Continuing their tradition of developing talented young pitchers within their minor league system, the Toronto Blue Jays organization has seen some promising arms coming through their ranks in recent years and this season is no exception, as there are many more up-and-coming pitchers looking to make the move up to the major leagues in the near future.
One name that’s drawing some early recognition this season is right-hander Justin Shafer. After completing his first spring training, Shafer made the jump to full season baseball by joining the Lansing Lugnuts to start off his season last month.
This jump was a good one for the prospect, as he was lights out in his four appearances for the Lugnuts. Despite the small sample size, the organization quickly realized that Shafer could benefit from facing better competition, so they made the decision to promote the righty to the advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays in May.
His promotion was well-deserved as the righty posted excellent numbers across the board in the Midwest League. Appearing in 19.2 innings for the Lugnuts, Shafer posted a 2-0 record to go with a 0.92 ERA and 13 strikeouts.
The great start to his season all began with his ability to be tough on hitters. Featuring three pitches in his repertoire — a fastball, a slider, and a changeup — Shafer does an excellent job at keeping hitters off-balanced as he works fast and mixes up his pitches regularly.
Jumping ahead in counts with his excellent fastball that has the ability to touch 94 miles per hour at times during the season has also been a tremendous help for the young prospect who had no issues keeping Midwest League competition guessing all April. In fact, hitters only managed a .197 average against him. Factor that in with his 0.97 WHIP and it is safe to say Shafer was ready for a change of scenery.
That change will be a welcomed one for Shafer, who grew up 80 miles away from Dunedin in Lake Wales, Florida. Obviously, the close proximity will make it easier for family and friends to catch his games, while giving the 22-year old an opportunity to pitch in warm weather again.
Improving his game while playing in Vancouver and in the instructional league last year has really been instrumental for Shafer moving forward as he was primarily an outfielder in high school and college.
“I always pitched a bit in high school and a little bit in college primarily in the fall, so playing a short season in Vancouver really helped me a lot with developing my pitching,” explained Shafer. “It really helped being on a pitching schedule. That was something I never really had growing up. I really learned how to pitch and understand the game better. I learned how to throw more strikes and I really benefitted from the one-on-one coaching I received in pro ball.”
“Another big help was pitching in the instructional league,” he added. “I basically went down there and just threw the ball as I was still adjusting to pitching every day. I also focused on staying over the ball. Basically I was learning to stay back and not rush anything.”
Selected in the eighth round of the 2014 MLB draft out of the University of Florida, Shafer didn’t have a preference what organization took a shot on him prior to the draft — he just wanted a decent opportunity to prove himself on the mound.
“It was definitely a dream of mine to get drafted and have a chance to play at the next level,” said Shafer. “It really didn’t matter to me what team took me. I just wanted an opportunity to play professional baseball.”
“Entering the draft I was focused on signing instead of returning to Florida for my senior year,” he added. “I wasn’t sure where I was going to get picked as I hadn’t pitched much prior to the draft. But once the Blue Jays took me in the eighth round I was ready sign.”
Developing for professional baseball with three seasons of college baseball has proven to be a big help for Shafer so far in his career, as he has been able to move up the levels more quickly than most prospects who chose to sign out of high school.
“Playing at the University of Florida prepared me well for pro ball,” said Shafer. “Playing college baseball definitely made the learning curve a little bit easier than it is for guys coming out of high school. Obviously having three more years to mature and develop my body definitely helped me out a lot. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without the coaches I had at Florida.”
Be sure to follow Justin Shafer as he works hard to earn another promotion in the near future.