Will there be Justus for fall, or even spring 2018?
The Yankees’ offseason started off with a George Steinbrenner-era blockbuster trade — slugger Giancarlo Stanton switching Marlins teal for Bronx pinstripes — but it’s been a mostly cold stove winter for Yankee fans, with only the Gerrit Cole possible trade storyline coming in and out of focus.
If Bombers general manager Brian Cashman does not make a trade with the Pirates to acquire the veteran right-hander Cole, or if Cashman eschews adding another starter to the rotation entering spring training, perhaps heralded Yankee pitching prospect Justus Sheffield gets his chance to break into the Baby Bombers fold this season, alongside Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and Clint Frazier.
“I’m hoping, definitely hoping. Any player would be lying if they say they wouldn’t want to be in the big leagues tomorrow,” says Sheffield, the touted lefty who was traded from the Indians to the Yankees in the 2016 Andrew Miller deadline deal. The Bombers also got stud outfield prospect Frazier then as well as two other players.
Frazier, 23, cracked the Yankee lineup last season and played in 39 games, while proving he can handle major league pitching. But with the acquisition of Stanton, the red-headed Frazier is now a sixth outfielder on the club, and would appear to be the player Cashman would include in a package for Cole or another pitcher, if any such deal crystallizes. Sheffield could possibly be another trade chip.
Sheffield says he keeps in touch regularly with Frazier – they roomed together in Tampa during 2017 Yankees spring training — and the southpaw adds that while he can’t speak for Frazier, Sheffield has been able to tune out the white noise.
“I’ve already been through it, so I know how the process goes,” says Sheffield. “All the stuff you read on Twitter, it’s just rumors. As players, if it happens, it happens. Just let the chips fall. I don’t really have anything to do with the front office. I have to be the best Justus I can be. I’m definitely anticipating a big year.”
Of Stanton, Sheffield says, “I’m glad he’s on the Yankees now and I don’t have to face him.”
Justus Sheffield is trying to block out the trade rumors that would send him away from Yankee organization.
(Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports)
Sheffield was having a good 2017 season with the Double-A Trenton Thunder until an oblique injury sidelined him for good. He was 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA with the Thunder, starting 17 games striking out 82 batters in 93.1 innings pitched.
“That was the first time I’ve been on the DL,” says Sheffield of the disabled list stint. “That was a tough one. I knew my season was over with. That one sucked. I was close with all the guys in Double-A, real close. We really wanted to win a title. Not being able to be out there with the guys, just being reduced to a cheerleader, that wasn’t me.”
Sheffield did return to pitch for the Thunder in two postseason games. He was 0-1.
Sheffield, 21, says the oblique injury has healed and that he has had no further issues with it this winter. Sheffield pitched in the Arizona Fall League — he was 2-2 with a 3.10 ERA over 20.1 innings with the Scottsdale Scorpions — though he got hit by a line drive in his final start. Cashman told the Daily News’ John Harper recently that Sheffield is “an easy guy to dream on,” which may bode well for his Yankee future.
The Tullahoma, Tennessee product says he’s been working out this winter at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Sheffield had committed to Vanderbilt before electing to enter the 2014 amateur draft when he was selected by the Indians with the 31st overall pick. His older brother Jordan, a Dodgers pitching prospect, attended Vanderbilt. Justus says Jordan has joined him in the Vandy workouts, and that they’ve crossed paths with one of Justus’ idols, Red Sox ace David Price, another Vanderbilt alum. Justus says he’s picked Price’s brain, and that on the Yankees, lefty CC Sabathia has been a wealth of advice and encouragement. Justus says he texts with Sabathia all the time.
Now Sheffield is hoping that those conversations with Sabathia and the other current Yankee starters will unfold in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and other major league parks when the 2018 campaign is underway.
“I’ve been doing this since 2014,” Sheffield says of his professional career. “It’s been a long development process. I feel like I’m almost there.”