The lesson is changing, but Justus Sheffield is still learning.
A season that began as a starter in Double-A Trenton probably will end in The Bronx as a reliever, the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect being converted to assist in September.
At the campaign’s onset, the 22-year-old vowed to change his mindset this year: He wanted to rack up outs, not strikeouts. He has pitched 116 minor league innings to a 2.48 ERA, striking out 123 in that span.
“As long as you’re throwing strikes and letting your defense work, you’re going to have short innings. But if you’re trying to strike everyone out all the time, it’s probably going to end up with long innings and your pitch count’s going to go up. I think he’s learning that,” Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre manager Bobby Mitchell said before the transition. “And he’s doing a good job with it.
“He doesn’t need to be striking everyone out. … He’s learning how to pitch.”
Now he’s learning how to relieve, too, and it’s coming along. His first two appearances out of the bullpen he pitched a pair of innings and allowed a run each time. The left-handed pitcher had his best appearance Sunday, tossing 2 ¹/₃ perfect innings with four strikeouts, and while the Yankees are teeming with relievers, it’s likely he gets the call-up before the year ends.
If and when he does?
“I’ll start crying,” Sheffield said earlier this season. “When that time comes, it’ll just hit me. It’s hard for me to imagine. Hopefully it does come sooner than later. I’ll definitely be excited.”
The player who began the season as the team’s No. 1 prospect finishes it as Beating The Bushes’ Yankees prospect of the year.
Fastest riser: Michael King
A nondescript starting pitcher last year in Single-A for the Marlins is now banging on the major league door for the Yankees.
King, an afterthought return in the trade last year that sent Caleb Smith and Garrett Cooper to the Marlins — the primary return wasn’t a player, but international slot money — has risen from Single-A Tampa to Triple-A this year, dominating each level.
With a nasty, low-90s two-seam fastball, King has put up a 1.80 ERA across the three levels, striking out 148 in 155 ¹/₃ innings.
In his past three starts with SWB, he’s allowed one run in 19 ¹/₃ innings, with hitters batting .125 against him.
“Like a surgeon,” Mitchell said recently about King. “Just goes out there and knows exactly what he wants to do. … In and out, off-speed, away, I love to watch him pitch.”
Revelation of the year: Deivi Garcia
In a system that is overflowing with big, young arms, Garcia has forced his way onto the Yankees’ radar.
The 19-year-old, who thoroughly dominated Single-A competition, was called up to Double-A Trenton this weekend. He was set to start Sunday night, becoming the first teenager to start for the Thunder since Manny Banuelos in 2010, the team said.
“Elite fastball. Pitches like he’s 6-foot-5,” Yankees minor league pitching coordinator Danny Borrell said about the 5-10 righty from the Dominican Republic. “Heck of a season for the kid.”
In 69 innings with Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, Garcia, with a fastball that buzzes from 92-95 mph, struck out 98 and walked 18.
Stock dropped: Chance Adams
Adams began 2017 as the organization’s second best prospect, behind only Gleyber Torres.
A surgery and diminished velocity later, Adams struggled through the season, his ERA nearing 5.00 at SWB. He has gotten a shot in the big leagues and now, like Sheffield, is being looked at as a reliever.
The Yankees hope that next season, Adams will make the jump from low-90s to mid-90s again.
“He’s still a dude,” rival Triple-A Pawtucket manager Kevin Boles said. “He’s still one of the better pitchers in the league.”
Pain delay: Jonathan Loaisiga, Albert Abreu, Freicer Perez, Estevan Florial
A system stacked with pitching is a system stacked with injury issues.
Several of the Yankees’ top prospects have missed extended time this year, with Loaisiga (the No. 3 prospect) throwing just 56 total innings, Abreu (No. 4) at 67 ²/₃ innings and Perez (No. 20) tossing 25 innings before he was shut down for the year with a shoulder issue.
It’s a problem that will befall any organization deep in pitching, but one that has hit the Yankees particularly hard this year.
Florial, the team’s No. 2 prospect, has missed extended time after wrist surgery, and has played in just 84 games. He still teases the same five-tool gifts, slashing .283/.378/.424 entering Sunday. His strikeouts are still an issue, but an improving one. He has struck out 92 times in 325 at-bats, for a 28 percent clip — down from the 148 Ks in 420 at-bats last year (35 percent).
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