Justus Sheffield: A Name to Know for All the Right Reasons

Last offseason wasn’t especially easy for Justus Sheffield.

The then-18-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of underage drinking and criminal trespass last February after breaking into a house on January 12, 2015.

With the court case and charges filed against him, Sheffield’s name quickly became known for more than just his stand-out pitching abilities, which he had been drafted in 2014. It easily could have spiraled out of control, and the Indians could have acquired their own Johnny Manziel-esque player.

Sheffield, however, refused to let the offseason snafu define him.

This past season, Sheffield spent the year with the Low-A Lake County Captains. As one of the youngest members of the team – he only turned 19 in May – Sheffield could have played an average season, marred by offseason struggles, and ended the year as a pitcher drafted for strong performances who was going to have to spend some time refining his product if he wanted to make it in professional baseball.

Luckily, Sheffield didn’t fall into that trap.

Sheffield’s first full season of professional baseball ended with him emerging as more than just a player of which to take note. Sheffield has solidified himself as one of the organization’s strongest members and, despite only being 19, established himself as a great teammate and leader amongst the Low-A squad. He compiled a 3.31 ERA on the season in his 26 starts along with a 9-6 record. In 127 2/3 innings, Sheffield struck out 138 batters, which put him in the top three of Captains’ players with the highest amount of strikeouts. Sheffield led the elite group of Captains starters this season, all five of whom tallied 100+ strikeouts on the season for the first time in Captains history.

Sheffield was selected as a Midwest League All Star last season, joining fellow Captain Claudio Bautista and manager Shaun Larkin at the All Star game mid-season, a testament to his abilities on the mound.

When the 2015 season started, it was expected that Sheffield would have a strong showing, though his eventual powerful showing wasn’t anticipated. His age and inexperience in professional baseball played a role in shaping those expectations, as the young pitcher was going to be throwing to players who had faced college pitchers and even more seasons of professional baseball than Sheffield had. Even early on, though, Sheffield didn’t let that change of pace influence his mindset.

“The game never changes, it just depends on how you play the game. You have to go hard at it,” Sheffield said at the beginning of the 2015 season. “In high school, you’re facing 16, 17, and 18 year olds. Now, you’re facing 25 year olds. The game doesn’t change, but you have to learn how to read different situations.”

“He knows how to pitch,” Captains Pitching Coach Steve Karsay said last season, warning, though, that “sometimes he tries to overpower guys with his stuff, which is where he gets in trouble. He may overpower some hitters in this league with just raw stuff but, as you climb ladder, you can’t get away with nearly as many errors like that.”

Sheffield heeded Karsay’s advice throughout the season, refining his pitching and growing more comfortable on the mound during a professional game. His ability to grow, take criticism, and adapt his game will serve him well as he continues through the Indians system, as it’s clear that Sheffield will be open to critiques from his coaches at different levels. Since Sheffield is young, too, he has more time to grow as a pitcher and hasn’t had as much time to entrench himself in bad habits that could be unchangeable. Sheffield’s youth provides moldability for the young pitcher, which will be important as he moves through the ranks of professional baseball.

In an organization that has strong starting pitching at this moment, knowing that more strong pitchers are coming through the system is important. In a few seasons, there’s no telling what may come of the current rotation, but knowing that a more-than-adequate starter is just getting his feet wet is promising. As Larkin said at the end of the season, Sheffield has matured into a strong leader, both on and off the field, making him a pitcher to know for all the right reasons as the Indians head into the 2016 season.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN Photographer

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