Tigers Prospect Profile #31: Matt Hoffman

Operating with little fanfare as a reliever and occasional starter for the past couple of seasons, Matt Hoffman made waves toward the end of 2010. What got scouts so excited about his potential?

Matt Hoffman
Position: Left-handed Pitcher
Height: 6-2
Weight: 195
Born: 11/19/1988
Bats: Left
Throws: Left

Background
The Tigers went back to Owasso (OK) High School, the place where they mined former prospect Dallas Trahern, to sign Matt Hoffman out of the 2007 draft. Popped in the 26th round, Hoffman signed for a $175,000 bonus and made his official pro debut during the 2008 season.

At age 19, Hoffman started the year in extended spring training, before being vaulted to Low-A West Michigan for his debut. In five games (two starts), Hoffman allowed 19 hits in 15 2/3 innings while walking 14 and striking out 20. Tough his 4.60 ERA wasn't a disaster, his 2.11 WHIP was indicative of a player not ready for the level of competition.

In June, the Tigers bumped Hoffman down to short-season Oneonta, where despite still being 2-3 years younger than many of the hitters he was facing, he fared much better. Working primarily from the rotation, Hoffman posted a 3.05 ERA in 56 innings, with only 49 hits allowed and 49 strikeouts.

Back in West Michigan for the start of the 2009 season, Hoffman was dominating through 40 innings (1.12 ERA, 24 hits allowed, only eight walks), and was promoted to High-A Lakeland in May. With Lakeland, Hoffman struggled to adjust, posting a whopping 6.79 ERA in 62 1/3 innings while giving up 79 hits including nine home runs. He hit the DL briefly in August, but returned healthy down the stretch and into the Fall Instructional League.

The Tigers returned Matt to Lakeland to start the 2010 season and he buzzed through the competition this time around, working exclusively in relief. In 16 games he worked 22 2/3 innings with only 17 hits against, two walks, and 18 strikeouts. His 1.59 ERA and all the peripherals were an indication that he was ready for a tougher test.

Between the Erie and Toledo bullpen over the remainder of the season, Hoffman was roughed up to the tune of a 7.42 and 10.38 ERA, respectively. The Tigers sent Hoffman to the Arizona Fall League for additional work, where he posted a 7.27 ERA in 8 2/3 innings; yielding 15 hits and five walks.

Scouting Report
This part of the discussion on Hoffman has changed drastically in the last six months. Always a guy with average velocity and capable of hitting 91-92 in short stints, Hoffman's velocity spiked in the second half of 2010, and continued to spike even more in the AFL.

Scouts in the Eastern and International Leagues regularly reported seeing Hoffman in the 92-93 range out of the bullpen. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, scouts in the AFL were buzzing about 94-95 and touching 97 in short stints. That type of velocity makes any player more interesting, particularly when they are pumping from the left side.

Hoffman's not terribly projectable, so this type of velocity spike certainly wasn't expected. If there was some assurance that he could maintain that plus-plus fastball going forward, then he would probably rate higher on this list. As it stands now, scouts want to see him duplicate what they saw last fall.

Command is still an issue for Hoffman, but that is to be expected when you suddenly add 4-5 mph in a matter of months. Hoffman was consistently missing the strike zone completely in the AFL, and when he was in the zone, he was in the heart of the plate just waiting to be knocked around. He's never going to have pinpoint command, but he at least needs average control and some ability to locate.

Hoffman's curveball shows promise at times, flashing as a plus pitch on occasion, but more likely developing into a quality, solid-average second pitch. His change-up has shown some signs of life over the last two years, but it is easily his third-best pitch and will hardly be used in a relief role.

As a reliever with the type of velocity he showed late in 2010, Hoffman could be a big leaguer in short order, with the potential to work as a lefty-handed setup man.

Performance

Level

Team

W-L

ERA

G

GS

SV

SO

BB

IP

AVG

A+

Lakeland

0-1

1.59

16

0

3

18

2

22.2

.215

AAA

Toledo

0-0

10.38

3

0

0

4

4

4.1

.474

AA

Erie

1-2

7.43

26

0

0

22

20

26.2

.308


Health Record
Hoffman missed time in 2009 with pretty typical soreness and stiffness in his shoulder. A couple of weeks of rest and he was back to full strength and has had no issues since that time.

The Future
The Tigers will return Hoffman to Double-A Erie to start the 2011 season, and he could bounce back and forth between there and Toledo depending on the needs of the clubs. He just needs experience against upper level hitters to refine his command and get used to his new found velocity. With quick progress, he could be ready for a big league trial late this season, but more likely he will enter spring training in 2012 with a chance to compete for a bullpen role.

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