COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri ace TJ Sikkema put himself in elite company Wednesday afternoon after being named a 2019 Golden Spikes semifinalist.
The 6-foot, 221-pound lefthander is one of 25 college baseball players to qualify for the yearly award, which is given to the nation’s best college baseball player.
Sikkema is the third Missouri player ever to qualify for the honor and the first since right-handed pitcher Kyle Gibson in 2009. The other MU semifinalist was pitcher Aaron Crow in 2008.
In 16 appearances (12 starts), the southpaw has pitched to a 1.36 ERA (sixth nationally), a 1.02 WHIP and has struck out 91 batters in 79 2/3 innings pitched. Hitters are batting a measly .183 against him.
Sikkema has also seen his draft stock rise exponentially, being named the 55th best draft-eligible prospect by MLBPipeline.com.
The New York Yankees have shown heavy interest in Sikkema, and visited Columbia Wednesday for a meeting with the DeWitt, Iowa, native.
Getting drafted by the Yankees would be good news for his bank account, but bad news for his long hair, considering he’d have to get it trimmed to comply with the Yankees dress code.
Despite the draft being two and a half weeks away (the first round begins on June 3), Sikkema remains focused on his next start, which will come Friday night against Florida in Missouri’s final regular season series at Taylor Stadium.
“We’ve been playing pretty well,” Sikkema said. “Hopefully we can go out and get the job done and put ourselves in a prime position.”
MISNER MARKET HEATS UP: While Sikkema is getting all the recognition nationally, his teammate, Missouri outfielder Kameron Misner, seems to be more popular among MLB scouts.
Like Sikkema, Misner met with the Yankees Wednesday afternoon. Meanwhile, Fangraphs has reported Misner is receiving heavy interest from the Giants and projects him to the Rockies at No. 23 overall in its latest mock draft.
But just how many teams are talking to the 6-foot-4 left-handed power bat?
“Pretty much all of them,” Misner told reporters Wednesday.
Misner has been considered a first-round talent for a long time thanks to a five-tool skillset, but has some scouts perplexed after striking out more than 30 percent of the time in conference play. Against Southeastern Conference opponents, Misner has a slash line of .222/.347/323. His overall numbers tell a different story at .290/.444/.497 with 10 home runs and 19 stolen bases.
It’s been an up and down season for the Poplar Bluff native, who was noticeably gleeful speaking with reporters after he finished his meeting with New York.
“A lot of people back home would love to be doing what I’m doing,” he said.
KEY SERIES: The term magic number is thrown around in baseball quite a bit. Mostly referring to how many wins a team needs to clinch a postseason berth.
Missouri coach Steve Bieser was asked Wednesday what his team's magic number is to secure its first NCAA Regional berth since 2012 and the first since it joined the SEC.
“Uh, three," the third year coach said, referencing how many games are left in Missouri's regular season. "That’s the only thing I’m thinking about."
Bieser said SEC teams are typically locks for the NCAA Regional if they win 14 conference games, but forgive him if he's a little wary of that cliche. The Tigers won 14 SEC games in Bieser's first year at the helm in 2017, but were left out of the national tournament.
Missouri hosts Florida for three games at Taylor Stadium in what will be the biggest series of the year for the Tigers beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday. The Tigers (34-18-1, 13-13-1) enter the series against the Gators third in the SEC East, just ahead of Tennessee (12-15 SEC).
The impact the series will have on Missouri's postseason prospects should help Missouri's well-documented attendance issue, as a Missouri spokesperson has confirmed more than 1,000 extra single game tickets have been sold over a three-day stretch.
“I’ve only seen (Taylor Stadium full) a few times since I’ve been here," Misner, a junior, said. "It’s just huge when fans come out.”
Meanwhile, Florida is having a poor season by its standards, sitting at fifth in the SEC East with a 10-17 conference record. The Gators' problems have been primarily pitching related, putting up a 5.40 team ERA, the worst mark in the SEC. It seems they're missing 2018 Royals draftee Brady Singer a little more than expected.
“To me, that’s the trap of this weekend series," Bieser said. "Because those guys are really solid pitchers. You better come out to be ready and compete against them, otherwise you’ll walk back to the dugout not too pleased with your at-bat.”
This series will also have a big impact on the Tigers seeding for next week's SEC tournament. Missouri could be seeded anywhere from fifth to 10th, depending on how things shake out across the league.
RETURN TIMETABLE: It's been a long time since Missouri starting pitcher Tyler LaPlante has been in a live game for the Tigers.
LaPlante hasn’t pitched since April 6 against Kentucky, when he left the game in the middle of the sixth inning due to injury. LaPlante had pitched to a 2.38 ERA and struck out 34 batters in 45 1/3 innings of work.
“I don’t want to say he’s done for the year," Bieser said. "But he’s definitely not available this weekend. Part of it is he’s been out for so long so he’s really not in shape. He needs to pick up a baseball today and start throwing. Maybe in two weeks, we can count on him for an inning here or there. When you’ve missed that much time, you can’t expect him to be a starter.
In LaPlante's absence, Missouri has rolled with Jacob Cantleberry and Sikkema as their first two weekend starters, and has typically made the last game of a series a bullpen day. The Tigers plan to continue this format this weekend.