I’ll just put it this way: who would you rather have right now, James Paxton or Justus Sheffield?
The fun answer to that question is, in theory, the Mariners could have BOTH, what with Paxton currently being a free agent. Since we traded him to the Yankees for Sheffield (and … others), Paxton has predictably suffered from injuries and it seems like a long shot that he’ll ever be counted upon to anchor a rotation. He could be had for an incentive-laden deal, but I wouldn’t count him among any longterm plans.
Since this is Uninteresting Mariners Week, though, let’s leave the more interesting topics for another time. Similarly to a lot of other guys, I like Sheffield. I would rather have him, even though the ceiling is always going to be higher for Paxton when he’s healthy. But Sheffield is much younger and – so far – not prone to injury. It’s a no-brainer, in that sense.
And, to his credit, Sheffield had a pretty good year in 2020! It was his first “full” season in the Major Leagues (COVID-19 limitations notwithstanding; he would’ve been up here for a 162-game season as well, had the pandemic not raged quite so hard). Clearly, the Mariners were taking it easy on him, not pushing him too much; his longest outings were 7 innings, and his highest single-game pitch count was 99. Yet, he still managed 6 Quality Starts out of 10 total appearances, which is pretty good for a 24 year old.
My biggest concern, obviously, lies in his fastball. It’s not particularly … fast. He did improve his command, and hitters weren’t quite as able to mash him for extra-base hits. If anything, he’s a perfectly fine starting pitcher! He’s just a victim of expectations. When you trade a pitcher like Paxton to a team like the Yankees – and you hear about a guy like Sheffield, who used to be one of the highest-rated prospects in the country – you expect you’re trading a Current Ace for a Future Ace. Sheffield will most likely never be an Ace, in the sense that we think of them. He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball, so he’s going to have to improve as an all-around pitcher. 2020 saw him making that first step. One would hope he has the drive to continue working on his game, because he could be a fine mainstay in this rotation with Marco Gonzales and whoever else emerges from the young crop.
I really don’t have a lot to say otherwise. Worst case scenario is he regresses in 2021, and he puts his future with the organization in jeopardy (or he gets injured, in which case, his future will still be in jeopardy). Part of me sort of expects him to be Just Another Guy, which is why I’ve yet to fully commit to him as a prospect in our overall rebuild. At least he’s not Erik Swanson, though; that guy … yeesh!