pretty far along, well not too far along in the rehab process, but I can get on a stationary bike now, and it feels good to get back up and get back after it.”
The Shaker graduate had been projected as high as the top pick before his injury. Instead, he was the sixth pitcher selected, the third right-hander.
He is the highest-drafted local player since Saratoga Central Catholic graduate Tim Stauffer was drafted fourth overall by the San Diego Padres in 2003.
The suggested slot value for a No. 9 pick is $3,080,800, but Hoffman’s inability to pitch in the spring of 2015 as a senior with ECU may take a bargaining chip away from him and allow Toronto to sign him for less. He said he is eager to begin his contract talks with the Blue Jays.
“I’m looking forward to getting something done,” Hoffman said. “As soon as the Blue Jays are ready, me and my family are going to sit down and we’re going to try to get something done as soon as possible.”
When he returns to action, he could be assigned to any of the Blue Jays’ minor-league teams — the Buffalo Bisons of the International League (AAA), the New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League (AA), the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League (A-Advanced), the Lansing Lugnuts of the Midwest League (A), the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League (A-short), the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League (rookie), the GCL Blue Jays of the Gulf Coast League (rookie) or the DSL Blue Jays of the Dominican Summer League (rookie).
The 6-foot-4 Hoffman throws two- and four-seam fastballs, a circle change and two curveballs — one harder and one softer.
He said in February if he had to choose which of his pitches was strongest, he would choose his fastballs — which are in the 90s and can touch 98 mph.
Before his surgery, Hoffman was 3-3 in 10 starts with a 2.94 earned-run average, the best of his three-year collegiate career. He was turning in a banner year before his injury, with 72 strikeouts to 20 walks in 671⁄3 innings.
“I think the biggest thing was I was able to get my offspeed pitches over early in games, whereas in past years, that was always something I had to get better at,” Hoffman said. “But as the year went on this past season, I did a better job of getting those pitches over in games, and that made it a lot easier to pitch throughout the game.”
On Feb. 28, he struck out a then-career-best 14 batters in eight innings against Western Kentucky. He threw eight innings of a 2-1 win, walking one and allowing five hits and one unearned run.
He topped that on April 17 against Middle Tennessee, striking out 16 over eight innings of a 1-0 win while walking one and allowing three hits.
When he returns to the mound, he will start climbing the ladder toward the major leagues in an organization with a number of promising pitching prospects, but he welcomes that challenge.
“When I started meeting with the Blue Jays, I got a real good sense of what their organization’s about,” he said. “I know that they’re an organization that’s up and coming and they’re ready to win, and they’re ready to win now. My feeling on that is, as soon as I’m back on the mound, I’m going to get as far as I can and try to make an impact as soon as possible on that team.”