Alex Balog is a player who just looks like a MLB pitcher. The 23-year-old right-handed starter is 6'5, 210 pounds and throws his fastball on a steep plane in the 90s with regularity as part of a four-pitch mix. Balog was the 32nd-rated prospect overall by Baseball America for the 2013 draft but lasted until the 70th pick, leading many to label him a steal. So why hasn't Balog distinguished himself as a prospect after three seasons in the organization?
Let's start at the beginning of his Rockies career. Early on, while at rookie ball Grand Junction, Balog suffered an injury that system pitching instructor Bob Apodaca had called "one of the most unusual injuries [he's] ever heard of," in which Balog was forced to pin his arm above his head for an elongated period of time.
Whatever it was, Balog struggled mightily for Grand Junction, posting a 9.30 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, and an anemic 5.4 K/9 over 30 innings of work. Nonetheless, Balog was bumped up to full-season ball at Low-A Asheville in 2014, where both his health and results showed improvement. With the Tourists, Balog pitched 150⅓ innings of 3.95 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 4.01 FIP, 6.8 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 baseball at an age-appropriate level. Not great numbers (particularly the low K rate), but decent in context.
Unfortunately, Balog's bid to break out in 2015 was met with a setback immediately, when he suffered a groin injury on his first day of spring training. That injury knocked Balog out until June, when he reported to High-A Modesto. In 16 starts with the Nuts, Balog threw 97 innings with a 3.72 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, and 1.8 BB/9 against hitters that were on average a year older than him. These numbers represented Balog's best minor league campaign so far, but results thus far for the big fella (particularly the strikeouts) simply have not matched the stuff the Rockies thought they were getting when they drafted Balog.
The stuff shown in the above video (against a top 25 prospect in all of baseball) was apparent to MLB.com, who rated Balog 24th among Rockies prospects recently:
[Balog] uses his frame well to throw downhill with his sinking fastball that can tough 94 mph at times and get those all-important groundball outs. His changeup is his best secondary pitch and it has the chance to be an out pitch. His curveball is serviceable and his slider, while below-average, gives him a fourth option to choose from. While he doesn't miss that many bats and has been a little too hittable, he also doesn't hurt himself with walks. Balog will get the chance to see how his pitching early to contact works as he moves up the ladder. If he can stay down in the zone consistently, he has the chance to be a back-end starter.
That high-round potential and starter stuff is what keeps Balog so high in these lists (he was 27th on my ballot), but the results need to catch up to the stuff for him to rise higher. If he's able to continue improving at Double-A Hartford (where he projects to start next year) and begin inducing more swing-and-miss results, Balog's a potential "out of nowhere" prospect who could provide valuable starter depth to the Rockies within two years.
Beyond that, Balog's ideal size and sinking fastball are intriguing and make him a decent candidate for a potential switch to the bullpen if he doesn't pan out as a starter. Either way, Balog will need to show the Rockies something in 2016, as he is Rule 5 eligible following the upcoming season.