Every spring it happens. As sure as April showers bring May flowers, someone in spring camp puts themselves on the baseball map, and becomes someone that gets on the tip of the Tigers organization’s tongue. We haven’t heard much about Matt Hoffman over the years as top prospect in the Tigers organization. His prospect status has often been as mundane as his name. A guy that has some potential to pitch in the major leagues, but is often not one of the guys that gets talked about as making the 2012 Tigers roster.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Matt Hoffman is going to make the Tigers team out of spring training. He is quickly becoming that guy that is going to enter the conversation though.
There are already two Detroit Tigers lefty relievers who, barring injury, are going to be virtual locks to be on the roster to start the season. Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth might not be great relievers, but they have earned some status as guys that can get people out at the big league level. With the Tigers release of David Pauley yesterday, however, I did discuss in an article very briefly the potential that a 3rd lefty might be in the mix in the Tigers bullpen. The assumption is that it’s going to be one of the guys who lose out on the 5th starter job. One of Adam Wilk, Andy Oliver, or Duane Below. Or possibly one of the other righties.
Hoffman, despite the odds being stacked against him, is trying to say…”not so fast”.
Never a big time prospect in the Tigers system, Hoffman, who ranked 29th on MCB’s top 50 prospects list this off-season, has pitched well this spring. So far in 3 appearances, he has yet to yield a walk or give up a run. At one time, Hoffman was a starting pitcher in the Tigers system, and while he did have some success, his stuff was that of a back end of the rotation pitcher if all went right. When the Tigers moved him to the pen, Hoffman and his stuff took a step forward. A couple years ago, Hoffman went to the Arizona Fall League, and began opening scouts eyes everywhere, popping catchers mitts with mid-90′s heat. He operates more often in the low 90′s, because it helps with his command, but his two solid pitches (curve, fastball) are good enough to get major league hitters out.
Hoffman’s journey hasn’t been without it’s struggles. In 2010, he suffered a bad season, compiling an ERA over 5.00 on the season, and over 7.00 in Erie. In 2011, Hoffman righted the ship, and had himself a solid season in Toledo. Hoffman finished his season in Toledo last year with an ERA of 3.18, despite not having dominant peripheral numbers. While Hoffman isn’t going to strikeout a ton of guys, he does one thing really well that is valuable to relievers. He induces ground balls.
Hoffman has always posted good ground ball rates in the minors, averaging around 1.75/1 GO/AO over his career. Obviously, that can be a useful weapon coming into a game with runners on.
After positioning himself to land on the Tigers 40 man roster this season, Hoffman has now gone from a rather regular prospect to a guy that should see some time in a big league uniform, possibly in 2012. He might need some more time in the minors perfecting his craft even further, but at the very least, he has put himself on the Tigers radar.
He likely won’t make the roster out of the spring, but it seems that if the Tigers ever needed to move Phil Coke or Daniel Schlereth at some point, they might have themselves a capable replacement ready to go.