The road to the major leagues is often fraught with hazards and angels. Players strive to be the best they can be, but often some element of fate intervenes, and the trajectory of a career zooms forward or back before they even know it. The Yankees currently have two pitchers at opposite ends of this spectrum. This is their story.
With most MLB teams carrying from 11-13 pitchers these days, with specialization now firmly entrenched, there is room only for 150 starting pitchers in the big leagues today. Competition for those spots is intense, and when you factor in a team like the Yankees who are in contention to win it all, the intensity for those few spots increases incrementally.
A few days ago, the Yankees made two of the most telling moves we may see before all the roster moves are made, and the team heads North to face the Toronto Blue Jays two weeks from this Thursday.
Read between the lines and the fates of Jordan Montgomery, who was (some say prematurely) named the fifth starter in the Yankees rotation by Aaron Boone, and Justus Sheffield, who was apparently (prematurely) cut and sent down to begin his season at Triple-A Scranton.
Baseball, like any sport, can be a cruel endeavor at the professional level. You get signed at a young age, work your way through the minor league system of the team you play for until you reach a point where it’s Show and Tell at its highest level.
Last Spring, if you recall, Montgomery caught the eye of Joe Girardi, who was then managing the Yankees. Girardi wasn’t as impressed with the rookie’s stuff as he was with his demeanor and body language when he was on the mound. The key, though, is Montgomery responded to the singular chance to prove himself, and subsequently earned the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation, making 29 starts and finishing 9-7 in his first big league season.
The difference in age between Montgomery and Sheffield (25 and soon to be 22 respectively) and therefore maturity, might have been a factor, but I suspect the Yankees were looking for more from Sheffield this spring, and his early departure from camp can be seen as a sublime message being sent to one of their top prospects.
Granted, it’s a small sample, but in every way, Sheffield showed nothing in his three preseason appearances. An 11.81 ERA tells most of it, but the numbers look worse when you drill deeper.
It’s not so much the Yankees expected and hoped there would be real competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. It’s more that Sheffield didn’t even show up to give the Yankees something to think about before they anointed Montgomery into the fifth spot.
Here’s a good in-depth analysis of the Justus Sheffield projected by scouts, and the one we hope to see in the Bronx from Baseball America:
Jordan Montgomery doesn’t come close to Justus Sheffield when it comes to “stuff.” Montgomery, for all the right reasons, reminds of Andy Pettitte, and those comparisons are not exaggerated. Topping out at 92 and occasionally 94 on the gun, Montgomery has not only balls on the mound; he has an idea of what he wants to do with each batter he faces. This was Pettitte, the grinder.
Sheffield, on the other hand, has all the raw stuff but has yet to harness his pitches. And with the Yankees being what they are as a team striving to achieve their 28th World Championship, there is no time to waste in teaching a young stud how to pitch in the major leagues.
Luis Severino came along at the right time, but he could easily behave been Justus Sheffield if not for one year of mentoring and learning when the Yankees were not the Yankees they are now back in 2016.
I’m making it sound like Sheffield may as well retire from baseball, but that is not the case. All I’m saying has Sheffield had a wide-open chance to show the Yankees something. He didn’t, unlike Jordan Montgomery who responded every single time Girardi sent him out there a year ago. It helps to have an angel and Girardi was that for Montgomery, who literally came out of nowhere last spring.
Sheffield has no angel at the moment, and in one of those compelling baseball stories, it remains to be seen how he responds to that challenge in the minor leagues after having been one of the first Yankees chucked back as they seek to trim their roster to 25.
These are the baseball stories that enthrall me as I wonder, where will Justus Sheffield be a year from today?