Out of all the major sports, baseball offers the least amount of guarantees when it comes to being drafted. The MLB Draft can be a crapshoot, with teams taking several dozen players to add to their minor league rosters. Many first-round picks will flame out and many late-round picks will turn into franchise-defining players.
However, there’s a reason certain guys go in the early rounds, and it’s pretty easy to see why Kameron Misner and TJ Sikkema were picked up early in the 2019 draft. Both have been the best players in a rebuilding SEC program, consistently carrying the Tigers’ offenses and pitching staffs over the past two to three seasons.
Again, though, there are no guarantees, especially in the MLB and MiLB. As Misner and Sikkema (presumably) head off to their new careers as professional ball players, let’s take a look at their landing spots and how they could project early in the careers.
Notable Numbers: No. 30 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft Prospects; hit 10 home runs and stole 20 bases in 2019; career .302/.425/.491 triple slash in 540 college at-bats
Outlook: Misner’s seeming lack of production against SEC competition hurt his draft stock, though he’s still considered a five-tool prospect by many. Heck, one of the greatest left-handed hitters of all time is a big Misner fan. His speed and defense are especially valuable in an age where front offices are looking for surplus value in all facets of a player’s game. Whether his bat develops more will likely determine where he plays most, though center field is his most likely destination as that’s where teams can glean the most production out of speedy outfielders.
A successful career for Misner could look like one of two scenarios:
First, Misner’s athleticism carries over well into his mid-to-late 20’s, making him a relatively fast-riser who becomes an outfield option for his new franchise in three to four years. His bat never develops quite to where scouts would hope, but he adds enough defense and baserunning value to make him a fourth outfielder on a very good team or even a starting outfielder on an average-to-below-average team.
Second, Misner’s raw power and batted ball ability explode in the low minors, making him a five-tool player in the mold of Cody Bellinger (though maybe a lite version.) This version of Misner’s career would probably call for more seasoning in the minors, but would likely end with him becoming a lineup mainstay for any franchise, with perennial All Star potential.
While being a part of the Marlins organization can be potentially — uh, how do I put this nicely — tumultuous, Misner should benefit from the organization’s overall trajectory. They’re in the middle of a massive rebuild, and won’t be expected to win for a few years at least. Misner is in prime position to become a major key of that rebuild and could be cresting into the big leagues just as the Marlins are looking to get back in playoff contention. They’ll likely be looking at Misner as a piece of the outfield equation, so it’ll be up to Misner to develop that five-tool potential he clearly has.
Notable Numbers: No. 57 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft Prospects; 1.32 ERA in 2019; 258 strikeouts in Mizzou career
Outlook: Sikkema’s long-term career would have been hard to parse just a few years ago. However, the last few years of baseball strategy may suggest that his future is bright.
At 6’0” with a strange arm slot, Sikkema doesn’t project as a long-term starter — the fact that he never threw more than 89 innings in one season doesn’t help. And despite his gaudy strikeout totals, he doesn’t have the high velocity stuff to compete for a traditional, “back-of-the-bullpen,” type of role. At one point in time, he may have been pegged as the sturdy middle reliever, or maybe even a high-end LOOGY (Left-handed One Out Guy aka left-handed specialist).
However, current managers in the MLB are using their bullpens more aggressively and creatively than any in previous era of baseball. As a player who started out as a dominant long reliever and ended as an ace, Sikkema has the flexibility to be a potentially lethal bullpen weapon. The Yankees are an especially good fit for Sikkema as an organization needing high-end pitching talent. If they decide to focus on Sikkema as a reliever, there’s a potentially quick path to the bigs.
More Oppenheimer on lefty TJ Sikkema: "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.”— Anthony McCarron (@AnthonyMcCarron) June 4, 2019
It’s not a direct comp, but look at John Gant, current reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals. He frequently enters games in high-leverage situations and is asked to pitch more than one inning. Sikkema’s bulldog attitude could make him perfect for this role, especially if he’s able to further develop his secondary pitches and add a few MPH to his fastball.