Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

If Hoffman is there at #18, do you take him?

20 comments

Jeff Hoffman gets some terrible news; would you still draft him?  Photo via ECU Media Relations department.

Jeff Hoffman gets some terrible news; would you still draft him? Photo via ECU Media Relations department.

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.

20 Responses to 'If Hoffman is there at #18, do you take him?'

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  1. Yes, take him! TJ Surgery is practically a given for a high-level pitcher these days – better to get it out of the way early. If he has Top 5 talent, then why not draft him at 18?

    Andrew R

    9 May 14 at 10:23 am

  2. As soon as I saw that he was getting the TJ, my immediate thought was also “there’s the Nats first round pick”. Obviously it would depend on how much they liked him before the injury, but Rizzo certainly has a history of being willing to take the risk on the upside (and the confidence to believe that the Nats know how to successfully rehab these guys), so I would bet that he does it if he is still there at #18 (and it sure sounds like he’ll be gone long before the Nats come around again in Round 2).

    DaveB

    9 May 14 at 10:36 am

  3. My reaction was exactly the same as DaveB’s: that Hoffman is coming to Nats Town. Having already hit on two of three injury risks (Rendon and Giolito on one side, Purke on the other), adding both the signability issues you mention and the fact that Rizzo doesn’t have to (i.e., can’t) offer a major league contract the way he did with Strasburg, Harper, Rendon and Purke all make it tempting. Rizzo also has shown a propensity for stockpiling arms using the surplus to acquire bats.

    The real question, of course, is who else is available at that spot and how much they like him. But you can bet your bottom dollar they are doing their due diligence on Hoffman.

    John C.

    9 May 14 at 11:01 am

  4. The reason I immediately wrote the post upon hearing of his injury was exactly DaveB’s reaction…

    But now I think the Nats would let him pass. If it was Carlos Rodon getting TJ they’d grab him. But i’m not sure how much they like Hoffman.

    If you trust the various mock draft/draft rankings (here’s mlbdraftinsider.com’s latest one, here’s Keith Law’s top 100 and here’s Callis/Mayo’s MLB top 100), then the Nats at #18 might be looking at someone like TCU lefty Brandon Finnegan, prep RHP Touki Toussant, prep RHP Luis Ortiz, UVA outfielder Derek Fisher, UNLV rhp Erik Fedde. Of course, its really, really hard to project the MLB draft board to the mid first round.

    Rizzo seems to lean towards pitchers … and college pitchers at that. too bad this isn’t the NFL and the Nats trade down like 7 spots, pick up a 2nd rounder and grab Hoffman at #25 or so.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 11:16 am

  5. Another take on this from Jon Heyman (who doesn’t have a frigging RSS feed so I never see his columns anymore; join the 21st century CBS Sports!)

    http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/writer/jon-heyman/24554861/surgery-means-hoffman-will-fall-in-draft-but-he-still-could-go-in-top-15

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 12:00 pm

  6. Without professing to be a draft/prospect guy, I’d do it based on the reports of his stuff.

    But I think, like Heyman, that it isn’t too likely that he falls to 18. Seems like Giolito and Manea especially suggest that waiting a year to start working with a kid is not a big deal if he could be an ace. They are so hard to find, and I wouldn’t be surprised for a team to take him if they think that they only have back end starter types left on the board.

    Wally

    9 May 14 at 12:28 pm

  7. Well, considering that Rendon fell from 1st to 6th based on just a sore ankle (that’s an egaggeration of course, but how many of the teams above Washington would take a re-do on the 2011 draft right now. Maybe none of them, maybe a couple of those teams considering where their draft picks are (and, to be honest, considering what Jose Fernandez is doing).

    It all comes down to scouting reports I guess. 98 on the gun with a good #2 pitch and presumably quicker to the majors. I wonder if the Nats are thinking a bit longer term, like, after 2015 when they could be facing the loss of a significant portion of their current roster (Zimmermann, Fister, Desmond, Clippard, Detwiler, McLouth, Blevins, Ohlendorf, and Frandsen all hit FA after 2015, while LaRoche, Span and Soriano have 2015 options and could be gone a year earlier). That’s HALF the current active roster. That’s… a lot of guys. Are the Nats thinking about guys who can be up and have an impact starting in 2016? Can Hoffman lose a year and still do that? I guess so, if he races through the minors in 2015.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 1:58 pm

  8. I agree that kind of promotion seems aggressive. Possible, sure, but I wouldn’t think it would be Plan A. It’ll be pretty interesting to see what they do. I am guessing that they take a guy that I haven’t heard of (not that hard, I just give it superficial coverage so I wind up knowing about the top 10-15 guys.

    I wonder if they could buy out your boy Baukakus (I know that I butchered that spelling, just too lazy to look it up). Later rounds, over slot, to stay with the hometown team? I know that he told everyone that he is going to college, but you never know.

    Wally

    9 May 14 at 2:06 pm

  9. Bakauskas: now the word is that he’s lobbying to go to school. I don’t get it; you don’t graduate HS early so you can run off to college for 3 years. You do it so you can start your pro career early. Notice Bryce didn’t go to a 4-year school; he went to a JuCo where he could get drafted immediately after his freshman year. But according to this story, he’s sent letters to teams telling them as much. Personally I think its a mistake; you just don’t turn down 1st round money because you just don’t know what can happen in college. He could blow out his shoulder and get nothing. He could get hit by a truck and his pro career is over. Look at Karsten Whitson; offered $2.1M a couple years ago and turned it down/asked for even more. Went to UFla, blown out his arm, he’s now a senior and may be lucky to be offered a few grand to sign. Dumb dumb. You can always go back to college if you wash out of a career; you may not get the millions of dollars back.

    That being said, the scouting reports on him show a big-time arm (upper 90s peak, mid 90s sustained) but little in the way of off-speed stuff. And he’s small; i don’t think he’s even 6′ tall. But given these strong commit statements, he’s going to go from a 1st rounder to probably a 20th rounder where someone will throw $100k at him and he’ll laugh.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 2:44 pm

  10. Great point Todd and I agree. I wondered if he did that to land with the team of his choice. Maybe someone like the nats promised to draft him so he’s trying to ward off other teams.

    Andrew

    9 May 14 at 3:06 pm

  11. With the slots in the draft system now … i think the days of shopping for your team are done. If you get drafted 30th instead of 3rd, that’s millions of dollars. You just can’t offer “1st round money” to guys later on in the draft anymore .. .unless you’re Houston picking 1st overall and you get a huge steal of a signing bonus on your guy at 1-1 to save cash for later on.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 3:23 pm

  12. Considering he’s not likely a top 5 talent there isn’t that much of a gap in likely salary esp compared to going to college.

    http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2014-draft-signing-bonus-allotments-by-team/

    He will get a few million dollar signing bonus no matter what in the mid first round range. Hopefully he wants to stay at home and is scheming to join the nats.

    Andrew

    9 May 14 at 3:50 pm

  13. Well Andrew to me the important link is actually the slot value link: http://www.baseballamerica.com/draft/2014-draft-assigned-pick-values-for-top-10-rounds/

    If he goes 28th that’s $1.8M. If he drops just to the top of the 2nd round that’s a $1.3M slot … and it drops pretty quickly from there, down to $833k by the end of the 2nd round. We’ve seen teams generally stick to slot these days, only deviating slightly above or below when they can/have to. In fact, reports are now that teams call players and basically say, “If we pick you right now, will you sign for $X yes or no” and if the player says no they hang up and call the next guy.

    But ask yourself; if someone offers him $1.5-$1.8M (as in, somewhere between slot value of late first round through the supp 1st round) … do you take it? Or do you go to school and roll the dice that you can improve your draft position significantly enough to a) make up for the missed bonus and b)make up for the missed time?

    Will a drafted HSer with 3 years of pro experience be closer to the majors than a college junior drafted anew? Sometimes. Sometimes not.

    Todd Boss

    9 May 14 at 4:30 pm

  14. Yeah, I figured the Nats did that in the giolito draft to free up some above slot money for him. We will see, but if Hoffman is the real deal but has to have TJ, I’m all for them taking him.

    Andrew R

    9 May 14 at 4:39 pm

  15. Looks like another highly touted pitcher is having TJ, the kid from UNLV. I’ll bet one of them falls to us.

    Wally

    10 May 14 at 4:17 pm

  16. http://hardballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/05/10/another-potential-top-10-pick-needs-tommy-john-surgery/

    Fedde. I don’t think he was as highly regarded; he was probably going right around 15-18 anyway. It would be a huge overdraft to pick him at 18. I think he drops to late 2nd round.

    Todd Boss

    10 May 14 at 5:41 pm

  17. Keith Law’s first mock draft predicts Hoffman going #11 and the Nats taking …. Erick Fedde. I have a really hard time believing this frankly; Fedde was already slated to be a mid-1st rounder; aren’t you supposed to drop when you get arm surgery?

    http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/draft/mock/?season=2014&version=1&source=Keith-Law-Mock-Draft

    Todd Boss

    15 May 14 at 1:48 pm

  18. A number of credible sources like BBA have said “college bat” or HS Gatewood.

    I think the current Giolito mystery takes the allure out of drafting the injured arm that drops. Giolito was believed to be a top pick overall type talent. That he dropped to the Nats should also take into context that his talent ceiling was higher than others around him in that draft, and the system was thinner in pitching depth.

    Right now, the system looks plenty deep in talent at the top of the minors and at the bottom. One of the more impressive sights this year in the minors has been the shuffling in of several talents from extended spring training to replace three promoted pitchers, two of whom are now starting in Potomac but were in the Hagerstown bullpen.

    Exasperating as the Nats offensive drought is, the system is thin on top offensive prospects by comparison. A few new names, as happens every year, have emerged and matured, but the system needs bats.

    With that said, Ryan Zimmerman did not turn out to be a bad pick, nor did Rendon. College bat at #1 makes sense.

    forensicane

    25 May 14 at 1:30 am

  19. I know that’s what Manual/Baseball America say … but Law says differently. I guess it depends on whos sources you believe. But Law has them on Fedde, which I would *hate* as a pick because I think he was a long shot to go #18 already before getting TJ surgery. Knowing what we know about Rizzo, he’ll go with a college player unless someone crazy drops to him.

    I’ll mention this in my May review, but yeah the rotation movement in the minors so far has been pretty impressive. Already from opening day we’ve changed out 2/5s of AAA, 4/5ths of AA, 4/5s of high-A, and 3/7ths of Hagerstown. Hagerstown’s lead in the Sally League is amazing too.

    Todd Boss

    26 May 14 at 7:12 am

  20. Law’s mock draft #2: http://insider.espn.go.com/mlb/draft/mock/?season=2014&version=2&source=keith-law-mock-draft

    He’s got the Nats on Fedde again, which I just can’t believe. That just seems too high for a guy who was rumored to be going in that same 16-18 area BEFORE he blew out his elbow. I guess we’ll see; 9 days away.

    Todd Boss

    27 May 14 at 3:11 pm

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