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March 11, 2011 at 12:41 PM

2011 Prospect Previews: Chris Balcom-Miller and Michael Bowden

Today's edition of the series features one pitching prospect working to carve a role out for himself at the major league level and another continuing to polish off his stuff this season in preparation for the upper levels of the Red Sox system.

Chris Balcom-Miller
Position: Starting Pitcher
2010 Team: Greenville Drive
2011 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: Acquired from the Colorado Rockies organization last season in a trade involving reliever Manny Delcarmen, Balcom-Miller possesses an advanced arsenal highlighted by his strong overall command. A pitcher who looks to pound the strike zone, his 88-92 MPH fastball is especially effective down in the zone, where it shows good run and some sink. Batters have had a tough time elevating his fastball and typically beat the ball into the ground when making contact against it. Balcom-Miller has also shown early in his career to be able to consistently run his fastball up under right-handed hitters’ hands and keep it out of the middle of the plate. He can also lean on a tight low-80s slider when needing to keep hitters off balance or get them to chase something off the plate later in sequences. Creating excellent deception from his fastball with the offering, Balcom-Miller can often fool hitters when he snaps it off and displays good feel for the pitch. It has the makings of a plus out-pitch down the line. Despite having some moving parts in his mechanics, he’s smooth with getting his arm into proper throwing position and is able to keep his release point consistent.

Development Needs: In order to round out his arsenal with three average-to-better pitches, Balcom-Miller has some work ahead of him to sharpen his changeup. Making good progress with it since turning pro, further improvement with the offering will be necessary before he reaches Double-A, where the competition will be more in line with his level of skill. Much of his near-term development should focus on rounding out this pitch and continuing to get comfortable throwing it in any count. While displaying excellent fastball command thus far in the low minors, he lacks the type of velocity to consistently throw it past hitters in the upper levels. This will put more of an emphasis on how well he can spot his heater as the margin of error within the strike zone shrinks with each step up the ranks of the Red Sox system. Balcom-Miller’s true test should come when he reaches the Eastern League and how well he can adjust will determine whether he can stick in a starting role down the line. His best potential future success is likely to be in a set-up type role since his stuff seems to be more likely to play up better out of the bullpen.

2011 Outlook: After proving he was much more advanced for the South Atlantic League in 2010, Balcom-Miller appears very likely to break camp with the Salem Red Sox and continue working to polish off his arsenal in the Carolina League to start the season. Look for him to produce a lot of groundball outs and limit the amount of solid contact against at this level. Given where his stuff is, he should be able to maintain similar strikeout rates in 2011 and show solid control. Continued progress with his changeup will be a key area of developmental focus during the season and of the most interest to keep an eye on. The improvement with this offering, along with further fine tuning of his fastball command, will give Balcom-Miller a solid foundation to attack the more advanced hitters he will see up a level in the Red Sox organization. With a solid first half of the season and exhibiting that he needs more of a challenge in the process, he can put himself in strong consideration for a promotion to Portland in the summer months and get a chance to really test his stuff. A prospect with a higher floor, Balcom-Miller shouldn’t be long for reaching the upper levels of the minors. Once getting there, he’ll try to prove his stuff is trending towards being capable of getting advanced hitters out and push himself into the future mix of arms ready to contribute when the major league team needs to reach down for depth.

Michael Bowden
Position: Relief Pitcher
2010 Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
2011 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 24

Strengths: A veteran of the Red Sox minor league system, Bowden has always relied on his heavy 88-92 MPH fastball to work both sides of the plate. Showing solid-average command of his fastball, he is most effective with it when keeping it on the corners and running it down through the strike zone towards hitters’ knees. The pitch can also sneak up on batters due to the late release out of his delivery. Bowden has always shown good feel for his low-80s changeup, which is his best secondary offering and close to a plus pitch. This offering is especially effective against left-handed batters as it tumbles down and away from them. When thrown effectively and with consistent arm speed, Bowden can keep lefties out on their front foot and get them to either hook it or swing through it. A newer pitch to his arsenal, his mid-80s slider has made some good progress in the last two seasons and offers him a better pitch to attack right-handed hitters with. With further fine tuning of it, Bowden can be less dependent on pitching to contact against righties. Possessing a solid work ethic, he’s handled his transition to the bullpen well and is constantly trying to improve at his craft.

Development Needs: At this point, Bowden is pretty close to a finished product and is more in the tinkering stages to find something that is going to work consistently for him at the major league level. He’s had problems keeping his fastball down, which usually results in him giving up extremely hard contact and leaves him home run prone. Now working as a reliever, Bowden can ill-afford to struggle with his command for stretches when he is being counted upon as someone to get outs in situations when the game is on the line. His velocity has never reached the levels originally believed it would, but working in shorter outings has allowed him to work closer to his upper reaches, which can occasionally top out at 94 MPH. Experimenting with a cutter this winter and spring, picking up the feel for this offering relatively quickly can help him miss more bats and produce some more weak contact on the ground. It remains to be seen as to whether Bowden will carry his work with this offering into the season and what type of progress he can make with it.

2011 Outlook: Given the deep bullpen at the major league level, Bowden will again find himself with Pawtucket and will work to stay sharp, while fine tuning his arsenal to see if he can get a little bit more out of it. Most of his development work in 2011 should center on continuing his adjustment to working in a relief role and trying to incorporate the new cutter into his pitch patterns. Bowden should have pretty good success while working the later innings in Triple-A as the season gets going and an uptick in the amount of strikeouts he can pick up as a reliever is a good sign that the tweaking of his arsenal is heading in the right direction. By getting on a roll of working consistently clean innings and exhibiting strong command, Bowden has a solid shot at being one of the first in line to be considered for time in the majors should a need arise during the season. Now at the later stages of his development path, 2011 is about first proving that he is ready for the chance to contribute in the big leagues and then showing that he can have success against major league hitters.