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February 22, 2012 at 10:47 AM

2012 Prospect Previews: Chris Balcom-Miller and Juan Carlos Linares

Chris Balcom-Miller
Position: Starting Pitcher
2011 Teams: Salem Red Sox/Portland Sea Dogs
2012 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 23

Strengths: Balcom-Miller’s bread-and-butter offering is his heavy, sinking fastball. Sitting 88-90 MPH, he gets solid leverage when throwing his heater to generate outstanding downward movement. This pitch rarely comes in straight. Balcom-Miller can also create arm-side run, with it tailing in on right-handed batters’ hands. Due to the movement and sinking action, opposing hitters have a tough time elevating the pitch when it is in the lower tier of the strike zone. Balcom-Miller can control stretches of game action by effectively spotting his fastball on the corners of the plate. After establishing his heater, he then leans on an improving 81-83 MPH changeup. Displaying bottom dropping action, this offering keeps hitters off-balance and provides enough separation in velocity that hitters tend to lunge out in front of it when mixed appropriately in sequences. Balcom-Miller’s change has made strong strides since turning pro. The pitch can round into a solid-average secondary offering with continued work syncing the arm-speed produced with that of his fastball. Showing a tough and confident demeanor on the hill, he is not afraid to pitch inside when necessary or come right after batters to get out of jams. Balcom-Miller’s ceiling is a back-end of the rotation starting pitcher.

Development Needs: Balcom-Miller’s fastball command needs refinement, grading as about average presently. His sinking fastball tends to have a mind of its own. He struggled reeling the offering in against more advanced hitters, laboring more through innings due to batters taking the pitch instead of chasing the movement. Balcom-Miller’s optimal starting point with the fastball rests at about the thighs, where opposing hitters will commit to swing since it looks like it is coming down the middle of the plate. He walks a fine line when placing it since hitters will take when it does not start high enough to be judged a strike, but is easier to make solid contact against when coming in at the belt. Development of a better feel for his release point is critical to being successful against polished hitters. Balcom-Miller also lacks a major league swing-and-miss pitch. While his changeup has made strides, it is designed to produce weak contact like his fastball. His 80-82 MPH slider is presently a below-average offering, floating across the strike zone rather than breaking sharply out of it. There is not enough depth for hitters to be fooled and it sits in the hitting zone waiting to be elevated. Honing of this pitch is necessary to give him a third viable option to churn through opposing lineups.

2012 Outlook: Balcom-Miller looks set to return to Double-A to show that he can make adjustments this season to get hitters out more consistently in the Eastern League. Expect him to continue to work in the rotation to hone his repertoire. Balcom-Miller’s fastball can be a highly effective offering for him. With improvement commanding the ball on both sides of the plate, he should reduce the amount of solid contact made against him. Progression in this area will also enhance his changeup. While I expect Balcom-Miller to fare better as a starter this season due to experience and repetition, his path to the big leagues lies as a reliever. He expends a lot of energy with his delivery and when forced to work harder in innings his stuff starts to diminish quickly. He projects as a potential 6th or 7th inning reliever on a contending team with progress developing more crispness and overall command of his arsenal in 2012. Balcom-Miller can push as a back-end starter on a second division team with strong gains improving his slider, but his delivery makes him ideally suited for getting 3-4 outs and that role will also allow his stuff to stay consistent.

Juan Carlos Linares
Position: Outfielder
2011 Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
2012 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 27

Strengths: Linares utilizes a compact swing that is quick to the point of contact. Generating solid-average batspeed via strong wrists, he is an excellent fastball hitter, especially against ones on the inner third of the plate. Linares’ short swing allows him to get the head of the bat around on high velocity offerings. He has the potential to produce average-to-solid-average contact at the major league level and projects as about a .270 hitter for batting average. Strong for his size, Linares can put a charge into the ball when squaring it up. He has learned to create lift with his swing and elevate the baseball using his wrists. Linares’ power ceiling can reach 12-14 home runs with experience hitting at the big league level. Despite having a stocky build, he has deceiving speed. This serves him well in the outfield along with his instincts for reading the ball quickly off the bat. Linares covers slightly above-average ground in center field and can play left or right field more than adequately. While only possessing average arm strength, he shows a quick release and solid positioning when lining up to make accurate throws to the bases.

Development Needs: Linares lost almost the entire 2011 season to an ankle injury and still has not been tested against advanced secondary offerings. Although experienced coming over from Cuba in 2010, it remains to be seen whether he can hit the caliber of breaking balls seen in Triple-A and then the major leagues. Linares can also be too aggressive at the plate, lacking the discipline to take offerings out of his hitting zones. He hits fastballs well, but will chase elevated ones above the belt and try to pull ones away from him. There is a bit too much hook in his swing, which leads to fly balls with topspin and an over-dependence on pulling the ball to drive it. In order for Linares to produce enough contact, he must look to use the whole field more to increase the hitting areas in which he is a threat to do damage. Pitchers will also consistently feed him a diet of fastballs and secondary offerings away if he does not adjust his approach. Linares is a good defensive player, but does not have the footspeed or range to play center field in more than a fill-in role. Without front-line power or plus hitting potential, his ceiling is as a major league bench player, filling a fourth or fifth outfield slot on a roster.

2012 Outlook: Linares has an outside chance at winning a reserve outfield slot with the big club out of Spring Training, but more than likely slots as one of the starting outfielders on the Pawtucket squad. 2012 is an opportunity to play a full season as a professional and show that he is ready to contribute if the need arises at the major league level. It may take some time for Linares to get his timing back against live pitching given he only ramped back up during the Fall Instructional League and saw limited action out in Arizona, but his hitting talent is in line with the competition he will face in Triple-A. A positive sign that he is adjusting quickly will be an improvement with his patience at the plate, which will help drive frequent instances of solid contact in Triple-A. Linares will definitely be challenged by secondary offerings if he starts jumping all over fastballs early in the season. If he can work more consistently to the opposite field to mitigate opposing pitchers working him away with frequency, I see him rounding towards being ready for a potential look with the big league club around mid-season. Roster openings are dependent on a lot of factors, but over the course of the long season the major league team always ends up reaching down for players capable of answering the call. Linares provides the organization with outfield depth in 2012 and can end up as one of those players that seems to come out of nowhere to contribute.

Chris Mellen is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisMellen