April 7, 2011 at 9:00 AM
Before being acquired by the Red Sox in an August 31 deal for Manny Delcarmen, right-hander Chris Balcom-Miller had established himself as one of the top pitchers in the South Atlantic League. After posting a 1.58 ERA in 11 starts and being named the 2009 Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year in his pro debut, Balcom-Miller recorded 117 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 109 innings for Asheville before the trade. Using an 88-92 mph fastball with good movement and pinpoint control, he eventually finished third in the Sally League in baserunners per nine innings (1.09) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.3). He made just one regular-season start and two playoff starts for the Drive before the season ended, making Balcom-Miller one of the newest members of the Red Sox organization that will be playing full-season ball this year. I caught up with Balcom-Miller at the Player Development Complex in Fort Myers to talk about being traded, playing every fifth day, and tattoos.
Chris Hatfield: You joined the Red Sox last year after being traded for Manny Delcarmen. It’s an interesting experience being traded. Looking back, how did you hear about the trade, and what was it like being involved in a trade, generally?
Chris Balcom-Miller: Well, I was very excited. At first, I didn’t know what to think about it. I came to the clubhouse to do my routine, and the manager, Joe Mikulik, called me into his office. After facing Greenville that week, I thought I was in trouble for hitting a guy [CH note: the beanball victim was Reynaldo Rodriguez], but he shut the door and told me I was traded. It was a big shock. Then he told me it was for Manny Delcarmen. Then I called my parents, my girlfriend, my agent. My agent was like, “it’s a great thing.” So I was really excited to be here.
CH: Getting traded isn’t something that many players go through. How do the logistics of it work?
CBM: I didn’t dress that day because I belonged to (the Red Sox), so they told me go home and pack my stuff because I had a plane at seven in the morning. Actually, I didn’t fly into Greenville. I flew into Charleston, because that’s where they were, facing the Yankees. It was kind of hard. It felt like being drafted again, walking into the clubhouse. Luckily my girlfriend drove there, so it helped that I knew somebody.
CH: So how long did the adjustment process in the clubhouse take?
CBM: It took a little while. Everybody was nice, but I’m not a talkative person, I’m pretty quiet. I just mind my own business.
CH: You also got thrust into a pennant race too when that happened. You got one start before pitching in the playoffs. Did that help or hurt at all?
CBM: Right. It helped. I was on Asheville and they were in the race, then switched to Greenville and we took it. It was definitely a great experience I won’t forget.
CH: Having been in both the Rockies and Red Sox organizations, have you noticed any differences in the way they do things?
CBM: There’s a little bit. They take care of you really well here. They’re really one-on-one. They’re really hard on you getting your work done, which I like.
CH: As far as your arsenal, what you’re throwing now?
CBM: I throw my four-seam and two-seam fastball, my changeup, and my slider. This organization actually hasn’t seen me throw my changeup a lot, so they think I need to work on my changeup, which I do. I like to throw it a lot—I threw it a lot in Asheville. That’s one thing I can work on more, throwing my changeup. My slider is usually my out pitch, but right now I’m looking forward to my changeup being my out pitch.
CH: I was reading an interview with (Vice President/Player Development and Amateur Scouting) Mike Hazen the other day, and in being asked the generic prospect questions, he was asked about you. He immediately said you have the strongest handshake in the organization. I’ve now experienced that first-hand, so I’ve got to ask, where does that come from?
CBM: (Laughing) I don’t know. Maybe from my junior college. My whole life I was a position player, working with the bats. I only pitched fully my last year of junior college. Before that, I was a shortstop/third baseman, and I think it might be the forearm workouts I used to do—we used to take 45-pound weights, you hold it for a number of times, do grips, stuff like that. It just comes natural.
CH: You mentioned switching from being a position player. What was the thought behind that when you made the switch?
CBM: Going into my freshman year of college, they told me I’d be a prospect and get drafted as a shortstop. I was like, “ok, cool.” I liked to pitch, too. My parents always told me, “Be a pitcher, be a pitcher.” I could pitch, but I loved infield, so I did that for my whole freshman year of college, and towards the end, I came in and closed. I got picked up by the Royals in the 35th round, and going into my sophomore year, I had to make a big decision of what I wanted to do. So halfway through the season, I told my coach I wanted to pitch, because that’s where I was going to make it. Looking back on it now, it’s hard watching everybody hit and field when you’re just shagging all the time. It’s different.
CH: So working games every fifth day takes some getting used to?
CBM: Yeah, definitely. I’m used to hitting and fielding every day, getting in the action. But in my first year of pro ball, I would think, “This is boring, we just run all the time.” Now I’m looking forward to pitching every fifth day.
CH: Another thing that’s easy to notice about you is that you’ve got a good amount of ink. How many tattoos do you have?
CBM: I’ve got six.
CH: What was the first one?
CBM: My first one was probably my “Miller” tattoo (points at upper right arm). But this is the only meaningful one (points at cross on left forearm) on my arm. It’s for my grandpa who passed away in the summer of 2009. He meant a lot to me and was a great inspiration. I used to call him all the time after games, and after that happened, I was like, “who do I call?”
CH: You haven’t been in the organization for a long time, but is there any teammate you’ve had who impressed you most?
CBM: They’ve got a lot of great players on this team and a lot of them stand out. Pitching-wise, one of my buddies, Drake Britton – he strikes out a lot of guys. I heard he’d had Tommy John, but he throws hard. There’s other guys too, (Ryan) Pressly, (Jordan) Flasher, coming from a different team, they stand out, those three.
CH: What kind of offseason routine do you have?
CBM: I spent it in Georgia this season with my fiancé, just working out there. We went on a cruise. But once it comes to January, you start buckling it down again. I’ll probably come out earlier next year. They had an optional mini-camp on February 6, next year I’ll probably take advantage of coming down then. Coming in new to this, I just thought, “I’ll go to mini-camp and see how it is,” but it was kind of hard for me coming down to spring training—my uncle passed away the week before.
CH: Were you close to him too?
CBM: Yeah I’m pretty close to my dad’s side of the family. He had cancer.
CH: How about your spare time? What are you like off the field?
CBM: Off the field? I love to sleep, but it’s kind of hard. I like to just go home and take a long nap, but it’ll mess up your sleep schedule, so it depends. Once I get to the apartment, you don’t really have that much time, you get home around 11 o’clock and try to hit the sack. But I mostly just try to relax, get a good sleep schedule. The nights before I pitch are kind of hard, because I’m anxious. I usually don’t go to bed until 1 or 2, which is fine. I’ll play some video games, talk to the family.
CH: What are you playing right now?
CBM: Call of Duty, NHL ’11, that’s about it.