Trenton Thunder

Traded from the Indians to the Yankees last year and now in Double-A, Justus Sheffield is looking to make his mark.

TRENTON, NJ -- The Yankees acquired southpaw Justus Sheffield as part of the Andrew Miller trade with the Cleveland Indians last season. Known for his top-shelf talent, he got his feet wet at the Double-A level late last season and he finds himself right back in Trenton to start the new season this year. He looked great in his season debut last Wednesday too and he says he's looking to make the most of his opportunity in the Yankee organization.

Sheffield believes that this opportunity with the Yankees organization is a crucial step in his progression to the Major League level and has faith that he is handling the shift.

“This is probably the biggest thing for me in my career,” he said. “It was a big switch, a big change for me, but I feel like I made the transition well.”

The Cleveland Indians selected the lefty with their first round pick in 2014.  He spent his debut season in the Rookie League in Arizona, then to the low-A level in the Midwest League the following year.

He held a 9-4 record with Single-A Lake County in 2015, having an ERA of 3.31 in 26 starts. His ability to strike batters out showed with 138 strikeouts in 127.2 innings.

As apart of three minor league teams in 2016, Sheffield excelled in finding the strike zone and using it well, recording 120 strikeouts in 24 starts in Single-A advanced, and only holding batters to a .233 batting average against him.

His steady and stellar performances didn't go unnoticed as he was moved up to Double-A Trenton for his final start last year.

Despite only being acquired at the trade deadline last season, Sheffield already has goals to strive for in Trenton. 

“Obviously I want to win a championship, that's the main goal for all of us,” he said. “We have our own personal goals.  Everyone wants to get to the big leagues but for right now we are working to get back to the championship and win it this year.”

In his only start with Trenton during the 2016 campaign, he had a stellar performance on September 2 versus Reading. In only four innings of work, he struck out nine on 80 pitches. The southpaw only allowed two hits in the outing.

Another dynamic that Sheffield brings is the ability to not let up the long ball. He only let up six home runs in low-A and eight in Single-A advanced. 

Thunder Manager Bobby Mitchell isn't the only one with high expectations of Sheffield.

“I think he has very high expectations of himself, and that's what makes him so good," Mitchell said. "I don't think our expectations are any higher than what he has for himself.  He's a competitor, a bulldog on the mound. He goes out there and competes to the max, we expect a lot of good things from him.”

During this season, in his first start against Akron, he pitched 5.2 innings without allowing an earned run. He fanned six and again only allowed two hits, earning him his first victory in Double-A. 

Mitchell also praised the Tennessee native on how the starter’s performances has flourished from Spring Training to Trenton thus far.

“He's just a big leaguer in the making, as you watch him pitch and mature.  I'm sure the team he came from are disappointed we have him now,” he said. “We are really high on him, he has a very high ceiling.”

With only having one start on this level of play last season, Sheffield spoke on what he focused on during the off season, to be a force in the Thunder rotation.

“Building strength and getting a lot of conditioning in,” he said. “On the pitching side, one of my goals coming into this year was to pitch deep into games; stay out there as long as I can and continue to compete.”

Some aspects of the left-handed pitcher's game that has improved over Spring Training is the development of his off speed pitches. Sheffield believes that perfecting his fastball could help him with the rest of his repertoire too.

“I feel like my changeup is working really well, my secondary pitches are both working well,” Sheffield said. “I feel like if I can continue to establish the fastball then my secondary pitches are going to play off that, so I just have to continue to work off that.” 

Seeing the many homegrown players now getting opportunities with the big league club these days, Sheffield, now at the Double-A level, knows just how important this season is for him and he plans on making the most of it going forward.

“I'm loving it right now, it’s a big opportunity for me,” he said with a smile.

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