Justus Sheffield may not be with the Big League club come Opening Day, but that isn’t keeping the Yankees’ top lefty prospect from believing he’s ready.
“Honestly,” Sheffield told reporters at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, “I hope to go out there and compete and show that I can pitch at the big-league level. I believe that I can.”
The 21-year-old ranks on most lists as the third or fourth best prospect in the Yankees’ system. 2018 will be his second big-league camp, and he is already planning on how to improve upon his impressive Fall League performance.
“Overall, I think, it’s pitching deeper in games and quality of strikes,” he said when asked how he must improve. “That’s pretty much it. I felt like coming out of the Fall League, I did well. I pitched to my location. I got what I needed to get done. I’m looking to carry that momentum into spring, too.”
The southpaw went 2-2 with a 3.10 ERA in five starts in the AFL, striking out 22 and walking just three across 20.1 innings. He finished the regular season with Double-A Trenton, going 7-6 with a 3.18 ERA in 17 games. An oblique injury cut his season short, so look for him to return to the Thunder to gain more experience.
In his short time with the team, Sheffield has already become close with another lefty hurler. Just feet away from his locker this spring sits CC Sabathia’s. The two text often with the big man giving pitching advice and inspiration.
“All winter,” Sheffield said when asked how often they talked. “All last season. He’ll text me, asking how I’m doing. I’ll ask him, ask how he’s doing. After a game or something, I’ll tell him he looked great and stuff like that. He’s been a big help for me. Especially during the winter. I could hit him up at any time. I can hit him up with anything I need to ask and he would hit me up immediately. He’s been a big help for me ever since I met him.”
Sabathia has also helped Sheffield learn how to throw a backdoor slider, a pitch that is new to his arsenal.
“That’s something I want to implement in my game,” Sheffield said. “He’s had a lot of success with that. I’ve always been a guy to throw a back foot. I actually worked on that a lot in the Fall League and saw a lot of success with it. Working on that, talking with him through that, that’s been a big help.”
As for his goal of making the Majors, the youngster knows he has to let his play do the talking.
“All I have to do is go out there and do what I do and just be comfortable and play the game,” he said.