His one plus tool was a very strong and accurate arm. Before the Reds decided to cut him loose, they thought they might be able to turn him into a decent pitcher. So, in 1991 in Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League, Hoffman began the transition to the mound, and the rest, as they say, is history.
In 2004 with much fanfare and controversy, the Padres made Mission Bay High School's Matt Bush the number one pick in the draft. Bush was a much more heralded prospect than Hoffman, and even though he was selected with the first pick for signablity reasons, he was a consensus top ten pick by most publications covering the draft.
The problems began for Bush almost immediately after he was drafted, an underage drinking incident in a bar in Phoenix which resulted in a month's suspension, a variety of injuries, and, most importantly, an inability to hit pro pitching. After nearly three years, the Padres decided to move Bush back to the mound where he had been a two-way star in high school.
A slight 5-foot-10 and 185-pounds, Bush did bring the ball to the plate in the mid-90s in high school and the Padres believe, as the Reds did with Hoffman, that he has the ability to become a major league reliever. The results were encouraging for Bush before he suffered an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery.
Recently, we had an opportunity to speak with Padres icon Trevor Hoffman on his transition from shortstop to the mound, and his advice for Matt Bush.
When you were first drafted, you had a decent year in rookie ball and then struggled in your first year in Charleston of the South Atlantic League in Low-A. What were the reasons behind your struggles?
Trevor Hoffman: I think the writing was on the wall with foot speed and having some decent range. The average dropped off .250 to .212 or whatever. I think the overall pro schedule, everyday games and going 0-for-4 and making an error - I would lament over it all night. Worry about not making a mistake instead of moving forward and trying to be productive.
It was kind of a numbers thing. If you succeed three out of ten times at the plate you are going to go to the Hall of Fame. On the other side, if I succeed seven out of ten times it may not always be the best thing, but at least I'm going to feel better about myself.
It just got to the point where I wasn't going to succeed Barry Larkin anytime soon and there were some prospects ahead of me, and I really didn't posses certain physical attributes that you can project down the road. So before they decided to get rid of me, they knew I had a pretty good arm so they decided to check me out.
You didn't pitch at the University of Arizona; did you pitch much in high school?
Trevor Hoffman: I didn't do any pitching in high school; I stopped pitching when I was 12. My dad didn't want us to run into an overzealous coach who might have wanted to win too much and maybe throw too many innings and put too much stress on an elbow or shoulder.
We were forced to become decent athletes in order to play. If I hadn't been able to do that, maybe I would have been forced to pitch, because all of us had pretty good arms. I ran it out as long as I could as an infielder before I finally became a pitcher.
How tough was it to learn how to pitch in professional ball?
Trevor Hoffman: I think the biggest thing is you're not overwhelmed with a lot of different coaching philosophies or terminology. Being bombarded with too much information on a high school or collegiate level can really be a detriment. Once you get into pro ball, it's all about numbers. Keep it simple. Just throw strikes and we'll make adjustments as need be.
I think if I would have been pitching in college it would have been ‘your mechanics aren't right', ‘you're pitching to an aluminum bat' ..etc.
When I did make that transition, my first pitching coach in Cedar Rapids was Frank Funk, who had been a major league pitching coach with the Royals. Having been to this level and seeing what success is and keeping it simple is a plus, I couldn't have benefitted more than having him the first year out.
You know, I would ask him, ‘Do I have to worry about my front side, my stride' and he would say, ‘Just throw the ball over the bleeping plate.'
It was funny, but you know he's right. Just keep it simple.
So when you started pitching you were just throwing a fastball correct?
Trevor Hoffman: I was trying to throw all four pitches, but I wasn't. It goes back to not having pitched since Little League, and again my dad stepped in. We weren't allowed to throw curveballs even when we did pitch at that level. So I didn't really throw a curveball until I got into pro ball. It was a situation where I was learning on the job, but I was getting away with things so I wouldn't have to throw a breaking ball until I was in a pitchers' count. Most of that came because I was able to overpower hitters. It wasn't until I got moved up a couple of notches when they put me in the starting rotation so I could work on other pitches. I didn't really develop a changeup until I hurt my arm.
So do you have any advice for Matt Bush who like yourself has been switching from the shortstop position to a pitcher?
Trevor Hoffman: He does have some pitching experience back in high school and dominated. He's going to feel better that he doesn't have to worry about trying to field and hit and the pressures to succeed as that number one pick. He's kind of being thrown back to the masses in now you have to prove yourself in a different way.
This is a new endeavor. I think he will be relieved in a different way. I would like to talk to him, I talked to Freddie [Uhlman, the Padres' assistant general manager] and told him to give him my number, and I would love to tell him my experiences what I went through, but it has to be a situation where he feels comfortable.
I don't think it's going to be a very difficult transition for him based on what he did before, but the one thing he is going to have on his side is he did have an opportunity to play as a regular as a professional and some of those experiences are going to help him. He knows that it's not that easy to succeed at the plate and to take that experience with you on the mound and don't give them much credit. Be aggressive throw strikes - the only real downside is walking people and not making them earn it.