MOOSIC — When Justus Sheffield was traded to the New York Yankees organization in July 2016, there was a fellow southpaw he could immediately relate to.
Albeit, Sheffield came to the Yankees as a touted prospect through a trade and Sabathia signed with the team as a big-time free agent in 2007 after being traded — himself — midseason. But they were leaving the Cleveland Indians organization behind in one way or another.
“It’s crazy because you get a guy like that who’s in his 18th year of baseball,” said the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders left-hander. “He’s got so much experience, so much knowledge that he’s really able to just open up for questions or things like that.
“Not only that, just outside of baseball — an all-around great person. Definitely somebody I want to surround myself with and be around him being a lefty and him being from Cleveland —stuff like that. It’s ironic how things worked out.”
Ever since Sabathia reached out to Sheffield during the young pitcher’s first offseason in the organization, when Sheffield made a trip up to New York, a bond started to form.
The 37-year-old starting pitcher took the talented prospect under his wing. When spring training rolled around in 2017, Sabathia’s lessons for the young gun began.
Sabathia started inviting Sheffield to dinner. Even their lockers cornered each other in the clubhouse this past spring. These days, Sabathia tends to reach out to the 22-year-old after most of Sheffield’s starts. And if Sheffield ever has a question, Sabathia’s always there.
Sheffeild said it was hard to shake the star power of Sabathia at first, but now he sees the possible future Hall of Famer as just another “dude.”
“Well, he’s not just another dude,” Sheffield clarified with a chuckle. “He’s another baseball player with a lot of knowledge.”
Through all of their conversations, Sabathia’s best advice for Sheffield can directly relate to what the RailRiders’ pitcher has tried to work on most — trusting his ability and just going out there and pitching.
Sheffield has struggled with his control this season, walking more batters than years past.
However, after a rough start — walking 11 batters in four April games — Sheffield has seen that total go down each of the following months. Sheffield walked 12 batters in five starts in May, 10 batters in five appearances in June and walked just three in his lone start earlier this month.
“He’s (Sabathia) open. He’s probably one of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” Sheffield said. “I think for me, he just really wants me to focus on trusting my stuff. The main thing he beats in my head is to throw strikes. He tells me all the time that my stuff is really good, really good. I have to be able to trust it. That’s really helped me with going out there and not try to nibble on the corners and really attacking guys.”
For Sabathia, part of the reason the 18-year vet came back was to help out the Yankees’ young and talented pitchers like Sheffield.
While he might not have had a mentor like the one he’s being to Sheffield when he was 21 or 22, Sabathia is happy to be there for the young prospects as they grow through the system.
“He’s a good kid and I’m just trying to help him,” Sabathia told NJ Advance Media back in March. “He’s a left-handed pitcher who has all the talent in the world. If I can be there as a friend, I think it’ll help him.”
Everything seems to be clicking for Sheffield right now.
The RailRiders southpaw is coming off of his best outing of the season on Monday, pitching seven innings for the first time in Triple-A, and, on Friday, was named to the Futures Game.
Sheffield is seeing the work he’s putting in with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre pitching coach Tommy Phelps on the side pay off, and his confidence is building because of it.
If Sheffield keeps pitching like he has of late, Sabathia might have to find a locker near his in the Yankees clubhouse for the youngster.
“Right now I feel very strong, very confident,” Sheffield said. “I don’t know. I just feel really good when I’m out there on the mound. I feel like things are starting to piece together. I’m putting in my work with Phelpsie on the mound in-between my starts, and we’re doing a lot of work, just continuing to do that and I’m actually seeing it translate to the game. It’s pretty cool to see the translation from my work days into the games.
“Just got to keep going.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle