If it doesn’t feel like that long ago that Dominic Pipkin was pitching for the National Team in the inaugural Future Stars Series International Week event held at Constellation Field in Sugar Land, Texas, well…it wasn’t.
It’s easy to forget that, just last May, Pipkin was still in high school before the Philadelphia Phillies took him in the ninth round of the 2018 MLB Draft.
“So, it’s really not that far away, I still feel young and everything, but it’s kind of like a faded memory,” Pipkin told FutureStarsSeries.com earlier this month. “I can still see it, I can still remember what it feels like to be there. It’s so long ago, but it’s not long at the same time.”
Pipkin, who had committed to Cal, not only saw his stock rise due to performances at the showcase and travel ball tournament circuit but was also able to gain some maturity in his approach that’s helped him as he’s finishing up his first full professional season with the Low-A Lakewood BlueClaws.
“I think one thing I took away from showcases and all that stuff, the displaying-myself-circuit that you have to do, is being able to, if you have a bad outing, push it away and forget about it and just go out and do the next thing, because it doesn’t matter anymore, he said. “If you go to Area Codes and you suck, well, you’re done and you don’t have to do it again. You can forget about it and go to the next thing. I remember (at International Week) feeling like my arm was going to fall off. I didn’t put up the same velocity numbers that I did at Area Codes the week before, but it was the end of the year and I hadn’t thrown that much, so it makes sense.”
Pipkin pitched well in Texas, despite facing the likes of Noah Naylor and Mateo Gil, who both went on to be drafted in the first three rounds. And he was largely successful with the Phillies East squad in the GCL, where he reported after signing following his selection; he posted a 1-2 record with a 3.64 ERA over ten outings.
This year, however, has been something of a struggle at times, which has been a major adjustment given that’s something he dealt with very little of during his amateur days.
“When I was in high school, when I was at Area Codes showcases or whatever, I was cream of the crop, basically,” Pipkin said. “In high school, I would get 12 strikeouts a game, hang up the cleats and go home. Whatever, no biggie, didn’t think twice about it. I come out here now, and I think the most I’ve had in a game is four. So, it’s really different.”
Again, however, he’s walking away from it with a newfound level of maturity, namely in how to deal with those struggles.
“I’ve had pretty good numbers the first half, like a 3.30 ERA, which isn’t bad; I’m 19 and facing 24-year-olds. But, I came back from the All-Star break for the second half, and I had like six or seven bad outings back-to-back-to-back. I didn’t know what was wrong or how to fix it, but I’m finally coming out of it. I think having those bad outings taught me how to deal with failure a little better.”
Now on the seven-day injured list, Pipkin’s season is likely over, and he’ll finish it with a 3-4 record, one save and a 5.15 ERA. On the surface, there’s plenty of room for improvement, but when you consider he was nearly three years below the average age in the South Atlantic League, and he’s turned in a pretty solid campaign.
“Being a 19-year-old in a league that’s filled with 21, 22, 23, 24-year-olds, it’s like you have big shoes to fill and they expect a lot of me I guess, but there’s not that much pressure,” he said. “They put me here for a reason, whether it be that they want me to do something, so it’s just where I am. I try to do my best wherever. I love being here, it’s a great atmosphere, but it’s a different lifestyle. I wasn’t really prepped for being gone months on end. I knew I’d be gone, but I wasn’t prepped for it. I’ve seen more parts of the world in these past couple months than I had in my entire life beforehand. I’ve been all over the East Coast; Georgia, Virginia, North and South Carolina, New York.”
What he’s also seen is better approaches at the plate, which was another big part of his adjustment in his first full pro season.
“I’ve thrown pitches this year that I got away with in the GCL a lot more often,” Pipkin said. “I threw one changeup, and I didn’t hang it very much and it was on the inner half of the plate, and it got smoked to deep right field. I mean, I had no clue if it was going to land or not. The first pitch I threw this season, my very first pitch, it was outer half of the plate but it stayed a little up, and that ball got smoked too. It was like 113 (miles per hour) off the bat. So, it had no shot at staying in the yard.”
With that first full year under his belt, and a return to Lakewood likely at least to start out the 2020 season, moments like that should be few and far between as Pipkin climbs the ladder in the race to become the first Future Stars Series alumni to reach the majors.
“Dominic has all the ceiling in the world,” said New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series powered by Program 15 CEO Jeremy Booth.
“It’s good to see him having the early success we knew he would, and watch him continue to develop into a big leaguer. He is an original here, and set the bar high for others to follow.”