By Alexis Brudnicki
After getting into just four professional games last season, former Great Lake Canadians right-hander Austin Shields is looking forward to moving onward and upward in his first full year of pro baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
Signing almost a month-and-a-half after being selected by the Bucs in the 33rd round of last year’s draft out of St. Mary Secondary School in Hamilton and the Canadian Premier Baseball League – inking a deal just before the deadline with a $205,000 bonus – the 6-foot-5, 220-pound hurler joined the rookie-class Gulf Coast League Pirates and got in just over six innings of work for his club.
Excited for his first chance to enter the professional realm, throwing multiple frames in three of his four outings last year, Shields felt fully prepared for the first step in his career after spending the previous couple of years with the Great Lake instructors.
“I believe I was prepared for pro ball, because the GLC coaches really know about being a pro,” Shields said. “They help their players get ready for the next level, whether it’s college or the pro level…
“Pro ball wasn’t totally different than playing with GLC, but there were some differences. Getting used to throwing every day was definitely the biggest change, as I wasn’t doing that back home. So it took time for my arm to adapt to it.”
Transitioning from the infield to the mound when he joined the Canadians program, Shields made a quick impression as an amateur, selected soon thereafter to the Canadian Junior National Team. After going through an adjustment period, the 19-year-old native of Dundas has become more familiar with his own skillset, and is using it to his advantage more and more each day.
“I feel I’ve changed a whole lot,” Shields said. “When I first joined the GLC and JNT programs, I had no clue what I was truly doing yet. I was still recognizing the skills I had and what to do with them. The coaches I’ve worked with over the years have always been positive toward me, taking their time and really trying to get the most out of me.
“Now that I’ve been in pro ball for a bit, I’ve started to get a feel for myself and how I do things, just getting into my own routine that works best for me. Also, being able to make changes to myself when something isn’t going the way I intended it to is different.”
Currently in Bradenton, Florida at extended spring training with the Pirates, trying out some new pitches and seeing what might work for him before the short-season squads officially get underway, Shields has enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to start with the organization right from the beginning of the year.
“Being my first spring training, I had no clue what to expect,” he said. “But getting into camp and meeting a lot of guys in the system, it was a lot of fun. I liked how relaxed and laid back it was, while we were still getting all of our work in. I really liked how I was able to interact with all the players in the system and really get to know people.”
Still shocked at how quickly the days pass, because, “doing something you love really makes time fly by,” Shields can’t wait for competitive games to get going and to show what he can do on the hill.
“For the upcoming season, I expect it to go really well and hopefully end in a championship,” Shields said. “Wherever I end up, I obviously hope for a successful season, but also to stay healthy and perform the way I know I can.”