With one full week of Major League Baseball in the books, it’s never too early to start speculating on who will be the first big prospect to get called to The Show. Despite just a handful of games being played in the minors, there is no shortage of candidates to put on your radar for those impending call-ups. In this weeks’ On Deck Circle, I’ll be taking a look at a shortstop who is off to a scorching start, and a hurler who had a rough outing in his first time on the bump in 2017. Both of this weeks’ prospects have the distinction of being former farmhands from Toronto who were key pieces in deals to net All-Star talent for the Jays.
Jeff Hoffman (COL, P)
Having great stuff is something that all top pitching prospects have. Being able to control that stuff, is a huge piece of the puzzle that makes up a pitching prospect. Hoffman’s physical skills have never been a question until his promotion to Triple-A in 2016. With a 4.08 ERA, a .261 average against, and a 1.36 WHIP, Hoffman struggled with locating his pitches and often found himself having to try and pitch himself out of jams. The high strikeout rate remained, however, with 124 in 118.2 innings pitched.
After being selected ninth overall in the 2014 draft by Toronto, Hoffman was sent to Colorado as part of the package that netted Troy Tulowitzki. His overall body of work in the minors is solid, yet shows the 24-year-old still has some work to do. With a 3.64 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, and 208 strikeouts in 227.2 innings, Hoffman has pitched well, but was not as dominant as his stuff would suggest.
In his first 2017 start, Hoffman allowed four earned runs on six hits in five innings. He did strike out five, but also walked two. The big righty has plenty of time to figure out his control issues, as he will not be allowed much room for error eventually pitching in Coors Field. Much like Barreto, Hoffman can benefit from facing more Triple-A hitters to work on his control. If the Rockies rotation continues to get lit up (at the time this was written, three Rockies starters possess ERA’s over 5.50) we could see Hoffman in Coors sooner rather than later. His talent is immense, and he will find his way this season. It is a safe bet to see 10-15 starts from Hoffman in 2017, but as always proceed with caution on Rockies starters.
Franklin Barreto (OAK, 2B/SS)
Being the key piece in a trade for former AL MVP Josh Donaldson speaks volumes about a players’ talent. At just 21 years old, Barreto has shown why he was the key piece heading to Oakland in return for the slugger. It has been a quick ascension through the A’s farm system for Barreto since coming over from Toronto in 2014. Despite his age, 2017 will be his fifth season in the minor leagues. His overall numbers are impressive: .296/.352/.471, 36 home runs, 193 RBI, 219 runs scored and 77 stolen bases in 350 games across five levels.
In his first five games of 2017, Barreto is off to a scorching start: .474/.542/.895, along with a whopping 1.436 OPS, two homers, and six RBI. His numbers thus far are a continuation of Spring Training, where he hit .481 with a home run, and five RBI in 27 AB’s. With Marcus Semien as the everyday big league shortstop, Barreto would benefit from a bit more time in the minors so his glove can catch up to his offensive talent, as most scouts peg him as average defensively at this point in his career. The same is said about his base stealing ability, with potential to be better with a bit of seasoning. Jed Lowrie is the second baseman in Oakland, and Barreto has experience there, albeit very limited, so there is a bit of flexibility if needed.
While there are no current rumblings of a call up, Semien’s .192 average and zero home runs in his first 26 AB’s are not exactly job securing numbers. It would be surprising if Semien slumps to this extent for much longer, as a multitude of players are off to slow starts so far in 2017. We will see Barreto at some point, as his offensive game is too strong to ignore. The question becomes when and how the door will be opened for the phenom.