The Tony Sipp File
Born: July 12, 1983 in Pascagoula, MS
Position: Relief Pitcher
Acquired: 45th-round draft pick in 2004 from Clemson
Strengths: Made incredible progress from Tommy John surgery. When healthy, has an explosive fastball that tops out in the mid-90s. Has a very deceptive delivery and gets a lot of swings and misses. Slider and changeup continue to improve. Attacks both righties and lefties.
Weaknesses: Has pitched only 30 innings in past two years, so is still in process of rebuilding arm strength. Had some control issues at Akron last year.
2009 Projection: Will likely start season in Columbus's bullpen, but if healthy could make major league debut at some point.
2008 & MINOR-LEAGUE CAREER
The following article appeared in the May 2005 issue of Indians Ink Magazine. Way back then, Tony Sipp's fastball caught our eye.
Seeing a young player with talent and projecting him to be a future major-leaguer is one of the joys of being part of the Scout.com Network. Indians Ink subscribers knew of Sipp long before most Indians fans.
If not for an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery and forced the lefty to miss an entire year of action, chances are that Sipp would have been in Cleveland long before his callup this week.
By CHUCK MURR
Tony Sipp's fastball has put him in fast company. The left-hander, ignored until the 45th round of last year's draft, had an eye-popping first season of pro ball and is now regarded as a bright prospect in the Indians' farm system.
"Tony's performance last year was more than we anticipated," said John Farrell, the Indians' director of player development.
Sipp went 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA at Mahoning Valley. He allowed 33 hits in 42 2/3 innings -- but here is where it gets interesting: he walked only 13 while striking out 74.
Not bad for a guy who only went 2-2 with a 4.69 ERA a year ago in 48 innings of college ball, where he appeared in 22 games as a pitcher, but played twice that many as an outfielder.
"I pretty much always considered myself a pitcher first and position player second and knew I would have to give it up one day," said Sipp, who in his only season after transferring from junior college to Clemson University hit .280 (59-for-211) with one homer, 23 RBI and 20 stolen bases in 24 attempts. "The thing was to have fun while I was doing it, but I knew that at the professional level I wasn't going to be a hitter."
What he didn't know was whether he would be drafted and he probably never expected getting a $130,000 signing bonus as he received from the Indians -- money more in line with a sixth-round selection than somebody taken with the 1,333rd pick overall.
"I don't really feel pressure to live up to that (bonus)," he said. "My biggest concern was just getting out there and playing. I figured that once I got here, whatever numbers I put up will speak for themself and nobody will consider me a late-rounder.
"But the motivation is there, definitely. You want to prove everybody wrong.
"Around draft time, I didn't think I would be picked and was getting ready to go back to college for this year. When I did get picked, one of my friends had to call me and tell me because I had given up on the draft and wasn't paying attention. He called me and told me congratulations and I didn't know what he was talking about.
"The Indians actually didn't call me until late June. I didn't talk to them for a long time.They drafted me and didn't call. I guess they had other guys to worry about."
The Indians were waiting ... and watching. They had seen Sipp strike out 59 in 48 innings at Clemson and considered him a raw talent. They wanted to see if that talent had a chance of developing and so were eager to see him pitch in the Cape Cod League, where wooden bats are used and scouts get a better assessment of a prospect's prospective progress.
"This was someone who had relatively few innings pitched at the collegiate level at Clemson," explained Farrell. "Tony did go up to the Cape Cod League last summer and showed exactly what our scouts had seen in very short glimpses. We were then able to sign him and the most impressive thing has been his ability to strike people out with his fastball."
Sipp acknowledges that his performance after being drafted led to his signing.
"I think what they were doing was drafting me and then waiting to see how I did in summer ball," he said. "Going up there, that really did everything for me. If I didn't play in the Cape, I would still be back at school right now."
He walked six, struck out 21 and allowed only two runs and 13 hits in 18 innings (a 1.00 ERA) for the Cotuit Kettlers in the Cape Cod League last summer.
He was just as impressive in his pro debut at Mahoning Valley on July 13, allowing only one hit and striking out six over three scoreless innings.
Sipp said the transformation from college was not difficult last year, but that he knows the competition will get tougher as he advances to higher levels of pro ball.
"For one thing, I didn't have to worry about hitting. I just concentrated on pitching," he said. "Once you take half the game away, it makes things a lot simpler. I think that helped. "I just came in and tried to throw strikes. Some coaches in the past said my mechanics were bad, so I just tried to be myself and throw strikes."
The Indians like Sipp's fastball and sharp slider and would like to see him develop a consistent off-speed pitch, but have not altered the six-foot, 185-pounder's delivery.
"Nobody has worked with me on my mechanics since joining the Indians," said Sipp. "They said as long as I have success, they'll just leave me the way I am. The Indians have a 30-day policy where they can't touch you, mess with your mechanics or anything. They just let you come in and show your raw material. After that 30 days was up, I still didn't hear anything from them."
Farrell said Sipp's fastball is what got the Indians' attention and kept them focused on the left-hander. They want to see more of the fastball, but only under controlled conditions as they ease Sipp's power arm into the rigors of pro ball.
"When we look at a pitcher who has a swing-and-miss fastball, it is a great indicator," Farrell said. "We feel Tony has a young and very fresh arm coming into the system.
"We will continue to start him. He'll go to (Class A) Lake County and go into what we call a piggyback situation where we have two starters who alternate every start. One will start, one will relieve and then we flip-flop. It gives another spot in the rotation so we really have six starters. He'll probably do that with Aaron Laffey, another left-hander we really like who we drafted out of high school.
"What we have to be careful of is a big jump up in total innings pitched. We have to monitor that so that ideally Tony gets 100 to 110 innings this year coming off last year where he was 45-48 innings."
That's fine with Sipp, who said that just playing professional baseball is fulfilling a dream. He played baseball, football and tennis while growing up in Mississippi, but concentrated solely on baseball when he went to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where his brother Darius played football.
"I'd like to go back to college and get my degree (in psychology), but I've always loved baseball," he said. "Growing up, I always thought I was going to be a hitter though. I like Junior Griffey, I think he was every left-hander's role model. I looked up to him and tried to emulate his swing. But I had a hard enough time just trying to put the ball in play, even in high school."
Sipp now has a new hero.
"I'm using C.C. Sabathia's glove," he said. "I sat down and talked to him, tried to pick his brain a little. He gave me his glove."
But Sipp said he believes the key to a pitcher's success is being able to focus upon the batter and win a series of one-on-one battles.
"That's one of the things I like about pitching, the one-on-one," he said. "Everybody is over on an island and it is just me and the batter for a minute."
The Indians hope the minutes will turn into a long career.
Sipp continued to dazzle after this article was written. He split the 2005 season between Lake County (4-2, 3.13 ERA) and Kinston (2-2, 2.66 ERA), pitching in 35 games including 17 starts. In 116 1-3 innings that year, he allowed only 81 hits and struck out 130.
In 2006, he went 5-2 with a 3.13 ERA in 29 games including four starts at Double-A Akron, fanning 80 in 60 1-3 innings and yielding only 44 hits.
He missed the entire 2007 season after straining a ligament in his left elbow during spring training. He tried to rehab, but eventually had Tommy John surgery on July 10 by Dr. James Andrews.
Sipp returned to the mound on June 20, 2008, and quickly rose through the Tribe farm system a year ago. This year, he pitched at the Triple-A level for the first time, fanning 10 in seven innings over four relief outings.