Justus Sheffield was one of the many of prospects shipped in by Brian Cashman at this year’s trade deadline. Behind outfielder Clint Frazier, he was the second most significant asset acquired in exchange for reliever Andrew Miller.
Consequently, he didn’t have much time in the Yankees organization to make a huge impression.
Nonetheless, he was very impressive in the handful of starts he made as a Yankees prospect, and his season on the whole was more than enough to spark excitement.
Sheffield is a five-foot-ten left-handed starter who only turned 20 this past May. Most reports cite him sitting around 92-93 with his fastball, with the ability to reach the upper 90’s if needed. He also throws a quality curveball and a developing changeup, though as many young pitchers he doesn’t have complete confidence in the pitch.
He began 2016 in Lynchburg with Cleveland’s High-A affiliate. Sheffield was up to the challenge of facing hitters that were on average three years older than him, posting a 3.59 ERA in 95.1 innings. He did walk 40 batters, but also recorded 93 strikeouts.
After the trade, he was assigned to High-A Tampa, where he continued to thrive. He gave up just six runs across 26 innings, striking out 27 and walking 10.
What’s even more impressive is in his first three starts, Sheffield had gone 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA.
Those outings include only two runs on 10 hits across 17.1 innings. A 17-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio has accompanied the eye-opening numbers for a pitcher that has the kind of stuff to be part of the Yankees future rotation.
One thing Sheffield has to improve on is his 3.8 BB/9 walk rate which is a tad high, but everything else looks excellent for a player that was still a teenager when the season began.
Prior to the 2016 season, only Baseball America ranked Sheffield among their top 100 prospects, at 81st.
By the time of the trade, he had jumped to 69th on Baseball America’s list, and into the top 100 on MLB.com’s list.
As of now, MLB.com has Sheffield ranked as the number six prospect in what is a loaded Yankee farm system.
Given Sheffield’s plus velocity, undersized frame, and less than stellar control 3.8 BB/9 (thus far), there will surely be some who believe his future is in the bullpen.
While that is certainly possible, he showed plenty of promise as a starter this season, pitching very effectively against much older competition. In all likelihood, he will begin next year with Double-A Trenton.
It wasn’t easy to part with a star like Miller, who had burned the American League playoffs to the ground, changing the way future relievers will be used a la “Super Reliever” in Brian Kenny terms pitching multiple innings out of the pen.
However, if prospects like Sheffield and Frazier continue to develop we could be looking back on this trade in the same mold people look back at the Erik Bedard of which the Orioles received a future All Star outfielder (Adam Jones) and their future ace (Chris Tillman).
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