Fans of the Yankees’ youth movement have kept a close eye on Justus Sheffield this year, as the top prospect in the organization worked his way up to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and appeared close to breaking into the show. The Yankees have been cautious with Sheffield’s development, keeping him down in Triple-A because of control issues that would become problematic when facing major league batters multiple times through the order.
In late August the team moved Sheffield from the RailRiders rotation into the bullpen, in what was likely an audition to join the big league roster as a reliever come September. Sheffield has had several chances working out of the ‘pen to showcase his capability, with strong results.
Sheffield has worked 13.1 innings in five appearances, allowing just two runs, and only one earned run. His batting average against, strikeout percentages, and WHIP have all either remained constant with his previous results or improved, but what has become drastically different is his ground ball percentages. As a starter Sheffield posted a 0.91 GO/FO ratio, but that number ballooned to 2.22 as a reliever. This would play very well into pitching at Yankee Stadium, where one misplaced fly ball could spell disaster.
The one negative about Sheffield’s performance as a reliever is that he hasn’t performed well entering late in the game. Sheffield came in for two save opportunities for the RailRiders, and blew both of them. This issue would be mitigated by the depth of the Yankees bullpen, where Sheffield would likely be entering as a middle relief option, but it is something to keep an eye on.
Time is also a factor in how much Sheffield can contribute. The RailRiders are the only affiliate of the Yankees still alive in the minor league playoffs, and could be playing until Saturday. If Sheffield is called up the next day, that would leave him with just two weeks in the majors. While that may not allow him to make a large impact, it would give the Yankees an additional arm to go to down the stretch, and it wouldn’t eat up too much service time for Sheffield. The Yankees made this move anticipating he would be available to contribute, they might as well follow through.