With the 38th pick in the 2019 MLB Draft last month (Competitive Balance A), the New York Yankees selected Missouri left-handed pitcher TJ Sikkema. Sikkema made his professional debut with Short-Season Staten Island on June 29 in Vermont and he is already drawing rave reviews after just two outings:
“Nobody does it like he does it from the left side,” said SI Yanks pitching coach Travis Phelps.
In that debut against the Lake Monsters, Sikkema did not allow a hit in three innings of work while striking out four batters on just 35 pitches (26 strikes). Then, on Sunday, the left-hander followed that up with three scoreless innings while allowing only one hit against Connecticut. In two starts, the 16th ranked prospect on our Top 100 list has thrown 47 of 65 pitches for strikes:
“That’s back-to-back starts where he’s lights out, honestly. Fastball works, offspeed works. He doesn’t hit many barrels. He’s a guy who is a competitor, challenges hitters, has a lot of confidence and it shows out there,” said manager David Adams about Sikkema’s outing on Sunday.
Phelps noted that Sikkema showed a lot of competitiveness on the mound and that is great to see from a young pitcher starting off his career:
“He did a great job. He threw the ball well. He’s got a little fire to him out there on the mound and he loves to compete. He’s not afraid of anyone. He goes out there and challenges guys. That’s great to see,” said Phelps.
For Sikkema, it was an outing that he thought well and he kept the routine the same from what worked best for him while he was at Missouri in the tough SEC:
“I think the outing went pretty well. I feel like I got good work in and that’s what it is really all about right now. Getting my work in, throwing strikes, and getting outs. I went out and did what I normally do, what I did in college, and try not to change too much,” said Sikkema about his performance.
When you watch Sikkema pitch, he has a fastball that is between 91-94 miles-per-hour in velocity and can reach 95. However, what makes the left-hander unique is his ability to create deception with his secondary pitches by where he throws them. That could be a game-changer as he moves up the system:
“He throws from 3 different arm angles and throws the curveball, changeup, and slider from 3 different arm slots. He’s very deceptive and they all move. When you have the ability to throw them all for strikes, you are going to be pretty good,” said Phelps about Sikkema’s offspeed pitches.
In regards to those pitches, Sikkema is not afraid to use any of them in any situation in order to get out of trouble. To have multiple options to get hitters out is never a bad thing when one pitch isn’t working during a particular game:
“I live off my fastball, but I also throw a changeup to keep the guys off balance. I also have a curveball and slider, depending on the hitter, if he’s a lefty or a righty or how his swing looks. I have four pitches and I can throw them all at any time and I am not afraid to throw them,” said Sikkema.
Sikkema had a strong season this past year with the Tigers. In 17 games (13 starts), he went 7-4 with a 1.32 ERA and had 101 strikeouts to 31 walks in 88.2 innings. He led the SEC in ERA and was one of 12 pitchers to record 100 strikeouts.
The SEC can be a good spot to prepare for professional baseball and Sikkema mentioned how it’s “big-time baseball every weekend you go out there.” It is a conference where Sikkema has always wanted to challenge himself, which is why he chose Missouri:
“Missouri wasn’t very far away. It was a 5-hour drive so that was the closest SEC school I could get to. I wanted to play against the best competition and the SEC I felt like had the best competition. They had great facilities, great coaches, everything I could ask for,” said Sikkema about choosing the Tigers.
Before his junior year at Missouri, Sikkema went to the Cape Cod League and made five starts for the Falmouth Commodores. He had a 1.72 ERA in those outings, threw a complete game, and had 23 strikeouts to 8 walks in 31.2 innings. Summer ball not only helped Sikkema as a player but as a person as well:
“That was a summer I really grew. I learned a lot about myself and in the game. It was probably one of the best summers of my life.”
On draft night, Sikkema was watching the coverage with his family and thought “it was pretty cool to hear Nick Swisher say my name and be taken with the 38th overall pick.” He mentioned that towards the end of the draft process, the “Yankees were one of the teams that were really heavy on me.”
Growing up in Iowa, Sikkema watched a lot of Chicago Cubs games and while he likes to think he throws a little bit like Jon Lester, he talked about Kyle Hendricks and how there’s more to pitching than just throwing hard, which shows how the left-hander wants to analyze the game:
“Kyle Hendricks is a good guy just because of how he locates, and how he pitches. He’s not just a thrower. There’s a lot more to the game than throwing hard and executing your pitches. You got to know what the swing paths look like and everything like that,” said Sikkema.
With only a couple of months left in the year, Sikkema isn’t going to throw many innings after a long college season. In this league, it is all about getting to know the player before making specific changes:
“He had a great college career and we will keep an eye on his innings. Just watching and learning what he does and getting to know him a little bit,” said Phelps of what they want to see from Sikkema.
Regardless of how long Sikkema’s outings end up being the rest of the way, he is all about giving the team the best chance to win while getting his work in:
“Just get my work in. Go out there and do my 3-4 innings, whatever they give me, and keep the runs at a minimum. I’d like to go out there and give up no hits every day, but that’s not really going to happen. If I give my team the best chance to win, that’s the best I can do, ” said Sikkema about his goals for the rest for the season.
While it may only be two starts, it is safe to say Sikkema made a strong impression on the coaching staff. For Yankees fans, they hope the player the organization took with the pick they got for Sonny Gray ends up having a good big league career. Time will tell if that happens, but it never hurts to start off strong.