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Justus Sheffield Proving Why He’s The New York Yankees Top Pitching Prospect

New York Yankees top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield is proving why he’s the best on the farm with a strong start to 2017.

When the New York Yankees sent All-Star reliever Andrew Miller to the Cleveland Indians, they made sure they got their money’s worth.

That deal, which went down on July 31, 2016, brought in top outfield prospect Clint Frazier, righty J.P. Feyereisen, young flamethrowing prospect Ben Heller and New York’s top pitching prospect (by Baseball Prospectus) Justus Sheffield, who’s currently putting up the numbers to back that ranking.

Through three starts with the Double-A Trenton Thunder, the 20-year-old has only allowed three earned runs in 17.1 innings of work (1.56 ERA) while striking out 16. In his latest start against the Portland Sea Dogs of the Boston Red Sox organization, he struck out five over 5.2 innings of work before the Thunder bullpen blew a 5-2 lead in the ninth.

Sheffield’s best start so far was his only winning decision of the young season — a six strikeout performance against the Akron RubberDucks on April 13.

The Indians’ first-round pick of the 2014 MLB draft pitched in 30 innings in the Yankees’ system following the Miller deal (26 innings in High-A Tampa, four innings in Trenton) and struck out a whopping 36 batters. He also made a couple of appearances for the Yankees in spring training this past March and although he was a mere non-roster invitee, Sheffield put on a solid showcase for the coaching staff.

In 3.2 innings, he struck out four batters and only allowed one run on five hits. No, not overwhelming, but the organization has high hopes for Sheffield and have every right to.

Sheffield contains a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90’s and can reach 96 mph with some bite to it. Accompany that with a mid-80’s slider and a changeup, and you have yourself an attractive repertoire.

One aspect the lefty needs to work on, however, is his walk rate. From 2015 to 2016, his rate jumped from 2.7 to 3.8 and in his 17.1 innings of work to kick off 2017, he has walked 10 batters (5.2). With time to develop and impeccable athleticism, though, he should be able to develop the command needed for him to become a force in the major leagues one day.

As for what’s next, odds are he’ll remain in Double-A Trenton for the majority if not all of 2017. The Yankees like to take their time with pitching projects and given his age and development needs (like the command), his ceiling for this season is expected to be perhaps a couple of starts for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.

But, he’s handling his Double-A assignment pretty well at this moment. One would expect him to take a huge leap up into the top third (25) of a majority of baseball’s top prospects lists if this continues and it wouldn’t be far-fetched to view him as a legitimate option in the Bronx by 2018.

Considering he was in high school just three years ago, that’s actually extraordinary.