High School | Rankings | 2/20/2013

Tullahoma's brothers in arms

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Travis Sheffield

2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

The hard-throwing Sheffield brothers from Tullahoma, Tenn., have been generating national headlines for much of the past two or three years.
Right-hander Jordan Sheffield, a 17-year-old senior at Tullahoma High School, and left-hander Justus Sheffield, a 16-year-old junior at Tullahoma High, have emerged as two of Perfect Game’s most highly ranked pitching prospects in the classes of 2013 and 2014, respectively.

They are fierce competitors who won’t tolerate losing, and that includes to each other. But the one thing they would most like those headlines to scream is that they will forever have each other’s back.

“He always wants to do better than me and I always want to do better than him, but we’re behind each other’s back all the time, wanting each other to do the best we can,” Jordan told Perfect Game in a telephone interview this week. “But there’s always going to be that brotherly competition between us.”

Younger brother Justus, speaking to PG shortly after Jordan, expounded on what Jordan said.

“We literally feed off each other; when one person is doing great, the next person will do it even better,” Justus said. “When things are not going so well we’ll pick each other up … and we do support each other well. That’s why I think it’s a good choice for me to go to Vanderbilt to join him just because we play so well together.”

The Sheffield brothers are heading into the 2013 high school baseball season at Tullahoma already well-established in the collective mind of the country’s scouting community. Jordan has already signed his letter-of-intent to attend Vanderbilt next fall and Justus has verbally committed to join the Commodores in the fall of 2014.

Jordan, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-hander, is PG’s No. 9-ranked national prospect in the class of 2013 (No. 2 right-handed pitcher); Justus, a 6-1, 180-pound lefty, is ranked No. 8 nationally (No. 1 left-handed pitcher) in the class of 2014. Jordan is a starting shortstop for Tullahoma head coach Brad White when he’s not pitching and Justus plays the outfield when he’s not on the mound.

Both are coming off stellar 2012 seasons at Tullahoma: Jordan was 6-1 with a 0.99 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings, and also hit .373 (47-for-126) with five home runs, eight doubles, four triples, 17 RBI and 35 runs scored. Justus finished 9-0 with a 0.79 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 53 innings. He hit .311 (33-for-106) with two home runs, eight doubles, five triples, 27 RBI and 26 runs.

They are certainly the two most productive and prized siblings playing on the same high school team in the Perfect Game Southeast Region, if not the entire country.

“Obviously, they give us a chance to have two No. 1s – a 1a and 1b off the mound – and baseball is all about pitching,” Tullahoma’s White told PG this week. “That’s a huge plus at the start, but not only are they pitchers, they’re probably our two best position players also. A lot of people have a great pitcher, but that’s all they do. For us, that’s our shortstop (Jordan) and our center fielder (Justus), and that helps out at our level tremendously.”

The brothers’ rise to the top of the PG prospect rankings wasn’t exactly meteoric, as they’ve been on the radar for at least the last two years. They first drew attention playing together when they pitched for Knights Baseball-National at the 2011 PG WWBA 16u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., and Jordan saw his fastball reach 94 mph; Justus topped out at 88 mph.

They continued to impress throughout the 2011 and 2012 Perfect Game summer and fall seasons before reaching a pinnacle while pitching for the Ohio Warhawks at the preeminent PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., last October.

Hundreds of scouts gathered around a field at the Roger Dean Complex and watched Jordan sit his fastball in the 94-97 mph range and match an event record with a 98 mph heater in just one inning of work. Justus sat 91-92 and threw a career-best 93 in his two innings.

“That was my first time pitching in front of that many scouts … but when I went out there I tried to not let it get to me,” Jordan said. “That night I was so zoned-in I thought it was just me and the catcher. It was (a matter of) focusing on just doing what you do normally, and if things go your way that’s great, but if not, you just have to get better and work on it.”

Justus admitted to a little nervousness before he reached the mound, but quickly settled in as well.

“When the game is first starting everyone – you can be Michael Jordan, you can be David Price, I don’t care who you are – you’re always going to have those butterflies in your stomach, no matter what,” he said. “But once you toe that rubber you know it’s on, you know you have your game and you just block everything out; you block out all the sounds and you just focus on the (catcher’s) mitt.”

The most edgy member of the Sheffield family in attendance that night was the boys’ father, Travis.

“I was a nervous wreck, to be honest with you,” he said this week, laughing at the memory. “I looked around and there was about 300 golf carts lined up behind home plate and I’m sitting there trying to feel how they would feel with all those eyes on them. I asked them if they were nervous and they said, nah, they just got up there and pitched.”

Jordan was selected to pitch at the 2012 Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego in mid-
August but was not allowed to participate due to Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) rules against players taking part in all-star events. He was at the 2012 Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis in mid-June, however, one of the eight PG events he attended in 2011-12.

“You get to be around some of the best kids from your class, along with younger and older kids; you just get to play with the best teams and players,” Jordan said of his participation in the events. “They treat you very well at Perfect Game and it’s just a great experience.

“There are scouts there and (the players) are heavily recruited, but you just go out there and don’t even worry about it; you still play your game and they’re just fun events all-around.”

Tullahoma High’s White has gotten to know the brothers very well over the last four or five years – both joined his high school program as eighth-graders. He’s worked with Jordan and Justus tirelessly and recognizes their shared competitive nature while also acknowledging some not-so-subtle differences.

“They’re really two different people,” White said. “They’re totally different, but the one thing they do share, though, is that competitiveness; they do not want to lose.”

When speaking of Jordan, White related a quick story:

“(Sunday) night we were having a church group meeting and we were talking about what motivated him, and he said, ‘All I think about is winning. I just can’t stand to lose.’ That kind of tells you about his competitiveness – it’s just all about winning and what we need to do to win.”

White said Jordan has “really come a long way” with his pitching repertoire, citing not only his consistent 93-95 mph fastball but his cutter and changeup, which White calls his best off-speed pitch. Jordan threw two innings in a scrimmage last week and struck out four of five batters with his change.

Justus, like Jordan, worked hard at making the adjustment from middle school ball to high school ball as an eighth-grader. Both brothers are excellent students – Jordan carries a 3.80 GPA and Justus a perfect 4.0 – but Justus said the most important thing for him was getting his mind in the right place.

“Over the years I just started putting in the work and started working on my mental game a lot because moving up … my mental level was not there,” he said. “I worked that out and then I started working on my physical game and I believe that I’ve progressed a whole lot throughout the years.”

 “Justus is a little more analytical; he’s little bit more of a thinker of the two,” White said. “Jordan just goes with it; it’s a feel thing with Jordan. Justus wants to know why everything is the way it is and study it all.”

The TSSAA divides its schools into three classifications: AAA, AA and A, with AAA including the state’s largest schools. Tullahoma is classified as a AAA school, and of the 112 that compete in that classification, it is the 108th largest with a student body of just over 1,000. The Wildcats did win the AAA District 8 championship in 2012 with a 10-0 district mark and an overall record of 27-13, but for the third straight year the Wildcats came up one game short of advancing to the state tournament.

With the return of the Sheffield brothers and two or three other key contributors from that 2012 team, Tullahoma settled into the No. 50 spot in the Perfect Game National High School Preseason Team Rankings. Six other schools from the six-state (Arkansas, Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia) PG Southeast Region are ranked ahead of Tullahoma, including Tennessee’s Farragut High School (No. 43).

The 16-man Tullahoma roster includes 11 seniors with Jordan Sheffield as the leader.

“I have high expectations for my team,” he said. “We’ve been young the past few years but we have a lot of returning guys. Hopefully we can get into the (state) tournament and win the state (championship) of Tennessee.”

To achieve that goal, the Sheffield brothers will to continue to work together, just as they have since they were 5 and 4 years old. You can pardon Jordan if he seems somewhat watchful of his younger brother, even now as high school teammates.

“When my brother’s on the mound, I’ll let him do his own thing until we get home and then we’ll talk about what happened in the game and what I saw that maybe he didn’t,” Jordan said. “It’s great to have a brother close in age that you can kind of compete with and just be close with all the time.”

No, the Sheffield brothers’ rise in the prospect rankings wasn’t necessarily meteoric but that doesn’t mean it was expected: “I never saw it coming,” Jordan said.

“It’s been amazing,” Travis Sheffield said. “To be honest with you, it’s been nothing we could have ever imagined it would be; it’s been kind of surreal.”

Although Jordan Sheffield has already signed with Vanderbilt and seems quite intent on arriving at the school’s Nashville campus in the fall, there is no looking past the fact that he is ranked the 24th top prospect in the upcoming MLB draft; in other words, he’s a projected first round pick.

“I think about (the draft) a lot, actually, but I’m not going to let that get to my head; college comes first to me right now,” Jordan said.  “If (a first round selection) starts to get talked about more (in late May) maybe I’ll start thinking about it more.”

While the likelihood of a reunion on the Vanderbilt campus in the fall of 2014 seems unlikely, the Sheffield brothers won’t completely rule it out. Justus only wants Jordan to stay alongside him as long as possible. Everybody needs someone else to have his back.

“I really do look up to him just because he’s my older brother,” Justus said. “He’s a great role model, really, but it all started with my parents (Travis and mother Misty). They’re great people and they’ve both been there since day one. I remember going out in the yard and working on hitting and catching and throwing, and just having fun. My dad kind of put that down on Jordan and Jordan passed it on to me, and now hopefully my little brother will end up looking up to me.”

Yes, there is another Sheffield boy in the pecking order. That would be 7-year-old Jaxon Sheffield, who will be blessed with two very capable role models that he can look up to for many years to come.

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