MOOSIC — Despite their late-season, and successful, stints in the bullpen, Justus Sheffield and Chance Adams’times as relievers will be short-lived.
At least for now.
When the young pitching prospects embark for Tampa ahead of spring training, it will be as starting pitchers not relievers. Sheffield and Adams will spend their spring back in the role they spent most of the season with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders.
“We talk about versatility all the time,” New York Yankees senior director of player development Kevin Reese said. “It’s tough to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues. There’s not as many starting jobs, and especially to pitch for the Yankees. I think we have really high expectations and it’s even harder to break in as a starting pitcher with the Yankees.
“There are times where a guy might kind of go back and forth or sit in the pen and then the next spring we try him as a starter again, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But we’re trying to get the most out of these guys and give these guys an avenue to get to the big leagues. I think there’s a lot that we try to get out of it.”
Reese admits the decision to shift Sheffield into the bullpen back in August probably caught the 22-year-old southpaw by surprise.
Sheffield has no history of being a reliever, while at least that’s how Adams was drafted. But Sheffield adapted well to his new role and the Yankees are pleased what they’ve seen from him.
“Looking forward, this is something we should try a little bit sooner with guys. To give them the ability to learn a routine,” Reese said. “With Chance and with him, we kind of did it on the fly. They’re going through something different than they have before as a professional. Overall, Justus, for a guy that’s 22, he’s performing in Triple-A and he’s doing a nice job. He’s a tough competitor that I think he wants to throw a no-hitter every time he goes out there. So he’s tough on himself, but we’re pretty happy with what he’s done.”
The Yankees top prospect sports a 2.98 ERA in seven appearances out of the RailRiders bullpen this season. And on Saturday it all paid off when Sheffield was finally promoted to the bigs for the first time.
Sheffield, along with fellow pitcher Domingo German, are expected to report to the Yankees on Tuesday.
“The transition to the bullpen, obviously, I knew there was something going on there,” Sheffield said after Saturday’s 6-2 season-ending loss to the Durham Bulls. “So it was hard for me to block it out and do my thing. When I did, I felt back to myself. It was one of those things where it was hard to block out.”
“I am still at a loss for words. I’m super excited. I just can’t believe it.”
Even though it’s been a small sample size, Adams has looked dominant as a reliever for the RailRiders. So much so that manager Bobby Mitchell and catcher Wilkin Castillo have both stated that relieving could be the path for Adams at the next level.
While Adams will start spring training as a starting pitcher, Reese did admit that a bullpen role could be an “avenue” down the road.
In five appearances out of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre bullpen, Adams registered a 1-0 record and 1.27 ERA. He even earned a save in his last relief appearance before being called up on Wednesday.
“I think it’s an avenue,” Adams said. “It’s difficult to be a starting pitcher in the big leagues and so the guys that have that stuff that picks up out of the pen, and some guys have that mentality. Some guys don’t. Some guys have a starter mentality and are able to be more economical and navigate a lineup, some guys have a little bit more of a knack of just come out, let it fly and have really good results and they both have a lot of value. We’re pretty happy with what Chance has been able to do. I think that’s part of why he’s up there right now and we’ll see how it goes into next season.”
King on the map
When Mike King came to the Yankees this offseason in a trade from the Miami Marlins, he had never finished a season with an ERA under 3.14.
That changed and changed quickly this year as he quickly rose through the organization.
It took just seven starts with High-A Tampa to conquer the Florida State League. He secured a 1.79 ERA and 1-3 record. Then in Double-A, King found similar success, making 11 starts for the Thunder. He dominated the Eastern League, going 6-2 with a 2.09 ERA. But it has been his time in Triple-A that has been most impressive.
King made four starts with the RailRiders in the regular season and went 4-0 with a 1.15 ERA. He also picked up Player of the Month honors from both the International League and MiLB.
King’s 2018 campaign has Reese giddy about the 23-year-old’s future.
“He’s one of my favorite pitchers to watch,” Reese said. “The way he attacks hitters. The way he prepares is outstanding. He just, he’s ready. He knows the hitters even if he’s coming to a new level, he already knows who these guys are, what they can do, what they can’t do and he has a plan of how to attack and he does a really nice job of executing. I think he’s put himself on — he was on the prospect map for us, but I think he’s put himself on the whole Major League Baseball prospect map and we’re excited about his future.”
Cortes in the mix
As the RailRiders looked to make the playoffs again this season, Nestor Cortes was a calming presence every time he stepped on the mound down the stretch.
In five August starts, Cortes picked up a 2-0 record and 2.97 ERA. His efforts this season haven’t gone unnoticed either.
“He’s another guy that is just a great competitor,” Reese said. “You see the things he does with his delivery. You see the things with his arm angles. He’s trying to find every avenue in a way to beat every hitter he’s facing. I think he’s put himself in the mix as far as if we needed to call somebody up to the big leagues and we’re not worried about Nestor going out and being afraid of the big lights or anything like that. It’s another option and you need those guys.”
Yankees hope for rebound for Frazier
Reese watched Clint Frazier grind his way back from a concussion and successive side effects at various points this season.
With a multitude of opportunities to make an impact for the Yankees this season, it just wasn’t in the cards for Frazier. Now that he’s shut down for the season, the hope is that he’s ready in time for spring training.
“Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go for next year,” Reese said. “It’s obviously been a tough year for him. He was out there working his butt off every day down in Tampa and I feel for him. He wants to be out on the field and I think it’s just a tough situation.”
Holder taking in Finals
With a strong finish to his 2018 campaign, Yankees infield prospect Kyle Holder earned a spot in the RailRiders clubhouse for the Governors’ Cup Finals.
Even though Holder isn’t on the active roster, he’s been with the RailRiders throughout the series and has taken part in batting practice and pre-game work.
Reese is excited about the 24-year-old’s future in the organization.
“Yeah, we value him a ton. That speaks to why he’s here,” Reese said. “He’s a great defender, he’s actually come around with the bat a little bit toward the end of the season and had a little bit of momentum.”
Estrada looking for bounce back
Like Frazier, RailRiders infielder Thairo Estrada’s season has been mired by injury.
After being on the disabled list with a variety of lower body injuries stemming from a gun shot wound he suffered as a victim of an attempted robbery since May, Estrada will return to action this fall in the Arizona Fall League.
The Yankees are hopeful this will provide Estrada an opportunity to build some momentum into the 2019 season.
“He’s another guy — he’s been down there with me most of the year in Tampa,” Reese said. “You see him go after it. You see him hop in the cage after not taking swings for a month and he’s hitting line drives everywhere. You see flashes of what we saw last year and why he was added to the (40-man) roster and it’s tough. There was an unfortunate situation that he had to deal with and he wasn’t quite ready to get it going. He made a quick stint, but we’re very excited about Thairo still and I’m hoping he gets a chance to get going in the fall league.”
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle