MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Often overlooked, Sheffield vital to Yanks' future

New York's No. 7 prospect has the tools to succeed

Often overlooked, Sheffield vital to Yanks' future

TAMPA, Fla. -- When the Yankees talked with the Indians about Andrew Miller in the lead-up to last summer's Trade Deadline, they wanted Clint Frazier, the red-haired, muscle-bound power hitter who is the Yanks' No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and has eagerly embraced the spotlight that accompanies being pinstripe property.

But they wanted left-handed pitching prospect Justus Sheffield equally as much.

"People don't realize Frazier and Sheffield are equals, from our perspective," general manager Brian Cashman said. "Frazier's gotten all the coverage, but I needed both. They're like twins as far as value to us. The other guys [J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller] were important pieces of the deal. But if I didn't get [Sheffield and Frazier], I needed somebody's first-born."

Sheffield -- who is New York's No. 7 prospect, per Pipeline -- sometimes serves as a bit of a forgotten man in a Yankees rebuild project that has largely centered on the acquisition of position-player prospects. At the Major League level and at the upper levels of the farm system, the Yanks are loaded with what people have taken to calling the Baby Bombers -- Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Gleyber Torres (their top prospect), Jorge Mateo (No. 5), Aaron Judge (No. 4), Blake Rutherford (No. 3) and Frazier.

Yankees have No. 2 farm system

But the well-established value of a homegrown rotation means Sheffield has special standing in this organization.

Luis Severino is trying to shake off a rough sophomore showing in the bigs, and the farm has upside arms in the form of Domingo Acevedo, James Kaprielian, Chance Adams and Dillon Tate, to name a few. Sheffield, though, is arguably the most enticing arm of the bunch.

"He's not getting the coverage he deserves," Cashman said.

So let's cover him.

Sheffield is only 20 and hasn't pitched above the Double-A level, which means his odds of ascending out of the Yankees' spring camp and into the Opening Day picture are slim, to say the least. But 16 years ago, another 20-year-old lefty with Indians roots, CC Sabathia, wowed the Tribe brass in Winter Haven, Fla., and went on to a 17-win campaign and runner-up finish in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting.

Don't peg Sheffield to that precedent (though the Yanks hope to be competitive this season, they're not to the point of rushing anybody along). But do believe Sheffield is taking full advantage of the opportunity afforded him by sharing a clubhouse with Sabathia this spring.

"I've been talking to him pretty much every day," Sheffield said. "It's nice to build that relationship. I'm watching his bullpens and watching him pitch and just being open-minded."

Sabathia came to camp just as excited to see Sheffield in action.

"He's got everything he needs [to succeed]," Sabathia said, "and he's doing things the right way."

At the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels last year, Sheffield compiled a 3.38 ERA with 129 strikeouts against 53 walks in 125 1/3 innings. He's got a good fastball that can touch 96 mph with some sink, and his slider is a swing-and-miss asset. Sheffield's changeup is his biggest developmental opportunity, both in this camp and beyond, and his control, as is typical for a player at his age and level, still needs to improve.

But perhaps the biggest knock on Sheffield is something somewhat out of his control -- his size. Listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Sheffield does the conditioning work it takes to become a big league starter, but even though he achieves decent downward plane with his pitches, he's obviously not an imposing presence on the hill. Put him in the Marcus Stroman school of "height doesn't measure heart."

"I've had doubters in my day," Sheffield said. "I'll continue to have doubters. And I love it. Because that's motivation for me. People say, 'He's undersized.' They don't think I'll be able to start. It's just noise, pretty much. I block it out and do my thing."

If the Yankees are going to do this thing they envision -- building from the inside out and using free agency as a topper and not a foundation -- they're going to need to hit, not just on the Baby Bombers, but on the baby arms, Sheffield chief among them.

"We're going to have a real good team in the next couple years," Sheffield said. "You can definitely feel the energy level here. It's intense, and it's great to be a part of it."

The Miller trade wouldn't have happened without Sheffield's inclusion, and he could be just as integral to the Yanks' future fate.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.