DENVER -- Onetime first-round MLB Draft pick Jordan Sheffield has a triple-digits fastball, a clear focus and a new opportunity.
The Rockies picked Sheffield, 25, a right-handed reliever, seventh overall in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 Draft on Thursday. Sheffield was a 2016 first-round pick of the Dodgers, 36th overall, out of Vanderbilt, whose highest level was Double-A in 2019. Before the 2020 Minor League season was cancelled, projections had him at least making it to Triple-A.
Sheffield, whose career has been marked by high velocity and high strikeouts but also high walks, flashed his best stuff during instructional ball in Arizona. The Rockies viewed three save opportunities, covering four innings, and charted his fastball at 94-100 mph, with a 96-mph average, and an above-average Major League slider.
Corrections at the top of his delivery helped keep him in the strike zone, and not concerning himself with his Major League future -- whether the Dodgers would add him to their Major League roster or expose him to the Rule 5 Draft -- helped his focus.
“The work I put in prior to instructs was something I believed in and trusted, and once instructs came, it was all baseball,” Sheffield said. “I just stopped thinking. I was just playing, doing the best I could, not thinking about the rosters, Rule 5, any of that.
“I think I made some really good leaps. I worked on some things here and there mechanically and just trusted my stuff in the zone. That was one of my biggest goals.”
According to Rockies assistant general manager of player personnel Jon Weil, Rockies professional scout Kevin Bootay watched Sheffield's instructional ball outings in late October.
In four Minor League seasons, Sheffield went 8-18 with a 4.56 ERA in 99 games, including 42 starts. He has 240 strikeouts and 128 walks in 211 1/3 innings. In 2018-19, he pitched mainly in relief (all but 10 of his 66 outings) and struck out 118 against 65 walks in 92 innings pitched.
Sheffield has dealt with skepticism because he stands at 5-foot-10, and he underwent Tommy John surgery while at Tullahoma (Tenn.) High School before his successful career at Vanderbilt. But Weil said Sheffield has desirable downhill tilt on his pitches.
“The stuff is there,” Weil said. “It’s just a matter of if we can harness the control and lower the walks, but his stuff plays at Coors Field. It’s power. It’s premium. It’s just a matter of making sure we shrink the zone and challenge him.
“We’re going to get our pitching coaches to start on him early, watch his delivery and walk through any mechanical issues they see to get him more in the zone. When you have stuff like that, you can afford to miss. You just can’t walk guys.”
In interviews early in his career, Sheffield spoke of wanting to remain a starter but now just envisions "pitching in any situation to help [the team], whether it's [in the] bullpen late in the game or early in the game, starting or closing."
Sheffield has an opportunity to help a Rockies bullpen that struggled in 2020. The best-case scenario is for him to stick on the Rockies’ 26-man roster throughout the ’21 season.
Sheffield’s younger brother, Justus Sheffield, is a member of the Mariners’ rotation, and he defeated the Rockies on Aug. 9 by striking out seven over six scoreless innings at Seattle.
“We've actually lived together through Spring Training, as well as in the offseason,” Jordan Sheffield said. “He has been my roommate for 24 years. It’s honestly easy living with him and it makes things ... fun. It's definitely a dream that I'm sure both of us have had, looking across the field and seeing each other.”
The Rockies lost outfielder Vince Fernandez to the Giants in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft. Fernandez hit .257 with 15 home runs in 74 games at Double-A Hartford in 2019 -- a year that saw him suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a banned stimulant under the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.