Sheffield not changing approach under spotlight

20-year-old southpaw unfazed by trade that brought him to Yankees' system

Sheffield not changing approach under spotlight

NEW YORK -- Justus Sheffield's world changed in the early morning hours of July 31, 2016, as the young left-hander reached for a cell phone in a North Carolina hotel room and realized that his new mission was to make it to Yankee Stadium.

Now ranked as the Yankees' No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, the 20-year-old quickly saw the opportunities ahead after learning that he was being traded by the Indians for left-hander Andrew Miller, part of a four-player package with outfielder Clint Frazier and pitchers J.P Feyereisen and Ben Heller.

"I was laying in bed. It was like 8 in the morning and I had to pitch that day," Sheffield said. "I was getting ready for my start, and then I got a phone call in Winston-Salem. They pretty much told me that I was getting traded to the Yankees. A lot of emotions were running through my head, but I was definitely excited."

Sheffield ranked No. 79 on 2017 Top 100 Prospects list

Unlike Frazier, who admitted that he felt some pressure to fill the 6-foot-7 Miller's shadow, Sheffield said that he was able to adjust quickly. He'd been hearing his name mentioned in rumors that had Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy headed to Cleveland; Lucroy used his no-trade clause to nix the deal and went to the Rangers instead.

"Twitter was blowing up at that time," Sheffield said. "I thought I was going to be part of the Lucroy trade, then ended up not being part of that. I went to bed finding out I wasn't part of that trade and thinking I wasn't going to get traded. Then I woke up and … it was a shock. I wasn't expecting it, really, but I kind of was."

Sheffield was 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA in five starts for Class A Tampa before completing his year with a four-inning start at Double-A Trenton. Combined with his stats from Class A Lynchburg, where he was 7-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 19 starts, Sheffield finished the Minor League season 10-6 with a 3.09 ERA.

The former first-round pick said he noticed a brighter spotlight once his paychecks started to read "New York Yankees."

"It was such a blockbuster trade -- definitely, the profile jumped," Sheffield said. "I just kind of go about my business the same way I always do. I'm just going to stick to my routines and be the same person I always am. If things start to continue to jump and rise, it does; and if not, that's cool. I'm just out there to play baseball."

Scouts see the makings of an above-average fastball/curveball/changeup mix in the 5-foot-10 Sheffield, who permitted 107 hits in 125 1/3 innings last year while walking 53 and striking out 129. His control will be a focus this spring.

"For me, honestly, I liked what I did last season," Sheffield said. "The only thing I wish I could have improved upon were the amount of walks I had, considering the year before I didn't walk many people and usually I don't. I think that was me just trying to be too perfect on the mound instead of just being myself."

It seemed at times that Sheffield's toughest challenge might be to knock back an erroneous fact that has trailed his brief pro career. No, Sheffield says, he is not related to former big leaguer Gary Sheffield, though the hurler's older brother Jordan is a promising right-hander in the Dodgers' system.

Already at the Yanks' complex in Tampa, Fla., a good two weeks ahead of the official report date for pitchers and catchers, Sheffield described the past few months as a "whirlwind."

"By far, the fastest offseason I've ever had," Sheffield said. "It came pretty quick, but I know I'm ready. The trade was interesting to go through. It was fun, and also there were parts that weren't fun, telling my old teammates goodbye.

"I've had a close relationship with a lot of those guys in the Indians' organization. That was the worst part, but the best part was coming over here and knowing that I was going to put the pinstripes on and being a part of such a historic organization."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.