Justus Sheffield feeling comfortable as a YankeeThe young lefty has soaked in a lot in his first year in pinstripes
"I talked with my family about it, and I just went with my heart," Sheffield said. "It was a hard decision for me because (older brother) Jordan went to Vanderbilt, so we'd have been on the same team and possibly would have been back-to-back starters, so that would have been cool."
Jordan Sheffield is less than a year older than Justus, so it's possible they would have been together at Vanderbilt for three years, just as they were at Tullahoma High School in Tullahoma, Tennessee. That was touch for Justus to turn down.
"Going to college with your brother, I mean, I'm super close with him, so that would have been awesome, but that was hard for me to turn down," Justus said. "And Vanderbilt is a good school with a great baseball legacy, but like I said, I just went with my heart. It's always been my dream to play in the Major Leagues and this was the chance."
Sheffield spent roughly two calendar years in the Indians organization, but last July, he got a phone call that once again changed his adult life: he had been traded to the Yankees as part of a package for Andrew Miller.
"That phone call was bittersweet. It's tough, because I grew up for two years with some of those guys and started getting comfortable in the organization, and made a lot of close relationships," he said, "but at the same time, knowing that I was going to be able to put these pinstripes on, you can't really ask for much more than that."
The Indians may have eventually gone to the World Series last year, but to Sheffield, that's no match for a history of 27 World Championships.
"Knowing the history of this organization, and doing what it takes to be a New York Yankee, that's the biggest thing; being a Yankee, you're a winner," he said. "That's what this organization is known for, and knowing that I was becoming part of that, it's exciting. And it's great motivation, because I'm a competitor and I want to win."
Sheffield's first half-season in pinstripes began at High-A Tampa and ended with a playoff start at Double-A Trenton, and over the winter, he also got to take part in the Yankees' Winter Warmup program, spending some time in New York with fellow prospects and a few veterans, as well.
"That was my second time in New York - coming from Tullahoma, Tennessee, I have a corn field in my backyard, so Manhattan is a different ballgame - but it was awesome and a lot of fun," he said. "We did a lot of great things - I made some mozzarella cheese, which I think I did pretty well with, but I don't know - and it was great to get to meet guys like Matt Holliday, Chase Headley and CC (Sabathia) before the season started so we could make that connection."
Cheese-making and sight-seeing aside, it's that last notion that was most important to Sheffield.
"I picked their brains here and there, just things like what the differences are between major0league and minor-league Spring Training and what the locker room was like," he said.
And, he got some great advice from all three.
"I asked them what the hardest adjustment was for them when they first got to the big leagues, and they all said the same thing: just stay true to yourself," he said. "They said that 'if you're a good person and care more about the team and winning than anything else, you'll be fine.'"
Sheffield then reported to camp early, taking part in Derek Jeter's Captain's Camp before the official start of Spring Training, so by the time the preseason officially started, he was more than comfortable.
"As soon as I came over here, it was easy, especially going through the Captain's Camp with major-leaguers coming in and out," he said. "When I walked in the door, it was some quick introductions but just normal conversations, you know? It can make you a little nervous being young, being in your first big-league camp and especially being with the Yankees, but everyone made it a lot more comfortable."
And now, weeks later, although he has been re-assigned to minor-league camp, Sheffield relished the time he had in major-league camp, and is ready to take his place in the forefront of the Yankees' youth movement as the years go on.
"Like I said, my dream is to play in the Majors, and knowing that the Yankees are turning to a youth movement, that just adds to the motivation," he said. "It kind of puts things into perspective that they are going this route, and I know the guys in the locker room are excited. You can feel the energy and the vibe in here; we're all excited, and we're all looking forward to working hard and contributing."