As part of the return for Sonny Gray, the Reds sent the Yankees a competitive balance draft pick. On Monday night, the Yankees used that pick, 38th overall, to select TJ Sikkema. Let’s get to know him.
Sikkema, a stocky (6-0, 221 lb.) left-handed pitcher hails from Iowa. He wasn’t drafted out of high school, but built up his prospect status after heading to the University of Missouri. He was a jack of all trades for the Tigers; Sikkema started and relieved throughout his collegiate career.
Turning 21 in July, Sikkema just finished off his best season in school. He pitched in 17 games, 13 of those starts, and owned a minuscule 1.32 ERA in 88.2 innings. He struck out 101 batters, allowed 54 hits, walked 31, and allowed just four homers. His first two collegiate years were solid as well, but he took a big step forward this year particularly in the hits allowed column.
Although his junior year was impressive, his performance in the Cape Cod League last summer helped raise his profile. He threw 31.1 innings across five starts and recorded a 1.72 ERA. His strikeout total wasn’t high (23), but he only walked 8 and didn’t give up any homers. That’ll do.
What the scouts say?
Sikkema isn’t regularly a hardthrower. MLB Pipeline has him sitting 89-91 with his fastball, though he can reach back for 95. Fangraphs has him a tad higher, sitting 90-94 topping out at 95 while also praising his pitchability. That said, the Yankees’ player development department has a penchant for getting guys to throw harder. Don’t be shocked if Sikkema sits in the mid-nineties at some point in the next year or so.
The southpaw relies on three pitches and will throw them at different release points. His heater has has good sink and tailing action on it, but his slider is his best pitch. Per MLB Pipeline, Sikkema’s slider is high-spin offering which is something the Yankees covet. Additionally, he’s able to throw variations of the pitch, ranging from 78-83 on the gun with different breaks. Baseball America (subs. required) actually calls one version a slurve and the other a more traditional overhand curveball. His changeup isn’t anything special, but it sounds like it can and will be a usable pitch.
Based on his skillset, the consensus is that Sikkema could get to the major leagues quickly as a reliever. That said, he has a chance to be a reliable back of the rotation starter too. How do the Yankees plan to deploy the lefty? Here’s Damon Oppenheimer, Vice President of the Yankees’ Amateur Scouting Group (bold emphasis is mine):
Sikkema has a unique ability to throw from different angles,” said Oppenheimer. “He’s got plus stuff, he throws it for strikes, and the guy’s a real ultimate competitor. He really gets after it on the mound. He can probably get to the big leagues quickly as a reliever, but we see him as a starter. When you can get a guy who pitched in the SEC with success, it goes a long way.
Signing bonus and what’s next
It didn’t take long for Sikkema to officially join the organization. He signed for slot money on Friday. That amounts to $1,952,300 to be exact, but there could be some give or take. I had thought that Sikkema might get a little less than slot, but what do I know.
Anyway, anyone who lives in the Tri-State area might have a chance to see Sikkema pitch this summer. I anticipate him starting off in the New York-Penn League with Staten Island. Their season opens this Friday and we should hear about the rosters very soon.
As reports insinuate, Sikkema could be a quick mover. I wouldn’t expect him to advance above Staten Island this summer, but he could be in Double-A by the end of next season if all goes right. Perhaps he opens with High-A Tampa in 2020 and earns a promotion to Trenton.
I think there’s a lot to like about Sikkema, especially pairing him with the organization’s player development team. For now, it sounds like he can get by with his low 90s fastball and secondary stuff, but if the Yankees can add a couple more ticks like they’ve done with so many other hurlers, look out. That could bring his floor from a middle reliever role to perhaps a higher leverage bullpen option. Further, it also might raise his starter upside from back-end to middle of the rotation.
I’m fine with the Yankees trying Sikkema out as a starter, but in today’s game, I wonder if his best value would come as a reliever even if he developed into a borderline third starter. Either way, relief is a good fallback option to have. There’s no need to hurry him through the system in the next year or two in order to get bullpen help; it’s doing just fine in the Bronx.
The Volpe selection comes with risk, so I’m pleased that they followed up with someone deemed safer like Sikkema. Even if that’s just as a bullpen arm, it’s something. I hope he signs quickly and get some reps in Staten Island this summer so I can see him pitch.