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Despite cuts, Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate have bright futures

Despite working through some rough spots this spring, both pitchers clearly have futures in the big leagues

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Pittsburgh Pirates Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made their first round of cuts earlier this week. Among the six players cut, Justus Sheffield and Dillon Tate easily stand out as biggest names on the list. Both players performed reasonably well in their brief stints with the parent club. Still, their respective performances indicate that they need more seasoning in the minor leagues before taking on a meaningful role with the team. If each pitcher can iron out some deficiencies in their respective games, it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they can rise through the upper-levels of the Yankees’ system.

As one of the Yankees’ highest-rated pitching prospects, Sheffield garnered quite a bit of attention coming into spring training this year. Over three spring appearances, Sheffield offered glimpses of what makes him such a highly touted prospect, but none of his outings were altogether great successes. He worked through 5.1 innings but allowed six hits, seven runs, and issued four free passes.

Sheffield’s first of three outings could have possibly been his best one. He worked 1.2 innings because he ran into some trouble in his second inning, but he was dominant in his first frame. He struck out the first two batters he faced on just six total pitches, which featured this nasty slider to Tommy Joseph.

Sheffield unfortunately wasn’t able to find the same kind of dominance in any of his other outings, which was mostly due to some command issues. Sheffield issued three walks this spring and each one came off of four straight balls. Moreover, he consistently pitched behind in the count during his three outings. While the sample size is obviously minuscule, command and control have been identified as Sheffield’s weakest tools at the moment. He’ll definitely need to refine those skills in order to continue to rise through the ranks of the Yankees’ farm system.

A recent quote from Aaron Boone shows the Yankees have not lost any faith in Sheffield:

“I told him I came in here with high expectations about him just from all that I hear, knowing how our organization values him, and he surpassed those. There is no question in my mind that he will be a guy who pitches here a long time. We don’t want him to rush the process, to continue to get better and better and more consistent. He is going to be a good one.”

Looking at Sheffield’s spring training stat line is not pretty, but he showed what will eventually make him “a good one.”

Tate’s stat line is much easier on the eyes, but like Sheffield, refining his command will be one of the keys for his future success. Additionally, if Tate stays healthy and continues to refine his newly added two-seam fastball, he too could also rise through the upper-levels of the system this year.

Tate, a former fourth overall pick, looked pretty sharp in his two outings this spring. In four innings, he gave up just one earned run and was able to keep major leaguers from doing too much damage against him. In Tate’s first outing of the spring against the Pirate, he surrendered a home run to Gregory Polanco on a 3-0 fastball that was literally in the middle of the strike zone. Fortunately, Tate bounced back to get the next hitter to strike out on three pitches.

More impressive was Tate’s second and final appearance of the spring against the Mets on March 7th. In two innings of work, Tate went through the heart of the Mets order. He relieved Ben Heller in the fifth inning to face Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce, and Todd Frazier and went three up, three down. It took Tate just three total pitches to get Cespedes and Bruce to hit weak fly balls and struck out Frazier on three straight fastballs. The following inning Tate surrendered an unearned run but performed well against major league talent.

Overall, Tate’s tools were apparent. He has a big fastball that he was running up to 96 MPH very early on in the season. It did appear, however, that he lacked the ability to command his pitches. Obviously, no player reaches their peak performance in early-March, but it was clear Tate still needs to refine his ability to throw effective strikes.

Perhaps more importantly, Tate needs to stay healthy. He’s experienced two different injuries the past two seasons—a hamstring issue in 2016 and shoulder problems last season. If he can stay on the field, Tate, along with Sheffield could rise quickly.

It’s probably safe to say that both Sheffield and Tate will be headed to Double-A Trenton to begin the year. Both pitchers finished the 2017 season at Double-A, and neither stuck around in the big league camp long enough to think they might be headed to Triple-A. Regardless of the shortcomings or poor outings of spring training, Sheffield and Tate both showed flashes of being effective big league pitchers. If they can take the next step forward with command of their pitches, we could see them in New York sooner rather than later.