Tribe Shouldn’t Rush Development of Dominant Youngster Justus Sheffield
Laurel Wilder | On 19, Mar 2016
Justus Sheffield needed a big year. During the 2014-2015 offseason, Sheffield pleaded guilty to charges of underage drinking and criminal trespass in his home state of Tennessee. The then-18-year-old kept quiet about the incident, focusing on his season and, hopefully, giving people something else to talk about other than his record.
He achieved that goal tenfold.
Sheffield came into the Indians organization as a young pitcher straight out of high school. He had committed to play at Vanderbilt University where his brother, Jordan, played for two-time SEC Coach of the Year Tim Corbin, but chose instead to sign with the Indians after being drafted in the first round. He signed for a $1.6 million signing bonus, along with eight semesters of tuition to Vanderbilt.
Sheffield spent his first season with the Tribe in the Arizona Rookie League, where he went 3-1 in eight games with a 4.87 ERA. He struck out 29 batters over 20.1 innings of work, allowing 16 runs on 24 hits.
The youngster then found himself in Lake County for his 2015 campaign, skipping right over short season in Mahoning Valley. His first season of professional baseball had Sheffield in full season, competing at a higher level than he ever had before, in a new climate, with new teammates and a new managerial staff. At 19, he was at the much younger end of the roster, and was going to be playing against opposing hitters who may have had much more professional experience than he. However, the situation didn’t intimidate Sheffield – or his pitching coach.
“I was able to see him quite a bit in early camp in Spring Training,” Pitching Coach Steve Karsay said of Sheffield. “He’s a mature 19-year-old. He’s got a good aptitude and he’s one who has a real good feel of his pitch mix.
“He knows how to pitch.”
Sheffield did not disappoint throughout the season, leading the charge that ended with the Captains starting rotation being the first in Captains history to have five pitchers tally 100+ strikeouts in a season. Sheffield struck out 138 batters by the season’s end and went 9-4 in 26 starts.
Manager Shaun Larkin said that Sheffield was not only a strong presence on the mound, but in the clubhouse as well; he matured throughout the season, growing into a team leader despite his youth.
Sheffield, who throws a fastball, slider, and changeup, is ranked by Baseball America as the fourth-best prospect in the organization and is rated fifth by MLB.com. Not yet even 20 years old, the Indians have the opportunity to take their time with the left-handed pitcher. Luckily for the organization, they have strong pitching depth in the Major League team, which means that Sheffield’s development doesn’t have to be rushed out of necessity. He dominated during his entire season in Lake County, and should have the same opportunity in Lynchburg next year; he doesn’t need to be a player who is thrown through the system to make a big league debut before he’s ready. Sheffield admitted in Lake County that command had been an issue for him in the past, which is something he can continue to work on as he makes his way through the Indians minor leagues. His ability to throw for strikes in Low-A ball was impressive, and it’s a skill that the organization will, hopefully, want to hone and retain for future success.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer