I was collecting and organizing my notes on how the top few picks might play out after I posted my top 116 on Wednesday. Later that day, Virginia prep righty Jacob Bukauskas (#28 on the list and North Carolina commit) told teams not to draft him and East Carolina righty Jeff Hoffman (#2 on the list) announced his elbow soreness had become a UCL tear and he was getting Tommy John surgery. I went back in to edit the list, moving Hoffman down to 5th and adding some initial thoughts on both breaking stories.
The implications of the Bukauskas story is pretty simple (leave him ranked where he is, leave him out of any mock drafts) but the Hoffman one complicates the top few picks. Hoffman is arguably the top talent (or has the highest upside) and he was peaking at the right time, in front of the right scouts. Tommy John surgery has a not-so-scary 9-12 months to get back on the mound and roughly two year "full" recovery period with an over 80% success rate. Hoffman was a legit candidate to go #1 overall and wouldn't get past the Cubs at #4 when healthy, but now that's a huge question mark.
Comparables & Conventional Wisdom
I obviously still believe in him, as I've always been higher than other publications on Hoffman, and ranked him 5th while some others moved or suggested they would move him down 15-20 spots on their board. Some recent comparable cases are Indiana State lefty Sean Manaea (last year) and California prep righty Lucas Giolito (two years ago). Manaea went from a solid follow to potential top 5 pick after a handful of starts on the Cape and a standout performance in the Cape All-Star game, but had a terrible spring. He was hurt all year in one form or another but signed for $3.55 million with the Royals as the 34th overall pick, had hip surgery, and has looked solid in his pro debut so far this spring. Giolito looked like a potential #1 overall pick before his senior spring and his elbow needed Tommy John before he pitched in an actual game that spring. Giolito went 18th overall to the Nationals, signed for $2.925 million and has looked fantastic in Low-A this year in his first full season off of the injury.
Hoffman jumped into the top 5 on the Cape, similar to Manaea (though Hoffman flashed more upside on the Cape), but Hoffman also flashed some of that ability in the spring. Even when he struggled, Hoffman still showed his mid-90's velocity and three above average pitches on bad days while Manaea had average stuff and intermittent command. Part of the reason Manaea lasted until 34th overall was that the new CBA puts limits on spending by clubs so that his highest potential pay day was just after round one. Clubs with multiple picks in the back of the first round (Cardinals, Rays, Yankees) would have to completely punt one of their picks and pay Manaea the full slot from two picks to match the pay day that would be much easier to stomach for a team picking at the top of both rounds to pay (via saving seven figures with a below slot deal at their first pick).
Uniqueness Of This Situation
So, the as logic follows, Hoffman is due for $3.0-3.5 million and is most likely to get it from the Astros, Marlins, White Sox or Cubs in the comp round or first few picks of the second round. The reason I think that plays out differently this year is because of something I referenced in the intro the top 116. There is a big drop-off in talent after the top 3 talents (Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon and Tyler Kolek) and you could easily argue that Hoffman has the highest upside of all of them. With the high success rate and quick turnaround of Tommy John, along with many of the survivors throwing relatively injury free for a decade, I still feel like Hoffman belongs at or near the top of that 20 player tier that starts at #4; a couple teams in the top 10 have told me off the record that they agree.
Now, how that belief plays out in the draft is still anyone's guess and it could still play out like Manaea (fall to the comp round to team that saved on first pick) or like Giolito (club goes all-in in the middle of the round). That said, the reason I put Hoffman a spot ahead of Grant Holmes is because Hoffman is essentially now on the time table of an advanced high school arm, with about the same associated injury risk, but with more upside than all of them. You can easily justify moving Hoffman down a few spots from where I have him, but once you get down to Evansville lefty Kyle Freeland (12th on my board), who some clubs were telling me as early as January has real long-term concerns from the medical they've seen on his elbow, doesn't that sound at least comparable to Hoffman?
Where Hoffman Fits
The aforementioned top three talents should go in the top three picks in some order (more on that next week, or you can read this adorable attempt), then Hoffman is in play starting at the 4th pick with the Cubs. Cubs President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer were at Hoffman's best start of the spring where multiple scouts told me he looked like a 1-1 for any of the last few drafts, which is what I and over 100 scouts saw on the Cape and had been waiting all spring to see. I had heard the Cubs tied to Hoffman all spring and I was getting intel that they were running in a different high level evaluator to all of his starts, with three high level guys at the start I attended. The Cubs will have lots of choices as the first team to pick from that tier of 20 similar players and could save over $1 million on Hoffman to offer to a high-priced talent at later picks (#45 and $79 in the top 100).
1. Astros: $7,922,100
2. Marlins: $6,821,800
3. White Sox: $5,721,500
4. Cubs: $4,621,200
5. Twins: $3,851,000
6. Mariners: $3,575,900
7. Phillies: $3,300,900
8. Rockies: $3,190,800
9. Blue Jays: $3,080,800
10. Mets: $2,970,800
11. Blue Jays: $2,888,300
I still feel that it's likely the Cubs really like one of the players from that tier and, given the depth of the group, could probably go well below slot with almost any of them. Rumors are flying the Twins have zeroed in on Florida prep SS Nick Gordon (my #4 prospect, Florida State commit) at the 5th pick, though with Hoffman's injury, Gordon may now go to the Cubs at 4.
The three interesting teams for Hoffman are the Mariners at 6, Phillies at 7 and Blue Jays at 9 and 11. The Mariners and Phillies are both known to be interested in Hoffman and that $3.0-3.5 million bonus would fit nicely with their pool amount, netting them a player they didn't think they had a chance at just a few weeks ago.
The Blue Jays have proven they aren't scared to take a risk, not signing two 1st round picks (prep arms Phil Bickford and Tyler Beede) in the last three years, in an aggressive effort to land elite talents. The Jays have near $6 million to spend on their two picks (and another $1 million with pick #50), so they have the financial hammer of the likely suitors and most believe Hoffman won't get past their 11th pick given their track record with talents like this. Hoffman's advisors (coincidentally also Giolito's draft advisors) most prudent move could be to raise his price a bit once they confirm the Jays are interested, in an effort to float him past the Mariners and Phillies and get the biggest pay day.
Given what happened with Giolito, almost any team could scrape together $3 million if Hoffman slides past pick #11, so every team is a threat, but the Marlins (top 50 picks: 2, 36, 39, 43, total bonus pool: $14.1 million) and Astros (top 50 picks: 1, 37, 42, total bonus pool: $13.3 million) have the most ammunition if the Blue Jays pass twice.
Something To Keep In Mind
As a last note, I was at the Florida-Vanderbilt game last night to see Vandy righty Tyler Beede (#13 on my list) and the White Sox scouting director and GM were among a big crowd of scouts at the game. I'll break down the various options each club has in the first few picks next week, but in my notes for that article, a couple sources have named the White Sox as a tough team to peg.
The conventional wisdom is that the White Sox will take whichever of the top 3 talents falls to them at pick #3. They were heavy on Hoffman all spring, particularly when he caught fire in the past few weeks and while the assumption is that Kolek would replace Hoffman in the White Sox's top three, there are some rumors that would pass on Kolek if he is the one that falls to them. The alternatives would be the same choices as I mentioned for the Cubs above: pick from the whole next tier for a steep discount, likely for well below slot. Having the GM go in this late to see a guy that's not considered a real threat to be your pick lends credence to this possibility. If Hoffman has a non-zero chance of going #4 to the Cubs, that may be true of #3 to the White Sox as well.