Big 6-foot-5, 220-pound Righty Austin Shields Finds Home on the Mound
October 19, 2014
By Alexis Brudnicki
PBR Ontario Lead Writer
ORLANDO, Fla. – A lot has changed for Austin Shields over the last few months.
Before injuring his shoulder at the beginning of this season, the 16-year-old right-hander was taking the field at home in Stoney Creek in the Fergie Jenkins League and trying to make strides playing first base and getting an occasional shot on the mound.
After getting healthy and appearing in a couple of showcases, the University of Cincinnati wanted to see more from Shields the hurler. The school called Chris Robinson, former big leaguer and coach of the Great Lake Canadians, and asked if he could help them out. The young righty came to London and threw at Centrefield Sports, getting looks from both the post-secondary institution and the team that calls the facility home.
“They offered me a spot on their team and I was looking at all my options at the time because I didn’t really know where I was going to play,” Shields said of Great Lake. “It seemed like a good fit, so my father [Ken] and I decided that I would go and play there.”
Manager of the squad and former pro pitcher Adam Arnold has enjoyed his time working with Shields so far and is excited to see more out of the young player.
“He has a special arm and mound presence about him,” Arnold said. “The biggest thing we have been stressing is confidence, getting him to understand how good his stuff is and what he looks like to the hitter. At this point we haven’t been stressing much about his delivery. For how raw he is, there is some definite polish to it.
“We mainly stress throwing each pitch with a purpose, attacking the hitter, and trusting his stuff. As he builds on this, he will build confidence and he’ll start to believe in his stuff, which will lead to the slight mechanical adjustments working themselves out. He has overpowering stuff and the sky is the limit for him.”
Since his transition to the Canadians, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound pitcher has found a full-time home on the hill and has continued to improve his game, impressing at Tournament 12 in September and even landing a spot on the Canadian Junior National Team for the squad’s fall trip to face instructional league competition in Orlando.
“It’s been a big change,” Shields said. “I’ve gotten a lot more time on the mound because I haven’t really had much time to pitch with my past teams. So I went to Great Lake and they gave me more time and I’ve been getting better and getting more command and it’s been a pretty good experience so far.”
In his final year at St. Mary’s Catholic Secondary School, Shields takes pride in what he’s been able to accomplish over the last while and how he overcame the injury that “ripped the muscle from the socket to the joint” in his throwing shoulder.
“I’m proud of how [far] I’ve come over the past couple of seasons,” Shields said. “I came from not having much command and I’ve been able to put on miles an hour. I had a shoulder injury in April that put me out at the beginning of the season so I couldn’t pitch. So I healed up that and I’ve been able to throw harder than I used to. I’m getting more command, finding my delivery and my release point, and getting more consistent.”
In his first outing on the hill in Florida in the red and white, Shields impressed his Team Canada coaches, and was able to feel good about his performance.
“I know Austin didn’t get a chance to pitch much this last year in Stoney Creek, but he came out…and he threw really well,” [national team pitching coach Jeff] Duda said. “Being a big guy he really creates some good tilt and when he gets the ball down in the zone he’s very effective.
“He had five strikeouts in one outing and showed the ability to throw some secondary pitches for strikes. At first he was a little bit nervous but he settled in quickly and he was definitely aggressive against some professional hitters and it was good to see out of him.”
Added Shields: “I did pretty well [in my first outing] and that was good for me. I came off an off-performance a couple of weeks ago and then I pitched again and got in what I had to do. Then I came here and did what I wanted to do so I felt pretty good about that.”
The opportunity to represent his country was an exciting privilege for the young right-hander.
“It’s crazy to play for Team Canada,” Shields said. “It’s a good opportunity for me and all the rest of the guys just to show what we can do on this stage…I came here and wanted to prove to myself and all the coaches what I can do and I think I did what I wanted to so I’m pretty happy with that.”
Throwing a two-seam fastball that has been up to 90, a slider that sits in the high 70s, and a pitch that he says is “like a split-change”, Shields believes he has been able to take advantage of his assets and is always working on all aspects of his game.
“Being able to pound with my fastball and my off-speed [pitches] are my strength,” Shields said. “I need to work on getting more consistent with my delivery and being about to hit all my spots with my fastball and my secondary pitches…I’ve been practicing with [Arnold] and he’s been a big help. He’s a great coach and he tells me when I [need to do something] and he helps me a lot.”
Moving forward, Shields is hoping to stay with Team Canada when next season’s tour begins, and find a good post-secondary institution that he might call home when the summer ends.
“I’m thinking of waiting it out until I get an offer from a school that I want,” he said. “I want to do more research on schools and see where I fit best…I’m thinking of taking criminology or something to do with community service, or something with the police.”
Photography also courtesy of the author. Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis.
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