Prior to the 2019 season, the Yankees acquired the Reds’ competitive balance draft pick as part of the deal for Sonny Gray. While that move could be debated in hindsight, it at least seems as though the Yankees chose someone good with that pick, the 38th overall: University of Missouri pitcher T.J. Sikkema.
The left-handed pitcher was coming off an outstanding college career in the SEC, which is widely considered the toughest college baseball conference in the country. With a full season of college ball under Sikkema’s belt, the Yankees used him sparingly during his professional debut for Short-Season A Staten Island. Due in part to the cancellation of the 2020 minor league season, Sikkema could be one of the prospects who quickly makes up for lost time and reaches the upper levels of the system.
2019 Stats (University of Missouri): 88.2 IP, 1.32 ERA, 0.959 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 5.5 H/9
2019 Stats (Short-Season A Staten Island): 10.2 IP, 0.84 ERA, 0.656 WHIP, 11.0 K/9, 0.8 BB/9, 5.1 H/9
Prospect Rankings (Yankees System): 16 (MLB), 15 (FanGraphs), 15 (Baseball America)
After beginning in the Missouri bullpen as a freshman, Sikkema transitioned to the rotation during his sophomore season and continued to perform at a high-level. Prior to his draft year, he excelled in the Cape Cod League and carried his ace performance into the season.
Sikkema is not likely to blow hitters away with pure velocity, like many of his Yankees pitching prospect peers. His success is based on changing arm slot from true overhand to a three-quarters approach. This allows him to offer a different look and shape to his pitches by simply changing his arm angle.
When he is at his best, Sikkema flashes elite command of his pitches and can place them wherever he wants. The ability to control his pitches from all his arm angles is the main reason why some scouts believe that he could rise through the system quickly.
During Sikkema’s time at Missouri, he touched 95 mph with his fastball, but was much more likely to pitch in the 88-91 mph range during his starts. He pairs that fastball with a changeup that has the making of an average pitch.
Rounding out Sikkema’s arsenal is an effective slider that works as multiple pitches when he manipulates the shape and the arm angle from which he throws it. Some scouting reports call the pitch a slurve, as the movement can be in between a curveball and a slider.
The Yankees did not invite Sikkema to the alternate training site in either 2020 or 2021. While living and training near his parent’s home in Iowa, he spent his free time delivering food with his girlfriend as a DoorDash driver. The Yankees did note that they passed over some of their prospects who had access to high-quality pitching and training spaces, so that could partially explain their thought process on Sikkema. He almost certainly had the ability to train in a pitching lab type environment this past year and could have some new weapons to attack hitters with this spring.
Sikkema is likely to start the season with High-A Hudson Valley, which is a normal jump for a pitcher with a strong college pedigree. Depending on his performance, he could quickly jump to the Double-A level by the middle of the year. For his season to be a success, the Yankees will be looking for him to stay healthy and continue to refine his game as he faces more advanced hitters. Can he consistently use his elite command to get results as he moves closer to the majors?
T.J. Sikkema has the chance to move quickly through the Yankees system. While it would be a massive leap for him to make his major league debut this season, he could position himself to play a role in 2022. In order to do that, he will be trying to reach the upper levels of the system and give the Yankees a top pitching prospect from the left side.