Let me paint a picture for you: it is the trade deadline in 2018, and the Reds net a trio of largely unknown players for slugger Adam Duvall: Lucas Sims, Preston Tucker, and Matt Wisler. While Sims had been mediocre as a fringe major league pitcher (to put it nicely), the Reds front office executives were likely intrigued by his exceptional spin numbers; in 2017, he ranked in the 92nd percentile in fastball spin and the 71st percentile for curveball spin. Nevertheless, the acquisition of the former first-round pick goes generally unnoticed by the baseball community, and the Reds’ return from the Duvall trade slips into obscurity by the end of 2018. Now fast forward to the present, and Sims is now a bonafide beast as a setup pitcher: he ranked among the top pitchers in baseball in fastball spin, curveball spin, xERA, xBA, and other Statcast statistics. The Reds took a gamble on an obscure pitcher who only had spin rate going for him, and now he is an extremely valuable bullpen contributor.
Why is this necessary to know? Because the Reds executed an even more under-the-radar trade that may have given them another pitcher like Sims.
Meet Jeff Hoffman: the ninth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft who has yet to blossom as a major-league pitcher. Hoffman was touted as the potential first overall selection in 2014, but Tommy John surgery on his right elbow had pushed him down to the ninth overall pick. He spent two years in the Toronto farm, and his most notable career achievement for the Blue Jays was being the centerpiece of the trade that brought star Rockies SS Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto. While he was given the opportunity to start for Colorado, he never surrendered anything lower than a 4.88 ERA, eventually culminating in a 6.56 ERA in the 2019 season. These subpar seasons—perhaps hindered by the high altitude in Colorado—had put his name into obscurity, and the former top-ten pick’s career was wasting away.
Similarly to Sims, all Hoffman had going for him in Colorado was his spin rate. The once-promising righty was in the 88th percentile for fastball spin and the 68th percentile for curveball spin. The Reds front office, led by GM Nick Krall (who had been a big part of acquiring Sims in the Duvall trade), saw something they liked in Hoffman, and all evidence points to his spin rate as being the deciding factor in their decision to trade for him. It was enough for Cincinnati to give up reliever Robert Stephenson and the organization’s #15 prospect Jameson Hannah for Hoffman (along with the Rockies’ 2020 fourth-round pick, RHP Case Williams).
So what’s in store for Hoffman? Krall and manager David Bell will likely give him a chance at cracking a spot in the starting rotation, but the most likely plan is to have him replace Stephenson in the pen. His future in a Reds uniform will be contingent on his drive, his dedication, and his commitment to getting better by working with pitching coach Derek Johnson and others to improve his mechanics to a point where he can finally break out and shine in a prominent role with Cincinnati. Fortunately, from how it looks right now, Hoffman has lots of potential and looks to be on the cusp of putting it together.
Reds fans should be excited about what this deal could potentially mean for Cincinnati, because the Reds may have just brought in a future star.