McALESTER, Okla. — The crop of baseball talent on the prep level continues to become richer and deeper with every passing season in the Volunteer State.
One of the brightest young arms is Justus Sheffield.
The 5-foot-11, 170-pounder is already turning heads as a Class of 2014 prospect, having lit up the radar gun at a recent event, settling his fastball in the 91-93 miles per hour range.
Sheffield just returned home from helping Team Tennessee run through the Junior Sunbelt Series undefeated at 10-0 with another ring on the horizon.
"Oh, it's great," Sheffield told InsideTennessee of competing in the Sunbelt. "It's the best thing in the country. It's just great to be a part of it. Great kids out here. Nice to meet new people. Good athletes out here, real good competition.
In his one outing, the left-hander from Tullahoma (Tenn.) High School went five innings with eight strikeouts and no base on balls with just three hits allowed.
"I felt pretty good first inning," he said. "Everything was working, my location was working. Just felt good all around."
The 865 area code did not have a player accept an invitation to compete for Team Tennessee and the 423 had just one (Dakota Hudson) representative on the roster. Some other prospects choose to participate in a preliminary portion of the East Coast Pro Showcase. This mid-state prospect, however, refused to miss out on the opportunity to head west.
"Last year it was just a blast," said Sheffield, who also was on the 2011 Team Tennessee roster that went 10-0. "I had to come back and be a part of Team Tennessee again. Plus, this is a good tournament to be in, lot of scouts out there."
Schools like Kansas, Georgia, Southern Miss, Rice and Tulane are just a few of several that come out to scout the action. Vanderbilt's Tim Corbin has consistently signed talent from Team Tennessee, including Tony Kemp, Mike Minor and Philip Pfeifer.
All the radar guns and stop watches don't cause Sheffield to fret. The savvy youngster, who this year wore No. 23 to honor the late Stephen Gant, puts it all in the back of his mind once the pearl is in his grasp.
|Justus Sheffield maintains that where his brother, Jordan (pictured), signs will not be his of great influence over his decision.|
"At first you're kind of nervous but after you toe the rubber, you kind of get used to it. Then, you've just got to do what you do," Sheffield said.
Both Southeastern Conference in-state schools have scholarship offers on the table — Tennessee and Vanderbilt. Kentucky, as it has done consistently when prodding some of the Volunteer State's top talent, has already offered a full scholarship.
Sheffield said he has no favorite and his logic looking forward is pretty simple.
"I don't know yet," he said. "I'm just going to go wherever the offer is best. No place in mind yet."
Justus' brother is Jordan Sheffield, who is a utility bat and power arm that is one year older. Jordan had been committed to the Volunteers when the previous coaching staff was in place. When coach Todd Raleigh and his crew were let go, that opened the door for Vanderbilt and he pledged to be a Commodore.
Speculation has the pair being a package deal. Justus says that is not the case.
"We're pretty close, but I think it really depends on the school and just what they have to offer and how much I like it," Justus said.
He has a fairly good feel for what he needs from a school to get his signature on a National Letter of Intent.
"Overall, just how the team is going that year, how the team is looking, how their work ethic is because I'm trying to get better also at whatever school I'm trying to go to. Just pretty much anywhere," he said.
Even though it sounds like Sheffield is willing to listen to all comers, it appears as though he is destined to bring the gas for an SEC school.
"If an SEC team offers and it's better than other schools, I'll definitely go there. It's a dream come true," he said.
Should Sheffield be selected in the 2014 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the Tullahoma standout will address that when the time comes.
"I'm just going with the flow right now, playing baseball, playing my game, just ready to see how the future goes. When that time comes, I'll make the best decision," he said.