Name: Jordan Sheffield
So far this year, the majority of profiles, capsules, scouting reports, etc. have been focused on hitters, specifically college hitters. The logic in sticking to the college game is that it is still very early in the high school season. The logic in hitters are that they are often easier for me to scout, both from video and using numbers. The issue here is hitters are not where the depth of this class lies. I have stated repeatedly that this class, while weak at the top, is very deep. The greatest area of depth is right-handed college arms. For this article, I wanted to target one of the pitchers at the top of the class.
I pulled up the NCAA leaders in strikeouts and went down the list looking for a name of a possible first-round pitcher. Sitting there at a tie for 11th was Jordan Sheffield, the Friday night ace for Vanderbilt.
Sheffield is a redshirt sophomore. He garnered first-round talk during his senior of high school, then suffered an injury requiring Tommy John, which is what caused him to redshirt his freshman year. Despite this injury, he was still taken in the 13th round by the Boston Red Sox.
There is a certain logic to the baseball draft. A player taken in the top-10 rounds is expected to sign. A player taken from the 11th to the 20th rounds, the team is going to try to sign. These players are also often fallback players if another player doesn’t sign, or if a team has extra pool money. From the 20th to the 40th round is where a team takes fillers guys for minor league needs, sons of coaches or former players, and unsignable talent, so they can talk to those players and get to know them a bit better.
The fact that the Red Sox took Sheffield so high means they were trying to sign him, even though he had an injury. They might have thought they could get him at a discount because of injury. There is a good chance this year that the Red Sox will not have a chance to re-draft Sheffield. One could make a strong case that, as of right now, Sheffield will be the first college right-hander off the board and also has a chance to be the first college pitcher off the board.
This previous statement is a bit crazy when you look at Sheffield and the weaknesses that are present. The first issue is that Sheffield is only six feet tall. While I have railed against height issues for years, going back to 2012, it is still a significant issue for many teams. There are those teams that will just assume that Sheffield’s future is in the bullpen because of height.
Since I mentioned the bullpen, I have to talk about the fact that this is the first year Sheffield has been a regular starter since high school. He did start six games as a freshman, but Vanderbilt’s rotation was so deep he was stuck in the bullpen. This might have worked well for Sheffield, since the last skills to come back from Tommy John are command and control. This is not a huge issue, but plays into the previous point and might help reinforce the idea to some that Sheffield works best in the pen. I would lean towards his bigger issue being control rather than command, because of his low HR rate. He is not missing his spots and giving up the long ball. He just walks a lot of guys.
The last issue is the Tommy John surgery. There is a tendency to think that the surgery is no big deal anymore and that guys just need to get it out of the way. Yet, the accumulated data we get on pitcher injuries (and Tommy John specifically) seem to show that injuries are often more likely after surgery. While these types of injuries aren’t as scary as they were 30 years ago, more and more injuries are a little scarier than they were just five years ago.
Now for the positives -- they start with Sheffield’s mid-90s fastball, which has gotten up to 98-99. This is a clear plus pitch down-the-road and one of the reasons I think that Sheffield has a pretty safe floor as a closer. His slider is an above-average pitch and his change-up has flashed plus. It’s an interesting set of pitches in a smaller package. He has potential to have three above-average to plus pitches.
Sheffield also has the advantages of bloodlines. His younger brother, Justus, just had a huge season in A ball in the Cleveland Indians’ organization. Justus posted big strikeout numbers while posting low walk totals. Jordan is a very different pitcher than his brother, although both are undersized athletes. Jordan has more velocity and is right-handed, while Justus shows better control and is left-handed. Every year we seem to talk more and more about bloodlines, so Justus’s performance will certainly help Jordan.
Jordan’s control has improved this year, which is to be expected in his second year back from Tommy John surgery. His walk rate is still high, but not the concerning rate it was a year ago. I don’t think his control will ever be more than an average skill (more than likely below average), but the improvement this year has made it possible for him to be a starter.
For the comps section, I went looking for six foot or smaller right-handed pitchers, with a walk rate of three or higher, a strikeout rate of eight or higher, and a home run rate of one or less. This returned 10 seasons and four of those seasons belong to Tim Lincecum. I am not going to compare Sheffield or anyone else to Lincecum; there is a reason he was known as the Freak. There was another name that, the moment I saw it, I realized would be a great comp; that was Yordano Ventura. One note of warning -- if his walk rate creeps up over four, which is lower than his current college rate, the comp changes to Edinson Volquez. This would more than likely cause a switch to the bullpen. If anything holds back Sheffield, it will be his control.
I am a fan of Sheffield and have been one of the most outspoken critics when it comes to the prejudices of scouting as it relates to pitcher height. However, I think it says a lot about this class that, despite the issues here, Sheffield could be the first right-handed college pitcher off the board. He is a very talented player, but, when compared to recent first-round smaller right-handers like Carson Fulmer and Marcus Stroman, he just isn’t in the same class.