Indians agree to terms with LHP Sheffield
CLEVELAND -- Justus Sheffield did not make the same decision his brother did a year ago, but their situations were decidedly different.
On Thursday night, the Indians used their second first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Sheffield, a highly-touted high school lefty out of Tennessee. Sheffield had already committed to Vanderbilt University, where his brother, Jordan, redshirted this season after choosing not to sign with the Red Sox after last summer's Draft.
The brothers have discussed this moment numerous times and they chatted again after Cleveland drafted Justus out of Tullahoma High School. By the end of the night, Sheffield had agreed to terms with the Indians on a bonus of $1.6 million, according to MLB.com's Jim Callis.
"Jordan has talked to Justus I couldn't tell you how many times," said Travis Sheffield, the boys' father. "Jordan, we just got off the phone with him. He's excited."
Cleveland used its top first-round pick (No. 21) on University of San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, but the club addressed pitching 10 picks later. The Indians were awarded the 31st overall selection as compensation for Ubaldo Jimenez leaving via free agency. When Jimenez declined a qualifying offer from the Tribe, and then signed a long-term deal with Baltimore, the Indians earned the extra pick.
The Indians also selected Virginia outfielder Mike Papi (No. 38) and Damien High School (Calif.) righty Grant Hockin (No. 61) on Thursday.
The 18-year-old Sheffield was recently named the Gatorade National Player of the Year, becoming the first player from a Tennessee high school to take home that honor. Cleveland's top Draft pick last year, outfielder Clint Frazier, earned that away in 2013. Pitchers who have won the title in previous years include Zack Greinke (2002), Clayton Kershaw (2006) and Rick Porcello (2007).
"Looking at those names, it's like, 'Wow, how did I win this award?'" Sheffield told the Tennessean on Wednesday.
The Indians know the risk of selecting a prep player committed to a college, but taking such an athlete so high in the Draft tends to help convince them to sign. The 31st selection has a suggested signing-bonus value of $1.733 million, but Sheffield was willing to sign on the dotted line for slightly less. As part of the deal, Cleveland agreed to pay for eight semesters of education at Vanderbilt.
Sheffield might not have been taken by the Tribe if they thought he would not sign.
"With any of our picks in the first 10 rounds," said Brad Grant, Cleveland's director of amateur scouting, "it's extremely important under the new system to ensure that you're able to sign them, and that you can work towards an understanding. So, I think with any of the picks, obviously there's a lot that goes into it to ensure that they're interested in signing."
Last year, the Red Sox selected Jordan Sheffield in the 13th round of the Draft, but the pitcher was sidelined with an elbow injury. Under the circumstances, he opted not to sign and pursue a collegiate career with Vanderbilt.
Justus Sheffield was hardly facing the same situation.
"It was hard for Jordan just because he was injured," Justus told the Tennessean.
This past season, Sheffield spun a perfect 10-0 record for Tullahoma High, turning in a 0.34 ERA to go along with 131 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings. As a batter, he also fared well, hitting at a .405 clip with three homers, 12 doubles and 16 RBIs.
The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Sheffield features a fastball that sits around 89-92 mph, but can top out around 94 mph. He also throws a power slider and changeup, giving him multiple weapons that will allow the Indians to give him a shot as a starting pitcher.
"Justus Sheffield is a very athletic left-handed pitcher," Grant said. "He's another guy with a really good track record. He played for Team USA, played in all the showcases over the summer."
Brad White, Sheffield's coach at Tullahoma High School, said Justus' height should not be viewed as a hindrance.
"If he's two inches taller, I think he's a guy being talked about at the very top of the Draft," White said. "You can't measure heart and you can't measure competitiveness and compassion. Justus is an 80 on all of those grades, and I think Cleveland is going to reap the benefits of taking him right there."
Travis Sheffield said their family kept the Indians in mind when Draft day arrived.
"The area scout, Chuck Bartlett, he talked to Justus about a week ago," Travis said. "The last words Chuck told Justus I believe were, 'I believe in you. You've got to believe in me.' That was it. It's surprising that it's the Indians, but it's not because, when it's those last words, we put them up on the radar."
It was a proud day for Justus' father.
"We've been on pins and needles all day long," Travis Sheffield said. "He's happy to be an Indian."