News came down on 5/7/14 that likely top-5 pick Jeff Hoffman, a RHP starter for East Carolina University, has a small tear in his UCL that will require Tommy John surgery (also reported here on PerfectGame and discussed on MLBTradeRumors). Yet another high-profile starter in the sport befelled by this injury. Keith Law believed that the Chicago Cubs (picking 4th overall) were highly likely to be drafting Hoffman … and now are re-making their draft strategy on the fly.
Here’s the question of the day: If you’re Mike Rizzo and you’re the Washington Nationals, and Hoffman drops to you picking in the first round at #18 … do you consider taking him?
Despite this injury, Hoffman likely will be drafted and will sign. Why? Because even if he gets the surgery tomorrow, he’s looking at least at a 12-month recovery time, which means he’d miss his entire senior season. He could red-shirt so that he could play a 5th college season, but by the time he were to do that, he’d be pushing 23 and will have missed two full years of pro development time compared to his contemporaries. If he signs a pro contract, he can rehab under the care of a pro baseball team that likely has had numerous other pitchers go through this surgery instead of rehabbing on his summer break from school, likely away from his college coaching and training staff. Who may never have had to deal with an injury like this frankly. By the time he recovers, it’ll be just in time for him to debut on a short-season squad in 2015 after having worked out since February in a team’s spring training facility.
If he’s getting any sort of decent representation, they’ll advise him to sign.
Now the question is; how far does he drop in the draft? Mid first round? End of the first round? Further? He’ll drop on everyone’s draft board; the question is just how much. Law predicts he drops from about 4-5 to about #25 overall, citing players like Kyle Gibson and last year’s Sean Manaea as examples of players who got drafted while injured in recent years.
There is another important precident here, and it involves the Nats. Lucas Giolito was in the discussion of going 1st overall in the 2012 draft before injuring his arm, and the Nats grabbed him at #16. After attempting to rehab the arm all summer, Giolito’s one pro outing that year was stopped short and he had the surgery. He returned ahead of schedule, got in 36 pro innings in 2013, and started this year in the low-A full season rotation. One of the reasons Giolito signed was because of the Nats track record with the injury and its recovery, and its reputation for putting the player’s concerns over the teams (see Strasburg Shutdowngate and the similar handling of Jordan Zimmermann and Taylor Jordan). Now, Hoffman is no Giolito; he’s older, his stuff reportedly isn’t quite as good, and ECU isn’t exactly in a powerhouse conference so the possibility exists that his stats are augmented. But that’s why teams have scouts, and despite all of this he is widely considered the 2nd-best college pitching prospect in this draft (after Carlos Rodon).
I think the Nats might be tempted to grab a top 5 talent at #18, knowing that he’ll be ready to go by 2015’s short-season. The question is whether they value that committment at #18 overall over another player. My gut reaction is that the Nats will skip him and go a different direction, and that someone with a comp 1st round pick will grab him knowing that they have another first rounder in the bag. But if he’s still hanging around in the mid-2nd round … I think he’d be a great roll-of-the-dice pick.