JUSTUS Kane SHEFFIELD
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Nickname:   N/A Position:   LHP
Home: N/A Team:   MARINERS
Height: 5'11" Bats:   L
Weight: 195 Throws:   L
DOB: 5/13/1996 Agent: N/A
Uniform #: 33  
Birth City: Tullahoma, TN
Draft: Indians #1 - 2014 - Out of high school (TN)
YR LEA TEAM SAL(K) G IP H SO BB GS CG SHO SV W L OBA ERA
2014 AZL AZL-Indians   8 20.2 24 29 9 4 0 0 0 3 1 0.286 4.79
2015 MWL LAKE COUNTY   26 127.2 135 138 38 26 0 0 0 9 4 0.264 3.31
2016 EL TRENTON   1 4 2 9 3 1 0 0 0 0 0   0.00
2016 FSL TAMPA   5 26 14 27 10 5 0 0 0 3 1   1.73
2016 CAR LYNCHBURG   19 95.1 91 93 40 19 0 0 0 7 5   3.59
2017 GCL GULF COAST   2 4.2 4 6 1 2 0 0 0 0 1   1.93
2017 EL TRENTON   17 93.1 94 82 33 17 1 1 0 7 6   3.18
2018 IL SCRANTON/WILKES-BARRE   20 88 66 84 36 15 0 0 0 6 4   2.56
2018 EL TRENTON   5 28 16 39 14 5 0 0 0 1 2   2.25
2018 AL YANKEES   3 2.2 4 0 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.364 10.13
2019 TL ARKANSAS   12 78 62 85 18 12 0 0 0 5 3   2.19
2019 PCL TACOMA   13 55 59 48 41 12 0 0 0 2 6   6.87
2019 AL MARINERS   8 36 44 37 18 7 0 0 0 0 1 0.303 5.50
Personal
  • 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.

  • Best moment

    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.”

  • 2020 Outlook

    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)

    TRANSACTIONS

  • 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.
Pitching
  • Sheffield is a short lefthander with a 91-97 mph FASTBALL with some run and sink and generates swings-and-misses for a 60 grade. He has a hard, late-breaking 84-86 mph SLIDER with two-plane break that he can throw for a strike or use as a chase pitch and grades at 55. He can vary the shape of that slider.

    He also has feel for his CURVEBALL that grades 50 on the scale. Justus also has an average-or-better (55  grade) 85-88 mph CHANGEUP that he commands well and throws early in counts before relying on his fastball and slider to finish hitters off.

    Sheffield’s high-effort delivery contributes to his lack of control (45 grade) and needs to be watched, but his stuff is that of a mid-rotation starter. (Keegan Lowe - Baseball America - Spring, 2020)

  • Justus has 50 grade control, only average.

    “He has a very heavy fastball that is hard to hit,’’ a talent evaluator said in 2018. “And he has mental toughness.’’

    Sheffield is a starter who attacks hitters like a late-inning reliever. Everything he throws is hard and he shows little finesse. He attacks hitters with an effort-filled delivery. A generation ago, that would likely lead to a move to the bullpen, but today Sheffield will get to prove that his all-out approach can work for five to six innings per start. (Spring, 2019)

  • 2018 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball: 54.4% of the time; Change 10.5%; and Slider 35.1% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 94.4 mph, Change 89.9 mph, and Slider 84.5 mph.

  • 2019 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball 48.2% of the time, his Change 6.7%; and Slider 35% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 93.1 mph, Change 87.9, and Slider 84.5 mph.

  • 2020 Season Pitch Usage: 4-seam Fastball less than 1% of the time; Sinker 47.2%; his Change 18.4%; and Slider 33.6% of the time. Average velocity: 4-seam 92.6 mph, Sinker 92, Change 86.5, and Slider 82 mph.

  • Justus has pitch-abiliy and throws strikes. He throws downhill despite being just 5-feet-10. And he does a good job with power to leverage balls down in the zone.

  • Sheffield offers athleticism and a feel for pitching with his four-pitch mix.

    Justus has learned how to value location and pitch a little bit more by changing speeds and disrupting hitters' timing, because if you corner them into a fastball count, a lot of these guys are going to be able to hit a 92- or 94-mile-an-hour fastball.

    His command is not quite where it needs to be. He can locates to his arm side consistently, but when he endeavors to pitch inside on righthanders, the tailing action on his heater may cause it to leak back over the dish. He also needs to slow down his tempo when runners are on base and he's working from the stretch.

  • Justus throws the ball almost effortlessly. He does a good job of pitching down in the zone.

  • 2018 Season: Sheffield climbed from Double-A to Triple-A this season and dominated the highest levels of the minors, allowing one earned run or fewer in 14 of his 20 starts. Above all else, he proved incredibly difficult to square up. Sheffield allowed just four home runs all season, and his .195 opponent average ranked eighth in the minors overall.

  • 2019 Improvements: Sheffield’s search for the perfect pitch has been replaced by a new and more efficient approach. The club’s top pitching prospect has gone into attack mode.

    “That’s kind of been the motto over here, just attack guys and get them early in the count,” Sheffield said. “It’s just mentality because in the past, I have been known to try to make the perfect pitch 0-0 and then I’ll fall behind in the counts.” (Jesse Sanchez - MLB.com - March 1, 2019)

  • Justus focused on developing his changeup during 2019 spring training. 

    “We’re working on a few things,” Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters. “But all three pitches (including his fastball) are working.

    “I really like where he’s at. His slider is certainly an out pitch. It would be nice for him to throw a few more strikes, and I know he likes to take it down and in to the right. He can put them away with that pitch—but you also have to throw it for a strike.”

    The emphasis has been on getting Sheffield to trust his repertoire.

    “In the past I’ve been known to try and make a perfect pitch,” Sheffield said. “And then I fall behind in the count. I’m just looking at every count as 0-0 and stay ahead and try to attack and put them away.

    “Just continue to attack—that’s kind of been the motto over here.” (TJ Cotterill - Baseball America - April, 2019)

  • Sheffield's high effort delivery has long made scouts skeptical he would throw enough strikes to be a big league starter.

    Instead, Justus is on course to be a reliever. He never really developed the finesse needed to be a true starter. His scatter is pretty large even in short stints. (Kyle Glaser - Baseball America - July, 2019)

  • In 2019, Sheffield had a roller-coaster season, one that saw him have to go back down to Double-A to straighten himself out after getting roughed up in Triple-A.

    The good news is that Sheffield got knocked down and got back up and kept pitching well in Cactus League action this spring, allowing just two runs on five hits over eight innings while walking none and whiffing 12.

  • 2020 Improvements: It’s that time of year where pitchers tinker with new toys in their arsenal, and Justus Sheffield showcased his latest weapon on (3-9-20). Sheffield unveiled a two-seam fastball in the Mariners’ 8-4 loss against the Giants, which helped him to five strikeouts against the 11 batters he faced in what was yet another gem in his superb spring.

    “Honestly, from pitch one today, beginning in his bullpen, that was the best I ever caught from Justus Sheffield,” catcher Tom Murphy said. “He threw his two-seamer exclusively. That was something he wanted to do. He put it on himself. It was the most natural that I’ve seen his fastball move.”

    Here’s the how and why for Sheffield’s new pitch:

    The genesis: The nudge came from Mariners pitching coach Pete Woodworth at the onset of Spring Training. Sheffield lacked effectiveness with his four-seamer, and with incredibly low spin, it became unreliable and predictable—not ideal for a pitch he threw nearly 50% of the time, and one that opposing hitters were hitting .299 and slugging .507 against, per Statcast.

    Justus installed a 2-seamer vs. the Giants, which he turned to exclusively for his fastball usage. Part of the reason was that the 1,185 RPM average spin rate on his 4-seamer led to unpredictability and ineffectiveness. The MLB average on 4-seamers is 2,287 RPM.

    Two-seamers have taken a back seat in this era of high-spin, high-velocity fastballs that many of the game’s best strikeout artists are utilizing at the top of the zone (Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, et al.). But Sheffield doesn’t quite possess their high-90s velocity, meaning a sinking two-seamer with run might be more conducive for his game. Two-seam fastballs typically elicit more grounders and soft contact.

    “His four-seam had very low spin to begin with, so him switching to a two-seamer actually is going to benefit him in the long run, and you saw that today,” Murphy said. “It’s one of those things where you kind of want to feed the beast, right? If a four-seam necessarily isn't at the upper echelon, then why keep pushing something that isn't going to be a great pitch? When you can make it a two-seamer, now all of a sudden, that low spin rate plays to his advantage.”

    “We kind of just saw with the four-seam, he's been working on it a while. It’s what he's always thrown,” Woodworth said. “But his other pitches are off his two-seam grip, so they were kind of contrasting ideas.”

    During the first inning, Sheffield pushed lefthander Mike Yastrzemski into a two-strike count, then punched him out with a nasty slider away. He did the same to Jaylin Davis in the second. Both were set up with his two-seamer, and none of his five strikeouts came from Sheffield’s new pitch. But he’s not necessarily turning to it for wipeout swing-and-miss.

    “Being able to do that against a righty makes the plate 20 inches wide as opposed to 17. Now that right-hander has to respect a larger portion of the inner half, and then that slider can play off even deeper,” Murphy said.

    By any scouting measure, Sheffield’s slider ranks as elite. He generated 29 of his 37 punch-outs last year on it and generated a swing-and-miss 47.5% of the time. His changeup is touted too. But Sheffield needs an effective bridge to those secondary pitches, and fastball command remains perhaps the most important aspect of his approach.

    “I'm going to start throwing the two-seam a lot, just for more movement,” Sheffield said. “Give a different look for the hitters. And then my four-seam gets run already, so why not change to a two-seam grip to get some more run? … It's got me excited, learning a pitch that quick and being able to throw it out there.” (Daniel Kramer - Mar. 8, 2020)

  • 2020 Season: There was never a true “aha!” moment for Justus Sheffield. It was more of a realization during the 2019 season when the left-hander acknowledged that his stuff alone wasn’t going to keep him in the Majors for good -- or, possibly, for long. But the awakening led to the biggest step forward of any pitcher on the Mariners’ staff in ‘20.

    Sheffield enters 2021 an overhauled product from the bluechip Yankees prospect he was just three years ago, before he came to Seattle as the key return in the James Paxton trade after ’18. The stuff is essential to his makeup, but he’s injected far more finesse into his game. Taking a page from the similar-sized Marco Gonzales, Sheffield has put a far bigger premium on location than ever before. (Daniel Kramer - Jan. 26, 2021)

  • In 2020 Sheffield's slider was his best pitch - Through 55.1 innings of work last season, Justus Sheffield’s slider proved to be a legitimate punchout pitch. Sheffield’s slider sported a 33% chase rate and an overall strike rate of 63%. Opposing hitters struggled when it came to both reaching base (.222 xOBA) and making contact with the slider (37% strikeout rate).  (Shawn Barletta - March 30, 2021)

  • As of the start of the 2021 season, Justus has a career record of 4-4 with 4.50 ERA, having allowed 8 home runs and 100 hits in 94 innings.
Career Injury Report
  • July 6-Sept 3, 2017: Sheffield was on the DL with a severely strained oblique.

  • May 12-23, 2018: Justus was on the DL with tightness in his left shoulder.

  • July 7-Sept 1, 2021: Justin was on the IL with left forearm strain.

    Aug 7, 2021: Sheffield was scheduled to begin a rehab assignment with High-A Everett but was scratched after coming out of his most recent session not feeling great. Where he goes from here remains unclear, other than that he'll continue to build his pitch workload before going out.