Ben Sheets of the Atlanta Braves is making a comeback, pitching well in his first start and throwing six shutout innings today in his second outing. Let's take a look at what he was like as a prospect.
Ben Sheets was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the first round in 1999, the 10th-overall selection class. Drafted from Northeast Louisiana University, he was drafted behind Kyle Snyder (seventh overall) and Barry Zito (ninth overall) among college pitchers that year. He pitched 36 innings in his pro debut split between Ogden in the Pioneer League and Stockton in the California League, posting a 40/16 K/BB ratio. I gave him a Grade B in my 2000 book, noting a 92-94 MPH fastball, plus a solid breaking ball and changeup. Basically he just needed experience.
Sheets began 2000 with Double-A Huntsville, posting a 1.88 ERA with a 60/25 K/BB in 55 innings. Promoted to Triple-A, he posted a 2.87 ERA in 82 innings with a 59/31 K/BB. His velocity kicked up a hair to 93-95 MPH, his curveball and changeup both improved, and he showed a willingness to pitch inside. He also threw a complete game shutout over Cuba in the gold medal game for the US Olympic Team.
Despite a mediocre K/BB ratio, I was quite impressed and gave him a Grade A entering 2001.
Aside from two starts in Triple-A, Sheets spent 2001 in the Milwaukee Brewers rotation, going 11-10 with a 4.76 ERA and a 94/48 K/BB in 151 innings. After similar seasons in 2002 and 2003, he took off with a great season in 2004, posting a 2.70 ERA and a 264/32 K/BB in 237 innings. Despite a 162 ERA+ and an excellent 8.0 WAR, his record was just 12-14 due to poor support from his teammates, not surprising for a team that went 67-94.
Sheets' biggest problem since then has been staying healthy, although he's generally been effective when his arm lets him. The four-time All Star has a career record of 92-92 with a 3.77 ERA and a 1295/357 K/BB ratio in 1553 innings, with 1527 hits allowed, a 113 ERA+, and a career WAR of 31.9. His K/BB ratio, which was never great in the minors, has turned into one of his best statistical attributes. Even as his stuff declined over time, his control got better.
He's looked good in his first two outings for the Braves, and this looks like a successful reclamation project. Overall, while Sheets hasn't shown the long-term durability to be a genuine staff anchor, he's had a fine career, certainly enough to justify his selection in the first round.