PEORIA, Ariz. -- T.J. Sikkema knew that Tuesday’s start for Surprise would mark the culmination of his 2022 campaign. A season that saw ebbs and flows in production and brought the left-hander to the Royals organization concluded with a six-strikeout performance at Peoria Stadium in the Saguaros’ 6-2 victory.
Sikkema, Kansas City’s No. 16 prospect, wraps up his Fall League campaign with a 2.45 ERA over three starts. He notched the win in his first two outings, but his final start in the desert marked his first without any earned runs crossing the dish since July 10, when he was a member of the Yankees’ High-A affiliate.
The 24-year-old southpaw deployed all elements of his three-pitch mix across his start, scattering four hits and a walk and incurring one unearned run over four innings. Sikkema’s first three punchouts all came looking, with the Javelinas lineup stymied by his fastball. All outs in the third came on swinging strikeouts -- a pair against his slider and one on his changeup.
“The changeup was working really well,” Sikkema said. “The slider is obviously the swing-and-miss pitch, but the fastball command was there today, getting both sides of the plate. They were all working pretty well today.”
Sikkema, who is apt to deviate from his traditional arm slot, sat in the low-90s with his heater, while his power changeup played up into the mid-80s. He retired eight of the first nine batters that he faced, throwing 38 of his 61 pitches for strikes.
The 6-foot southpaw landed with Kansas City at the Trade Deadline alongside fellow hurlers Beck Way (KC 9) and Chandler Champlain (KC 26) in exchange for outfielder Andrew Benintendi. After compiling a 2.48 ERA with 54 strikeouts across 36 1/3 innings at High-A prior to the deal, Sikkema joined Double-A Northwest Arkansas for the final six weeks of the year.
His first taste of the Double-A level was sour. He made eight starts – none of them of the quality variety -- and logged a 7.44 ERA, with his walk rate nearly doubling. Considering those results and that his 2021 season was wiped out by shoulder and lat injuries, he became an optimal AFL candidate, giving him a chance to end his year on a high note.
“I think I learned a lot there,” Sikkema said of his time with Northwest Arkansas. “It was definitely a bit of a jump. Kind of learned some different things here and there, but I thought it was very good for me. It was definitely a challenge, which is something I love. I love to compete.”
That was evident throughout Sikkema’s collegiate career, when he starred for Missouri. The southpaw led the SEC and finished third in the nation with a 1.32 ERA in 2019, which vaulted him up Draft boards and provoked the Yankees into snagging him with the 38th overall pick. With the Royals constantly on the lookout for pitching to develop in-house, he still profiles as a potential starter with his new organization.
“It’s been a whirlwind past few months, for sure,” Sikkema said. “It’s been really good, though. The people here in Kansas City have been great, and it’s been awesome to be here. I loved every minute I was with the Yankees, but new opportunities and hopefully broader horizons.”
Surprise was held without a hit through the front six frames but broke through in the top of the seventh in a big way. No. 17 Phillies prospect Jhailyn Ortiz mashed a 110-mph, two-run homer that frame, and Nick Gonzales (MLB's No. 93 prospect/the Pirates' No. 5) added a two-run shot in the ninth, his second of the fall circuit.