Lancaster, California —— For the California League‘s South Division Playoff Series between Rancho Cucamonga and Lancaster, the Los Angeles Dodgers decided to move right-handed pitching prospect Jordan Sheffield into the bullpen in a high-leverage relief role. And after seeing him throw a perfect inning in Thursday night’s Rancho Cucamonga win up in Lancaster, I’d be surprised if Sheffield ever again moves back into the starting rotation. Plainly put, he needs to be in the bullpen for the rest of his career, and he has the raw stuff and power profile to reach the big leagues by the end of next year in a relief role.
I touched on this a bit in a scouting report I posted three weeks ago on Sheffield after seeing him start a game in mid-August against Stockton (you can read that scouting report, and my bullpen suggestion, here). Now that I’ve actually seen Jordan Sheffield in the bullpen, I’m only further convinced: it’d be a mistake for the Los Angeles Dodgers to ever again have him start a game. After his dominant relief outing on Thursday night in Lancaster, Jordan Sheffield should never be part of a starting rotation again.
A smaller guy (listed at 5’10”, 190 lbs.), Sheffield was already going to field the inevitable questions about whether he could physically handle the demands of the rotation; add to that a quick taper in his velocity as a starter from 94-95 mph early to 90-91 mph by his middle innings, and the bullpen would seem like a natural fit for his stuff to play up and his velocity to max out in short stints.
On Thursday night, he proved that, sitting 95-98 mph with his fastball through the entire inning and backing it up with an 86-87 mph wipeout slider with legitimate, sharp, and very late downward break that drew some really, really bad at-bats from Garrett Hampson, Brendan Rodgers, and Yonathan Daza — three of the Colorado Rockies‘ most highly-regarded prospects. Watch that inning for yourself right here, in fact; it’s one of the most dominant outings I saw across all of minor league baseball this year, and it precisely proves my point that Jordan Sheffield belongs in the bullpen:
Compare that fastball/slider power look in relief to our video of Sheffield’s mid-August start for the Quakes, where he was tagged with six earned runs on eight hits and five walks over just 3.2 innings pitched against Stockton after falling back from mid-90s velocity very quickly the second time through Stockton’s batting order:
So, yeah; the Los Angeles Dodgers need to keep Jordan Sheffield in the bullpen from now on. If they do, Sheffield has a legitimate shot to be in the big leagues as a September call-up exactly one year from now. He’s got serious velocity, and more than that he has a remarkable feel for that power slider with very late depth that makes it a true wipeout pitch. He’ll miss bats with it in the upper minors, and he’ll miss bats with it in the big leagues—smaller stature be damned—because that thing falls off the table about four feet in front of home plate with tight spin and great arm action that make it near impossible to pick up out of Sheffield’s hand.
Once again for the folks in the back: Jordan Sheffield is a monster coming out of the bullpen and he’s got a legitimate future in high-leverage relief with the Los Angeles Dodgers. If he keeps throwing like he did on Thursday night in Lancaster, expect to see him on the mound in Dodger Stadium twelve months from today. Long term, he’ll likely be a set-up man working the seventh or eighth inning, and should carve some nice big league value out of that going forward. Move Jordan Sheffield to the bullpen permanently, open him at Double-A Tulsa in 2018, and let him ride out that short-stint, high-leverage role with his exciting power arsenal. If he starts even one more game, the Los Angeles Dodgers are making a mistake.