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Rodon, Hoffman, and 2014 MLB Draft College Pitching

Over the past few days I’ve sorted and ranked the top 72 college pitchers (coming soon!) in this year’s class. Lots to like. More on this to come, obviously, but a few stray thoughts to help up the conference follow list parade…

*** We’re not quite at the point where we need to choose sides in the Carlos Rodon vs Jeff Hoffman “debate,” but I think we’re squarely in the midst of a compelling discussion of whether or not Rodon really is the real deal destroyer of worlds best in show 2014 MLB Draft prospect that some have made him out to be. The whole thing fascinates me, as much for the players involved as the rhetoric already being thrown out by each side. You can’t just say “well, both are really, really good and even though I slightly prefer this guy to the other, I think we’ll have to continually reassess throughout the spring before coming to a reasoned, informed final decision in June.” That’s not BOLD! That’s not click-worthy! I’m not sure the MLB Draft is mainstream enough just yet for #HotSportsTakes, but we’ll see.

In fairness, even I’m guilty of doing a little #HotSportsTakin’ with that “destroyer of worlds” bit: nobody is saying that, but there are people saying that others are saying it, if you follow me. Strawmen arguments never get old, and I love passionately arguing against things that nobody in their right mind would ever claim in real life. Rodon is an elite prospect, no question, but there are enough questions surrounding him – overreliance on slider, inconsistent velocity, changeup I could take or leave – that the door is undoubtedly open for another worthy candidate to make a case for going 1-1. Rodon is still the odds-on favorite, but count me in as one of the growing number of draft obsessives who prefer Jeff Hoffman. Found an email from December from me to a pal in baseball where I wrote about my dream scenario for the Phillies first round pick (7th overall):

Anyway, I want RHP Jeff Hoffman from East Carolina. He’s my current perfect world pick. Mid-90s heat, serious FB movement, above-average FB command, knockout CB that he spots wherever and whenever, circle-CU that tumbles like a split, lots of projection left in his frame (6-4, 185 pounds), solid or better results his first two college years, breakout summer on the Cape…yeah, he’s my guy. Instantly the top prospect in the system when he signs and should be a quick riser through the system.

Ground ball outs and ugly swings are Jeff Hoffman’s game. I just love everything about his fastball – velocity, command, movement, everything – and his athleticism is second to none. My ideal pitching prospect checks these boxes: ability to work off the fastball, athleticism, changeup as your second best pitch (this one doesn’t fit Hoffman as his best secondary offering is the CB, but his CU is good enough that I won’t hold it against him), extension and deception in a repeatable delivery (no matter how weird it looks), stuff that can still induce ground ball outs even on “off days,” and, finally, bonus points for a degree of physical projection left in the tank. Both Rodon and Hoffman are really, really good. Even though I slightly prefer Hoffman to Rodon, I think we’ll have to continually…yeah, you get the point. Hoffman is my 1A and Rodon is 1B. For now.

*** Over 150 innings into his college career and I still have no idea what to make of Michael Cederoth. Elite stuff, questionable command, and a delivery that remains as inconsistent as ever. I want to love him – like, top ten pick love him – but there are too many college arms with comparable ceilings and much higher floors out there. Cederoth might be the hardest guy to rank out of the college class at this point.

*** Two pitchers have fascinated me enough throughout this process that I’ve spent a lot of time studying up, reading whatever I can, and talking to smarter people than myself about sensible comps I could share. TCU JR LHP Brandon Finnegan gets a popular Scott Kazmir comp (from everybody) that makes sense. LSU JR RHP Aaron Nola has gotten a Jake Peavy comp (forget the source, kicking myself over it). Both good ones, but I think I have better ones. Finnegan, as a draft prospect more so than a pitcher, reminds me a lot of a lefthanded Sonny Gray. Gray was 7th on my pre-draft list, but fell to the 18th overall pick to a very grateful Oakland. I’d say 18 might be his current draft ceiling, but snagging an arm like him any later than that could be a major steal. I had a few idea for Nola (in terms of ceiling) bouncing around my head (Kyle Lohse? Brad Radke), but, after far too much time considering such a thing, I’m happiest with this one: Kris Medlen.

*** One of the fun questions we’ll see answered this June is the age old “how high can we take a reliever?” question that confounds scouting staffs on a yearly basis. First round seems too high to me, no matter the reliever, but the cost-certainty of an elite late-inning reliever for six years is pretty tempting any point after that. Nick Burdi is this year’s guinea pig.

*** What in the world do we do with a pair of fourth-year pitchers, RHP Karsten Whitson and RHP AJ Vanegas? Whitson is ahead at this point, but Vanegas can close the gap quickly if he figures it out. Not exactly a #HotDraftTake, but true. Both are the closest thing we have to honest to goodness draft wild cards at this point, and it would be no surprise at all if they remain enigmas four months from now. Making decisions like what to do with guys like that are where scouting directors earn their cash.

*** A few guys I think I like more than most: Arizona JR RHP Matthew Troupe (love that CU), Oregon State JR LHP Jace Fry (if 100% again, watch out), Louisiana-Lafayette JR RHP Austin Robichaux (three good pitches and a frame to dream on), Fresno State JR RHP Derick Valazquez (in the running for best FB in class), and Portland JR LHP Travis Radke (superb combination of stuff and smarts). There are dozens more, but we’ll leave it at those names for now.

*** Consider this a corollary to the previous item. As always, I try to champion guys from outside the power conferences who stand out. I’m trying to leave out “big” names so if an obvious guy is missing that’s probably why. My guys to watch here: Wichita State JR RHP AJ Ladwig, UNC Greensboro JR RHP Max Povse, and Western Illinois JR RHP Tyler Willman.

*** Finally, because I’m always in search of the next Braden Shipley, I have to point out two of my favorite pitchers ready to take off after spending time as position players. Speaking of Shipley, exactly one year ago today this was me:

Braden Shipley is going to rank very, very high up on my overall ranking of college pitchers (coming soon!). If I was better at searching this site, I’d look up every pitcher that I’ve described as my “ideal” pitching prospect or a pitcher “invented in a lab” to suit my needs or whatever other dumb phrase I’ve used to describe my idea of a “perfect” pitching prospect. Shipley rings every bell: easy velocity (92-95 as starter, has hit upwards of 97 in short bursts), low-80s change with above-average upside, solid upper-70s curve, good athleticism, improved command, good glove, effective pickoff move, sturdy frame with room to build on (6-3, 180 pounds), and experience as a hitter (.265/.351/.346 in 136 AB in 2011). I think he’s likely one of those guys I like a lot more than professional talent evaluators, but that’s alright: he may not be a first round, household name come June, but I still think he’s a future big leaguer.

My misses are all public, so I don’t mind occasionally pointing out the rare guy I was out ahead on before the crowd. Revisionist history makes this seem less bold now than it did then, but that’s the way these things work. Anyway, my two favorite players that fit the archetype: Southern Mississippi JR RHP/3B Brad Roney and Arizona JR RHP/SS Tyler Parmenter. Roney is the more famous of the two, thanks to an accomplished high school career and legit draftable tools as a position player. Parmenter is far more below the draft radar, but the former no-hit, plus-plus arm shortstop has mid-90s heat and the potential for two plus offspeed pitches. Arm strength, athleticism, fresh arm…I like.

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5 Comments

  1. Lukas says:

    Hoffman worries me. I tend to be worried by guys whose performance in actual college ball never matches their scouting reports or their Summer League performances. I don’t have any historical data on whether these types of players (Sean Manaea was another) tend to flameout more than others but my gut tells me that they do.

    So while I like Hoffman on the one hand, I don’t like him on the other, if you know what I mean.

    • Rob Ozga says:

      You’re exactly right and your point is something I should have addressed originally. This may sound dumb, but I’m assuming Hoffman will see a jump in performance this year that closes the gap on Rodon enough that I can justify his placement at the top. In other words, if the draft was literally this afternoon, I think I’d have Rodon ahead of Hoffman. By June, I think the hard evidence will have shifted things enough that I could go Hoffman first. If Hoffman finishes the year with similar numbers as his first two years (and Rodon does the same), then we’d stick with Rodon. I wish that didn’t make me sound so wishy-washy, but I think the cautious approach is for the best at this point.

      Ironically enough, I loved Sean Manaea last year, despite the up-and-down performances. Wonder what that says about me…probably nothing good. At least I have corrected for my old bias in LOVING plus speed/good approach/little pop amateurs, a similar gut feeling observation I’ve made the last few years that I wish I had data to back it up. I’m over those guys, as much as it pains me to admit. I might just do a quick post on that in the future, and maybe a longer one with draft “offseason.”

  2. Mike says:

    Hoffman is going against UVa this weekend. Top flight arm against a top flight offensive team, should be fun.

    • Rob Ozga says:

      Great call, and, man, for me the game delivered. I love that UVA lineup: Fisher, Papi, Irving, Downes, Cogswell, and Towns make up one special junior core. McCarthy is a 2015 star for me, and Matt thaiss and Daniel Pinero have bright futures. Fun game.

      • Mike says:

        I agree, Papi, McCarthy, Downes and Fisher could hit 3 or 4 in just about any lineup in the country. UVA offensively is sick, depth wise it’s insane.

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