Indians pitchers Justus Sheffield, Grant Hockin come rich baseball history

Akron Beacon JournalJuly 17, 2014 

CLEVELAND - When the Indians selected Justus Sheffield and Grant Hockin in back-to-back rounds early in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft, they received more than just two elite high school pitchers.

As an added bonus, both pitchers come from families with substantial major-league ties.

Sheffield, a left-hander drafted in the first round (31st overall) as compensation for losing free-agent pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to the Baltimore Orioles, is the nephew of former big-league third baseman and outfielder Gary Sheffield.

Gary Sheffield was the first-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers and sixth player taken in the 1986 draft. He played for eight teams in a 21-year major-league career. He appeared in nine All-Star games before retiring in 2009.

Hockin was selected in the second round out of Damien High School in California, where he was 9-3 with a 1.49 ERA in 14 games (13 starts) as a senior. He is the grandson of hall of famer Harmon Killebrew.

Killebrew, an 11-time All-Star, enjoyed a 22-year career in which he played first base, third base and left field. He was known for being one of the most-feared sluggers of the 1960s, bashing 40 homers in a season eight times. Although Killebrew died in 2011, Hockin was around him long enough to have lasting memories.

"We would watch the Home Run Derby with him and Mickey Mantle," Hockin said. "That was fun because they would go back and forth with each other. (He'd talk) about life, about being the best person you can be, being humble and staying within yourself."

Although the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Hockin had committed to UCLA, he decided he was ready for the rigors of pro ball.

"I was born ready," Hockin said with a charming smile, eliciting laughter from those gathered for a brief news conference last month.

Unlike his uncle who grew up in and starred as a baseball standout in Florida, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Justus Sheffield attended Tullahoma High School in Tennessee. He pitched two no-hitters, striking out 17 in one of them.

Sheffield was 10-0 with a 0.34 ERA (allowing just three earned runs all season) and struck out 131 in 61 2/3 innings. He was named the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year - 28 years after his uncle claimed the honor.

Sheffield, 18, was the first of the Indians' draft selections to sign, despite being committed to play at Vanderbilt. His older brother Jordan Sheffield attends Vanderbilt.

"I gave a lot of thought to going to college," Sheffield said during a trip to Cleveland last month before he and Hockin headed west to play in the Tribe's Arizona Summer League team to begin their professional careers.

"Vanderbilt is a great school, and they have a great coaching staff. But it's always been my dream to play professional baseball," he said. "Having a brother that's going to Vanderbilt, that's kind of hard to walk away from him. But I spoke with him on the phone for a while and he pretty much told me to go with what my heart tells me what to do."

Sitting to Sheffield's right when he met the Cleveland media that day was Brad Grant, the Indians' director of amateur scouting.

"We're glad he followed his heart," Grant said.

Sheffield became the second consecutive National Player of the Year to sign with the Indians, following outfielder Clint Frazier, who was the Tribe's first-round (fifth overall) pick in 2013 out of Georgia.

Like Frazier, Grant and the Indians' scouting staff feel there's a ton of upside for Sheffield.

"We've got an athletic left-hander with a real good combination of pitches," Grant said.

"(Sheffield has) a fastball up to 95, a power slider and a feel for a change-up."

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