This past year was only Justus Sheffield's first full season in the minors, but he was impressive enough -- and his ceiling is high enough -- to easily warrant a top 10 spot in our top Cleveland Indians prospects of 2016 list. He beat our perennial second-place finisher Brady Aiken by a vote of 96 votes (48%) to 57 votes (29%); one of our most decisive polls yet.
Sheffield is a relatively short pitcher at 5-foot-10, but what he lacks in size and potential power he makes up for with accuracy and a variety of solid offspeed pitches. So far in his career, that includes a good curveball and slider, with a changeup that could be another weapon in the future even if it is not there yet. Depending on how well his changeup develops over the next few years, he has the potential to be a No. 3 starter when he hits the majors sometime around 2018.
In Class-A last season, Sheffield walked only 6.9 percent of the batters he faced, while striking out 24.9 of them. He carried a 3.31 ERA and a 2.99 FIP over 127.2 innings for the Lake County Captains, which was enough for him to be named a mid-season All-Star.
Sheffield also ran into some trouble prior to last season when he pleaded guilty to charges of underage drinking and criminal trespass in January after he and two friends broke into a house of a man he believed was "messing around with his girlfriend." As part of a plea deal, if Sheffield remained out of trouble for a year his record would be expunged. January 22 would mark the one-year anniversary of his guilty plea.
With past issues (hopefully) behind him, and the road to the majors clear, the next few years should be bright for Sheffield, who will be 20 when the 2016 season rolls around. MLB Pipeline has him ranked as the Indians sixth overall prospect (third overall pitcher), and John Sickels of Minor League Ball has him ranked sixth as well with a B+/B grade.
WHO SHOULD BE THE NO. 7 PROSPECT FOR 2016?
(ages listed are for 2016 season)
Brady Aiken, SP (Age 19)
Indians first-round pick in 2015, will not see his first minor league action until after the 2016 season starts. Has a ton of potential if he can return to pre-Tommy John form.
Triston McKenzie, SP (Age 18)
2015 (R): 12.0 IP, 0.75 ERA, 1.73 FIP, 39.5 K%, 7.0 BB%
One of two high school pitchers drafted in the first round by the Indians in the 2015 draft. Great fastball that should pick up velocity as he grows into his 6'5" frame. Advanced for his age (19), but not expected to make the Majors earlier than 2019.
Tyler Naquin, OF (Age 25)
2015 (AAA): 218 PA, 6 HR, 6 SB, .263/.353/.430, 127 wRC+
Former first-round pick whose ranking has slid in recent years due to injury. Could be in the Majors in early 2016 if he can stay healthy in Triple-A.
Francisco Mejia, C (Age 20)
2015 (A): 446 PA, 9 HR, 4 SB, .243/.324/.345, 99 wRC+
19-year-old catcher had a lot on his plate in 2015 and wasn't overwhelmed by the challenge of full-season baseball following a slow April. Threw out 34% of potential base stealers, and managed a young and talented pitching staff.
Adam Plutko, SP (Age 24)
2015 (AA): 116.1 IP, 2.86 ERA, 3.37 FIP, 19.4 K%, 5.0 BB%
Not as high of a ceiling as other Indians pitching prospects, but a great track record in the minors and could join the rotation as a fourth or fifth starter in 2016.