During the 2019 draft, the Yankees tried to address a weakness of their farm system. They’d earned a reputation for developing strong-armed right-handers over the years, but the team had very few lefty pitching prospects moving through the ranks. With six picks inside of the first five rounds, the Yankees used three of those selections on left-handed pitching.
T.J. Sikkema, Jake Agnos and Ken Waldichuk were all chosen to add depth to the organization. So far, the lost 2020 season and injuries to Sikkema and Agnos have prevented that lefty depth from being on full display. This coming year, Waldichuk could be knocking on the door of the major leagues, while Sikkema and Agnos will return to the field and after battling injuries in 2021.
Ken Waldichuk was the third of the lefties taken in the early rounds by the Yankees in 2019, and to this point he has over delivered on the expectations of a fifth-round draft pick. He started the 2021 season with 30.2 scoreless innings for High-A Hudson Valley and is currently ranked as the Yankees’ ninth-best prospect by MLB.com. He finished tied for fourth among all minor league pitchers with 163 strikeouts on the season, finishing the year with Double-A Somerset.
Expected to see time right along Waldichuk during the season was TJ Sikkema. The 6-foot 221-pound pitcher from the University of Missouri excelled over three seasons against Southeastern Conference competition in college, and the Yankees saw enough talent to take him with the 38th overall pick.
Known more for his elite command than overpowering stuff, Sikkema uses a fastball, slider and changeup mix but has shown in the past the ability to locate all of his pitches for strikes. None of his pitches get top of the scale grades from scouts, but they all play up as he is known for changing his arm angles and giving his pitches different movements and speeds. Using this mix, Sikkema looked great in a very small sample size following the 2019 draft, as he pitched 10.2 innings for Short-Season A Staten Island while allowing just one run.
Sikkema’s 2021 season never got off the ground, as reports of an early season shoulder injury and a lat injury later in the year combined to keep him on the sideline for the entire season. As an advanced college pitcher, it would be expected that Sikkema will start 2022 with High-A Hudson Valley, and like Waldichuk last season could quickly climb into the Double-A ranks if he is able to return to the form he showed in college and his brief pro-debut in 2019.
After drafting Sikkema, the Yankees used their next two picks on position players Josh Smith and Jake Sanford before dipping back into the left-handed pitching market in the fourth round with the selection of Jake Agnos from East Carolina University. In college and pitching for the Team USA collegiate team over the summer, Agnos showed three pitches in his fastball, curveball and slider. The fastball and curveball drew strong reviews and were his main pitches while in college. When he was last scouted heavily before the draft, his slider was considered a work in progress, but he never was able to show what he had been working on during the lost COVID season where numerous Yankees prospects returned to the field with improved stuff.
Agnos broke out in his junior year, registering a 2.29 ERA and cutting his walk rate that had been an issue early in his college run. Like Sikkema, Agnos was limited to just 12 innings in his professional debut. Those are the last official innings that Agnos has pitched, as he went down for Tommy John surgery during minor league spring training in 2021. He resumed throwing in late October and should return to game action in the middle of the upcoming season.
Agnos will likely be ramping up during the coming season but like Sikkema will should land with High-A Hudson Valley before the end of the season.
After attempting to address a weakness in their minor league system, the Yankees will be awaiting the 2022 seasons of T.J. Sikkema and Jake Agnos. Both players have the potential to be solid prospects and contribute to the team in the next 2-3 years, but need to show that they can rebound after losing two years of competition between the lost 2020 season and then dealing with injuries. If the players rebound to the form that they showed, they both could go a long way towards making left-handed starter a position that is well-represented on the Yankees prospects list moving forward.