Justus, what in the world happened this year? This isn’t Six Flags. Why the rollercoaster? What was your expectation this season? Did you meet said expectations? How can we cement the best version of Justus Sheffield in 2020? Talk to me.
We’ve got Brian DeLunas here. You know, your new Bullpen Coach? Well, as Director of Pitching Development last season, Brian says he observed some things in you that probably won’t be an issue next year. Brian, whatcha got?
“I think Justus really felt he was going to break Spring Training last year in the rotation,” DeLunas said. “When he went down to Tacoma, he felt like ‘what more do I have to do’ and he put some much pressure on himself.”
Is that so, Justus? That seems to check out considering your struggles at AAA. What then?
“Well, every inning it seemed Justus was trying to get to Seattle,” DeLunas said. “He pitched so hard to a stat line instead of pitching to win that it really ended up squeezing him too hard.”
Interesting. Justus, is this true? I mean, you are only 22 years old. We understand you’re still maturing as a baseball player and a pitcher. Is that why he ended up in Arkansas?
“Yeah, He got to Arkansas and it was a fresh restart and more let’s just go play ball,” DeLunas said.
It certainly seems Arkansas helped right the ship heading into your cup of coffee toward the end of the year in Seattle, Justus. You performed admirably well in your short stay last season, honestly. Since getting called up on August 23, you pitched 33 innings and struck out 34 batters. That’s good! You also walked 14 batters. That’s not so good! Surrendering 42 hits over that period is also uncharacteristic of you.
Brian, do you have any thoughts on where Justus should go from here to become a more consistent piece of the rotation in 2020?
“Well, To be a consistent big league pitcher, the delivery will need to tighten up,” DeLunas said. “Marco (Gonzales) does that better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Being around Marco will really help him.”
Interesting. That’s a good starting point. Don’t be afraid to shadow Marco this spring, Justus. He’s a master craftsman. You’ve got better raw stuff than him, so just think where your ceiling could go with some refinement.
“Well the hits were a surprise,” DeLunas said. “He’s not going to be a pitcher that’s going to be be ‘hit’ out of a ballgame. I think he can still be the top of a rotation type guy.”
Right, so how does he get there?
“The changeup,” DeLunas said. “He’ll need to continue to take a little off the changeup. If he can throw the slider off of that, it’s a game changer.”
It’s hard to say what your ceiling is at this point, Justus. Brian and I both think you have top-of-the-rotation stuff. Your ceiling is undefined. You’re going to have to keep mixing your pitches to both sides of the plate. Like Marco does. If you can continue focusing on your command, and really place and emphasis on that changeup, you’re gonna go far, kid.
To be honest, I’m not sure if you’re a 6 or 7 inning guy. But that’s okay! It really is. Baseball is moving away from traditional inning expectations for starting pitchers. If you can become a guy that really dominates a lineup twice through, we’ll be really, really happy. We’ll have the horses behind you to close the game out. Give us five dominant innings, you know, a run or two, six strikeouts, maybe set a goal for yourself of one walk per night or fewer. If you can do that, your value to this team will be immense.
Any final thoughts, Brian?
“Yeah, (Justus) has a tendency to be a really amped up guy,” DeLunas said. “He’ll tell you that. He’ll rush down the mound a little bit.”
Yeah, that definitely falls in line with the mechanics, Justus. As a whole, let’s focus on tightening that up this spring. Focus on staying through the baseball and finishing your pitches arm-side. When you’re missing high and away or pulling ball through the zone, just know you’re too hot. Slow down and dot the left side of the strike zone. That’s when you’re right.
So there you have it, bud. You’ve had your first taste of major league pitching. Let’s continue to work that changeup into your arsenal this offseason and be prepared to use it this spring. Spend as much time with Marco as you can. He’s a great model for reaching your ceiling. Finally, you’re going to be a year older next year, so we expect the nerves to take a step in the right direction this year.
You’re a big part of this team’s future and we’re counting on you to embrace that. Go get em, kid.