Reds Sign Justus Sheffield To Minor League Deal

Reds Sign Justus Sheffield To Minor League Deal

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The Reds have signed left-hander Justus Sheffield to a minor league deal, according to his transactions tracker at MLB.com. He’s been assigned to the Complex League for now but will presumably move up to a higher affiliate after getting into game shape.

Sheffield, 28, will be looking to get back on track after some disappointing results in recent years, though he was once thought to be a future mainstay in the big leagues. Cleveland selected him 31st overall in the 2014 draft and the lefty was twice used as a notable piece of a significant trade. He was sent to the Yankees as part of the 2016 deadline deal that sent Andrew Miller the other way, then was traded to the Mariners after 2018 as part of the deal that sent James Paxton to the Bronx.

He was clearly a hot commodity during that time, looking at that draft selection and his inclusion in those trades. Baseball America ranked him as one of the top 100 prospects in four straight seasons from 2016 to 2019, putting him as high as #27 in the last of those years. That was based on a very strong 2018 campaign, wherein Sheffield tossed 116 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with a 2.48 earned run average, 25.9% strikeout rate and 10.5% walk rate. He also made a brief major league debut with the Yanks, while just 22 years old, before going to Seattle in the aforementioned Paxton trade.

But his time in Seattle didn’t see him deliver on his huge prospect hype. He generally floundered with the Mariners and even struggled with their Triple-A team in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. He currently sports a 5.47 ERA in 186 major league innings, spread out over the 2018 to 2022 period. He got ground balls on 49.5% of balls in play in that time but his 18.2% strikeout rate and 10.6% walk rate were both subpar.

He also tossed 244 1/3 minor league innings from 2019 to 2022 but had a 5.49 ERA in that time, again with fairly uninspiring peripherals. He struck out 21.2% of batters who stepped to the plate while giving out free passes 10.3% of the time.

The Mariners tried moving him to the bullpen, giving him ten relief appearances in Triple-A to start 2023, but his struggles continued and he was released in late April. He landed a minor league deal with Atlanta and that club let him return to the rotation, but he wasn’t able to turn things around with the change of scenery. He finished the year with a 7.63 ERA in 63 2/3 frames between the two organizations. He struck out just 19.9% of batters faced while giving out walks at a 15.2% clip.

He returned to free agency at the end of the season and has lingered there until this deal. For the Reds, there’s little harm in signing this deal and getting an up-close look at Sheffield. Despite his many trials and tribulations, he’s still almost two years away from his 30th birthday, which gives him plenty of time to engineer a second act.

If the Reds plan to stretch him out as a starter, it will likely take a few weeks for him to build up his pitch count. They do have some question marks in their rotation, as Graham Ashcraft was recently optioned to the minors after some poor results and Brandon Williamson had his rehab shut down due to continued discomfort in his throwing shoulder.

For now, the Cincinnati rotation consists of Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Andrew Abbott and Frankie Montas, with guys like Nick Martinez, Carson Spiers, Connor Phillips, Lyon Richardson and Christian Roa candidates to take Ashcraft’s spot. In the longer term, Montas is an impending free agent while Martinez has an opt-out at the end of this year, meaning the depth could be thinned down the road. Though on the other hand, prospect liks Rhett Lowder and Chase Petty are currently in Double-A and will climb into the mix eventually.

Sheffield has less than three years of service time and one option year remaining. If he can get his performance back to his prospect days and earn a roster spot, he could provide the club with some rotation depth and the possibility for long-term benefit if things go especially well.

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