Yankee prospect could be the pitching solution they need
When the New York Yankees turned to seasoned trade deadline acquisition Lance Lynn to replace Sonny Gray in the rotation, some wondered why not Justus Sheffield? The 22-year old is oozing with upside and owns a shiny 2.16 ERA for the Triple-A RailRiders. Lance Lynn has put this question to rest, but that does not mean Sheffield can’t make a huge impact for this team as the playoff race heats up. The Yanks should use him, not as a spot starter, but as a specialist out of the bullpen. The inexperienced arm will need innings at the highest level to be ready for October, especially if deployed in the later innings. Each passing day he sits in Triple-A is one less opportunity to groom him for this role. It is looking highly likely that fans will not see him in pinstripes until September. But, the time is now to call him up.
Yankees brass along with GM Brian Cashman, obviously did not believe Sheffield was ready to take the ball every fifth day for the big-league ball club. The experienced Lynn seemed to be the more logical choice and early returns look promising. The team should still bring up the number 27 rated prospect in all baseball (according to MLB.com), earlier than September to allow him to get his feet wet and carve out a key role. This move allows for the efficient management of his innings, while also helping the Yankees during an intense pennant race where every game matters. If you examine the Yanks rotation behind Luis Severino, you see four pitchers that are not exactly known for getting deep into ball games. In many of their starts, J.A Happ and C.C. Sabathia are only throwing 5 innings, sometimes less, which would allow Sheffield to be used to bridge the gap to their elite backend relievers.
This role is crucial in the postseason where a starting pitcher’s leash is much shorter than in the regular season. Bullpens are no longer asked to get 3-6 outs. Instead they are asked to get 12 and in some circumstances 15 outs in crucial October battles. This extension means that more roles in relief are needed and each pitcher’s role is magnified. Sheffield has what it takes to fit into a middle-relief role with the potential to extend out if needed. This can be of enormous value for the team. For example, if Sabathia runs into big trouble in the 3rdinning of a critical postseason game, it would be ideal to turn to someone as dynamic as Sheffield to save the day and give the team a chance to win. Not only this, he would provide the relief corps with another left-handed pitcher with the ability to subdue big-time lefty hitters. His dynamic fastball tops out at 96 mph with movement, is the equalizer that allows him to be to be effective enough against right-handed batters as well. His primary pitch is complemented by a breaking ball that varies in shape but is best as a sweeping slider (also has a slower bending curve). It is time to see if the young arm is ready to thrive in the Bronx. He looks poised to make a strong impact on the Yankees chase for ring number 28.
The Yanks lineup is known for its ability to strike quickly and come back in games. It is paramount that the team is able to maximize the strength of their bullpen to always keep them close. Sheffield should be a part of these plans in a role similar to 2007 David Price for the Tampa Bay Rays. At that point, Price was another dynamic lefty that helped push an elite level team over the top. He was not limited to left-handed hitters but was used in favorable situations where he could use his dynamic stuff to get 6-9 outs effectively. As Price became more comfortable it was easy to see the confidence and self-belief in his pitching attack. Once this role is established for Sheffield, he can build that same confidence and be ready for critical games down the stretch. This would be ideal for both parties as it allow the team to put him in situations to be effective and allows Sheffield to continue his upward trajectory in his development.
The Yankees need to have as much talent as possible on their roster when the calendar flips to October and they square off with rest of the high-powered American League. Waiting to call up Sheffield will waste his ability to make any sort of impact when needed most. He has clearly put himself into position to be one of the best 12 or 13 pitching options in the organization. He will be needed when the time comes. Cashman needs to make the move.