Itching to pitch
Finally healthy, GJ Rockies' Balog ready to start career
Like any baseball player that gets drafted, Alex Balog was excited to start his professional career, but that excitement was followed by some frustration.
The Colorado Rockies’ third pick in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft was sent to Grand Junction to start his career with the Advanced Rookie affiliate. However, Balog strained the large muscle in his back and hasn’t pitched yet this season.
The injury was discovered after he signed with the Rockies.
“I was fine during the (college) season,” Balog said. “When I got here it felt a little funny. I’m not sure what the cause was, but it felt funny.”
The Rockies had him throw a bullpen session, but he felt pain and was shut down for the time being.
“It’s tough sitting around watching everybody, but I’ve picked up on a lot of things,” Balog said. “I’ve scouted a lot of teams. I’ve kept a journal of all the hitters, so I feel prepared for that. I can’t wait to go out there and just pitch.”
Balog had his first bullpen session July 12.
“Everything feels great,” Balog said. “Hopefully, I’ll be out there as soon as possible. I don’t know when they’ll let me go out there.”
Balog threw another side session Monday and is progressing toward pitching against live hitters.
“It went really well,” Grand Junction Rockies pitching coach Ryan Kibler said of Balog’s first bullpen work. “He threw 20 pitches. He looked good. He said he felt good. It’s a step in the right direction.”
The Rockies plan to go slow with Balog, waiting at least three or four weeks, probably the second week in August before pitching Balog in a game, Kibler said
Balog, who threw 91 innings at the University of San Francisco this past spring, said he has a fresh arm.
When Balog does pitch in a game, Kibler’s confident he’ll be mentally ready for his first professional outing.
“He’s a polished pitcher,” Kibler said. “He knows where the ball is going. He’s got an idea how to pitch. He’s wise beyond his years when it comes to pitching intelligence.
“He’s not far behind. He’s not as far behind as the lack of pitching shows. He picks things up fast. He’s fun to work with. You see him standing around listening.”
Balog has come a long way in a short time. He played first base growing up and didn’t pitch until his senior year in high school, he said.
His dad was a catcher at San Diego State. His brother, Nik, was a designated hitter and first baseman at the University of San Francisco. Nik Balog signed a free-agent contract with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012 and is in Class A ball.
Alex stayed close to home and followed his brother to the University of San Francisco, where Alex played first base and pitched.
“I’m the tallest one and have one of the better arms, so that’s how it turned out to be that way,” Alex said. “My cousin (who plays) center field has a good arm, too, but I think I have him beat.”
His 6-foot-6, 225-pound frame played a big role in Balog becoming a pitcher.
“I’ve always been fairly athletic on the mound and did what came natural,” he said. “My two-seam fastball is probably my go-to (pitch). It always came natural out of my hand with a little bit of movement.
“The other pitches I’ve kind of developed over the years — slider, curveball and change-up — but they are still all developing. There’s always room for improvement.”
After getting drafted by Colorado, Balog spoke with Nik and his cousins about professional baseball, specifically the minor leagues.
“They told me to expect long bus rides,” Balog said, “playing every day and grinding at it. I’m excited about it.”
The University of San Francisco played weekend games and an occasional weekday game during a season, nothing like the everyday schedule in Rookie ball.
“It was exciting,” Balog said of being drafted on the first day of the three-day draft. “I was at home with my family. Hearing your name called is a good feeling.”
Growing up in the South Bay, he was a San Francisco Giants fan, but he joked those days are over.
“(The Giants) passed me up, so I’m not a fan of them anymore,” Balog said, tongue in cheek. “I would always root for them, but now that I’m with the Rockies, that’s the team I’m rooting for.”
Balog’s dream is to pitch in the Major Leagues someday, but he wants to get acclimated to pro ball before setting any specific goals or a timeline.
“My dream is to play in the big leagues,” Balog said. “That’s always been my dream. I don’t really have any goals set in stone. I just want to get better every day.
“Any way I can, I basically want to soak it all in and get used to the system and how it’s done professionally. It’s going to be a little bit of a change, but I’m looking forward to it.”