Alex Balog didn't start the season until June 14, when he made his High-A debut with Modesto. Since then, he's been waddling between quality starts and giving up more than four runs. He even made a run at a a no-hitter on Aug. 15 against Bakersfield, which isn't necessarily indicative of future success, but it's fun to see.
I saw Balog's final start of the season against Stockton at Banner Island Ballpark. The playoff bound Ports were without top stars Yairo Munoz and Matt Chapman in the lineup, and the Nuts had lost seven of their last 10 games, so maybe things would turn around for them behind Balog.
Balog's arsenal includes a fastball, a curveball, a changeup, and a slider. I talked to Modesto broadcaster Keaton Gillogly before the game, and he told me that Balog had been mixing in the slider a lot lately—Balog did so again this game. It was clear to me that he was still trying to refine this pitch. This being his final start of the season, it made sense to mix the slider in more to work out the kinks.
Balog threw the slider, I would say, more than one-third of the time, so it was clear that he was working on it. It showed elsewhere, too. It wasn't a perfect slider, let alone an above average one, but if he can work on it more during spring training next year, it could be a very solid complement to the curveball. The average speeds for his slider were 84-86, touching the high 80s at times. He can throw this pitch for power, but I don't think that will be the case in the long run.
Speaking of that curveball, he only threw maybe three or so curveballs in the game by my count. It's a big, looping curveball that can go 12-6 at times. I was mostly impressed by the movement it has and the way it broke toward the plate. It's definitely a top pitch for him.
The changeup was about a textbook changeup as you could get. It can be effective, it complements the fastball, and it is the offspeed pitch he can use to fool hitters, but there was something about it this game that just felt a little flat.
I saw his fastball sit at about 90-93 during the game, topping out at 95. I didn't see much movement or life to this pitch, but he was able to get batters to swing and miss with it.
Balog throws overhand with a leg kick that varies. Sometimes he'll cock his leg back to the point where it seemed like it was touching his elbow; other times, it was halfway to his elbow. His thin frame (he's listed at 6'5" and 210 lbs) might be a contributing factor to how he throws. It's as if he was trying to gain a couple of mph on his pitches by winding up higher.
Late in the game
Around the fourth inning or so, Balog's focus was off, and he started to miss with the fastball. The defense bailed him out when they could, but that wasn't the case when two runs scored in the sixth inning to give Stockton the lead. Balog's fourth inning waning made it hard to envision him as a future starter.
Right now, Balog is a 40 prospect who will likely end up a reliever. If he can develop the slider into something powerful and deceptive, he could end up being a very good reliever. I don't think he'll stick as a starter long term, but that FB-CH-CB-SL combo could be dangerous out of the bullpen.