Justus is the brother of Jordan Sheffield. Justin spurned 2013 draft offers in order to go to Vanderbilt University. Jordan was drafted by the Dodgers in 2016.
- Jordan and Justin are nephews of Gary Sheffield.
In 2014, Justus graduated from Tullahoma High School, also with a commitment to Vanderbilt.
In high school, Sheffield tossed two no-hitters, including one that featured 17 strikeouts. Before the Indians signed him for $1.6 million, he had committed to play with older brother Jordan at Vanderbilt.
“I gave a lot of thought into going to college,” Sheffield said just before he and Hockin reported to the Rookie-level Arizona League. “Having a brother that’s going to Vanderbilt, that’s kind of hard to walk away from.
“But I spoke with him on the phone for a while and he pretty much told me to go with what my heart tells me what to do.” (Stephanie Storm - Baseball America - Aug. 15, 2014)
The Sheffield brothers starred in the Breakthrough Series, televised on the MLB Network, when Justus was a rising junior.
"My brother and I are really close," Justus Sheffield said. "We always played the same sports growing up. We were usually on the same field. At the same time, we were rooting for each other, like in high school, but we also fed off of each other's competitiveness. If he hit a home run, I wanted to hit a grand slam. If he threw a no-hitter, I wanted to throw a perfect game. It was always like that -- back-and-forth, back-and-forth. He and my mom and dad are all a part of my success and the reason why I'm here.
"We're always on the phone or FaceTiming. It was tough being away from him at first, but with technology it's easier to stay in touch. With Jordan going to Vanderbilt, one of the top schools in the nation, he's learned so much about pitching. He's a lot smoother than he was when he was in high school. I've learned a lot from my first year in pro ball. We always pick each other's brains. We try to help each other out as much as we can. We talk about getting ahead of batters, mostly not walking guys."
Dinner time at the Sheffield table usually centered around baseball. Those were the moments, in particular, that Justus missed when he started his pro career in 2014.
"The transition hasn't been easy," Sheffield said. "Probably one of the toughest things for me was being away from home for so long. When you're on your own, you have to learn on your own, you have to rely on your teammates, especially the older guys, to know what to do."
Justus is a little more analytical than his older brother, Jordan, a righthander at Vanderbilt in 2015. He is more of a thinker, while Jordan just goes with it. It's more of a feel thing with Jordan, while Justus wants to know why everything is the way it is and study it all.
Both brothers are very good students, with Jordan graduating with a 3.8 grade-point-average and Justus with a fine 4.0.
Both boys were raised in church. They are competitive, but very close.
"I really do look up to him just because he’s my older brother,” Justus said. “He’s a great role model, really, but it all started with my parents (Travis and mother Misty). They’re great people and they’ve both been there since day one. I remember going out in the yard and working on hitting and catching and throwing, and just having fun. My dad kind of put that down on Jordan and Jordan passed it on to me, and now hopefully my little brother will end up looking up to me.”
Spring 2014: A year after a banner crop of high school pitchers in Tennessee, Justus is the consensus top arm, with a considerable gap between him and the second-best prep pitcher in the state. He has been a known entity since he was an underclassman because of his older brother Jordan.
While both Sheffields have similar stature, Justus has the benefit of being lefthanded and young for his draft class.
- In 2014, Sheffield got drafted by the Indians (see Transactions below).
In both 2015 and 2016, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Sheffield as the 4th best prospect in the Indians organization.
After coming to the Yankees, he was rated 7th-best prospect in the spring of 2017. Justus was named the #1 prospect in the Yankees organization in the spring of 2019.
In 2020, Sheffield was 7th-best prospect in the Mariners' organization.
January 12, 2015: Sheffield was arrested and released on bond after an incident in his hometown of Tullahoma, Tenn.
According to a report in the Tullahoma News, the 18-year-old Sheffield, the No. 7 MLB prospect, broke into a local residence around 4:30 a.m. ET. Sheffield, who was arrested along with two others, admitted to having had a few alcoholic drinks and told police officers that he wanted to discuss something with one of the home's residents.
Sheffield was arrested on charges of aggravated burglary and underage drinking, but he was released after posting a $5,500 bond. (Jordan Bastian - MLB.com - 1/13/2014)
In 2015, Sheffield led the Midwest League qualifiers with 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings and finished second in the league with 138 strikeouts.
In 2017, Sheffield was invited to play in the AFL Fall Stars Game.
Jan. 2018: MLB Pipeline released a list of the Top 10 lefthanded pitching prospects in the game. Included in the ranking of the games elite southpaws was Yankees top-pitching prospect, Justus Sheffield.
July 2018: Sheffield will get an opportunity to pitch in the MLB Futures Game during the All-Star break.
September 19, 2018: Justus was so nervous when he climbed the Yankee Stadium mound in the ninth inning for the first time in the Yankees' 10-1 win over the Red Sox that he thought he'd trip over it. Once he didn't, still shaking, he thought he would balk. Such are the jitters that come gift-wrapped with Major League debuts, especially ones as highly-anticipated as Sheffield's.
"My legs felt like Jell-O," said Sheffield. "As soon as I got on the mound, I thought it would settle down a bit, but the nerves and the adrenaline, my heart was pumping quite a bit."
It only slowed after Sheffield had escaped a sticky situation of his own doing to notch a scoreless first inning in pinstripes. To do so, Sheffield had to coax a bases-loaded double-play out of Mookie Betts to end the game.
"I honestly can't even describe it," Sheffield said. "There were so many emotions going through my head. A lot of excitement. A lot of nerves. The fans were awesome. I even heard my name. That's how you know I wasn't really locked in, but it was a great experience."
The debut came in front of nine family members and friends, including his grandparents and brothers. Sheffield also found it notable how he had to face Betts, with whom he has a brief history, to complete it. Both Sheffield and Betts are from Tennessee. They'd crossed paths previously while working out in the offseason at Vanderbilt University, where Sheffield was drafted out of. Betts acknowledged Sheffield with a head nod before stepping in, then yanked his fifth pitch just beyond the left-field foul pole.
"Thankfully he hooked it a little bit," Sheffield said. "If he'd have hit a homer off me, I wouldn't have been too happy." (Trezza - mlb.com)
2019 Season: As the Mariners begin moving forward in the rebuilding process for next season, starting pitching figures to be one of their biggest question marks—and Justus Sheffield's primary goal is to be one of the answers. The 23-year-old from Tennessee looms prominently in Seattle’s projected rotation after getting his feet wet in the final five weeks of the 2019 season. In seven starts, he posted a 5.45 ERA in 33 innings. Outside of one relief appearance in April, the Mariners kept the kid gloves on Sheffield, delaying his Major League arrival until Aug. 23.
While he had mixed results after his second promotion, the club was encouraged by his swing-and-miss stuff once he began commanding his excellent slider to go along with a mid-90s fastball. Sheffield whiffed eight in 4.1 innings against the White Sox on Sept. 15 and closed out his campaign with five frames of one-run ball against the playoff-bound A’s on Sept. 27.
The Mariners love Sheffield's upside potential, believing he has the tools to be a quality Major League starter. Now he just needs to gain the experience and go through the learning curve that every youngster faces when making that jump.
“Justus has been just about what you would expect of a ‘stuffy’ 23-year-old,” said GM Jerry Dipoto. “I think we went 6-2 in the eight games he pitched in and [his final game against Oakland] was probably the least consistent of his outings and he still gave us a chance to win. But we saw physical stuff, a fastball up to 97 mph, and an out-pitch slider. We saw continued improvement from his changeup. I'm really excited about where he is.”
What went right?
Sheffield soaked up his first real MLB experience and took his lessons to heart. He knows now that he needs to continue developing his off-speed offerings to compete at the big league level and to get physically stronger after pushing himself to a career-high 169 innings between the Majors and Minors.
“I had some good games, some bad games and some in between,” he said. “But for me personally, just getting out there and getting comfortable and learning from each game has been huge. I didn’t think I could learn this much in that short of time. I’m super excited for next year.”
Though Sheffield is still looking for his first Major League victory, that was mostly a matter of being limited to four to five innings most outings and not getting much help from the bullpen. He left the game with a lead or a tie in five of his seven starts.
“I would hope he’d continue to move in the upward track he’s on right now,” said manager Scott Servais. “We’ve seen a lot of good things from him and he continues to learn a lot. The learning is not going to stop.”
What went wrong?
After an outstanding spring, Sheffield lost his command when he began the year in Triple-A Tacoma. The Mariners felt he tried to be too fine with his pitches to avoid contact in the homer-happy Pacific Coast League and got away from his strengths.
In 2018, Sheffield had gone 6-4 with a 2.56 ERA in 20 games (15 starts) for the Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club. He had 84 strikeouts and 36 walks in 88 innings, and opened the year as Seattle's No. 1-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline.
But he went 2-6 with a 6.87 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) for Tacoma, with 48 strikeouts and 41 walks in 55 frames before being demoted to Double-A Arkansas and dropping to No. 9 in Seattle's updated prospect ratings.
Sheffield reinforced what the Mariners believe he's capable of doing with a strong outing against the Cubs on Sept. 2, throwing five scoreless innings with seven strikeouts. While he gave up five hits, two walks and hit two batters, Sheffield kept Chicago’s potent lineup at bay with an outstanding 21 swinging strikes in a 91-pitch outing.
The Cubs went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts against Sheffield with runners on base and the 2014 first-round Draft pick relished the chance to shine at Wrigley Field.
“I love those moments. I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. “It’s not every day somebody can go out there and pitch in a crowd like this. I just wanted to have fun and make the most of it.”
Sheffield, who needs to continue developing his changeup as a third weapon in his arsenal, felt he made large strides with that in his final starts. Now he knows what to expect and will come to Spring Training in February with an expectation of picking up where he left off, starting every fifth day and seeing what he can do with the opportunity.
“I would love to see him in our rotation next year and see if he can go out and make as many starts as Marco [Gonzales] did,” Servais said. “That would be a goal. It will be challenging, going through a full Major League season, but we're going to need young guys to do it.
"It’s a big offseason for a lot of players and how they go about their training and where their mindset is at now that they’ve got a taste of it and understand what it all entails.” (G Johns - MLB.com - Oct 24, 2019)
June 2014: Justus was the Indians first round pick, out of Tullahoma High School in Tennessee. He signed for a $1.6 million signing bonus—a clear indicator of how the organization coveted his arm. Chuck Bartlett is the scout who signed Sheffield.
July 31, 2016: The Indians sent outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield, along with pitchers Ben Heller and J.P. Feyereisen, to the Yankees; acquiring Andrew Miller.
- Nov 19, 2018: The Yankees traded for Mariners ace James Paxton. Seattle will receive three prospects in return, headlined by 22-year-old lefthander Justus Sheffield, who was the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees' system and No. 31 overall. The Mariners will also receive righthander Erik Swanson and outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams.