A late-season slide at Vanderbilt allowed Jordan Sheffield to slide to the Dodgers at pick No. 36 in the 2016 MLB Draft, giving Los Angeles the opportunity to draft one of the more electric arms in college baseball. Whether that arm is eventually used in the rotation or at the back end of the bullpen is the biggest question left for Sheffield to answer. A Tommy John survivor and sophomore signee, Sheffield lacks the mound time of the typical college draft pick, and might have more upside left despite his modest frame.
After bouncing between the bullpen and rotation during his freshman season, Sheffield was the Vanderbilt workhorse during 2016. Sheffield was the only Commodore to surpass 100 innings, and his workload may have worked to his detriment, as a few less than stellar starts down the stretch may have cast further doubt on his future role. Despite fatigue, Sheffield proved to be one of the best strikeout artists in the SEC, exceeding a strikeout per inning in each season.
Questions about Sheffield’s durability stem from his previous arm surgery and his frame. Sheffield is listed at 6’0 and 185 lbs., but appears rather compact. His arm speed is extremely quick, which helps generate velocity and power in his breaking ball, but his delivery isn’t without effort. Sheffield’s windup might look atypical at first, but has become more in vogue in the college game. He starts practically from the stretch, with his first step toward first base. The set up simplifies the wind up process and keeps him in line, he still employs a high leg kick and fluidity of motion.
Sheffield is a fantastic athlete and has made marked improvement in control of his plus offerings. His fastball can sit between 95-97 mph, and when starting every seven days he could hold it deep into starts. The pitch has life arm side, but he must constantly watch his location and plane given his small frame. He was able to get by with just average command in college, but Sheffield has room to improve in this department.
His second best offering is a power downer curveball that can at times look like a slider given its speed and plane. He can throw the pitch both for strikes and as a chase pitch, and flashes the potential to be a plus strikeout pitch. Sheffield also throws a firm change up in the upper 80s that can flash plus and offers sufficient separation in velocity from his fastball.
Given his 2016 college workload, the Dodgers used Sheffield sparingly after signing. Sheffield never exceeded two innings in a professional outing, which allowed him to redline his pitches each outing. We still need to see what effect starting every fifth day will do to his stuff, but it’s likely the Dodgers will continue to monitor his daily workload as a pro. Sheffield spent the bulk of his brief time with Class-A Great Lakes, and he’ll likely return there to open the 2017 season.
Despite lacking in physical projection, Sheffield’s upside can be tied to his superior athleticism and relative inexperience on the mound. Sheffield proved a quick study in the SEC, moving from primary relief to workhorse starter in just one season. Likewise, Sheffield can continue to make marked improvements in his command just with more professional mound time, giving him a better chance to stay in the rotation.
Additionally, the Dodgers’ recent deployment of starting pitchers not named Kershaw could also work in Sheffield’s favor to stay in the rotation. It would be easier to forecast Sheffield as a starter capable of taking the ball 25 times a year and pitching 5-6 innings an outing before turning the ball over to the bullpen. If a role like that can keep his arm fresh and his stuff crisp, that’s 125-140 innings of plus to plus-plus strikeout production.
While Sheffield could move quickly, it’s still much too early to forecast his future role, and for now, I expect the Dodgers to develop him in the rotation until he proves he can’t handle it. His bullpen potential is obviously immense, and he could be a first division closer at some point in that role. However, the allure of another high strikeout overpowering starter is too much to pass up at this time.