There has been plenty of promise along the way for former Douglas High baseball standout Chris Balcom-Miller.
There has also been plenty of high expectation for the right-handed pitcher since he was taken by the Colorado Rockies in the sixth round of the 2009 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft.
Last summer, that promise and expectation came to a head as his current organization, the Boston Red Sox, made a clear move to define his role with the franchise for the foreseeable future.
After literally breezing through the lower levels of minor league ball as a starting pitcher - Balcom-Miller ascended from Rookie League to Double-A in a little less than two full seasons - he shifted to the bullpen last June.
The results were overwhelmingly positive.
Balcom-Miller, 23, had posted a 3-4 record with a 4.89 ERA through 12 starts to begin last year. The numbers nearly mirrored his Double-A stats from the season prior (3-6, 4.81 ERA).
The 6-2, 210-pounder finished out the year making 14 relief appearances, posting a 1-1 record with a 3.62 ERA. He struck out 30 batters in 32.1 innings pitched, walking just 11.
The numbers improved as he grew into the role too. He struck out 24 in 26 innings with just seven walks and a 2.77 ERA in his final 10 appearances of the season. He also averaged 6.4 strikeouts per nine innings.
"I was much more effective out of the bullpen," said Balcom-Miller, who arrived at JetBlue Park, the Red Sox spring training facility, several weeks ago to get a head start. Pitchers and catchers are officially required to report on Sunday. "I liked it a lot. There were more chances to pitch and you just never knew when your number would be called.
"You had to constantly be prepared. I'd just sit in the bullpen and wait for that phone to ring and start getting ready to throw. The mental preparation was the same as when I started, but you're going out and throwing one or two innings at a time."
Balcom-Miller's fastball ranged from 89 to 93 mph last season, but it was at its most effective at about 89 or 90. SoxProspects.com praised the pitch's sink and run, which makes it difficult for hitters to elevate the ball. The Web site also listed Balcom-Miller's changeup (81-83 mph) as his best pitch. His slider registers in the low 80s.
This spring, he will likely work out with the Triple-A team with the possibility of a couple appearances with the big league club.
"I'm just going to do the best I can to get ready and I'll pitch wherever they want me to pitch," he said. "My arm is feeling good and feel like I got some good work in during the offseason."
Balcom-Miller pitched and started at third base as a sophomore for Douglas in 2005. He helped lead the Tigers to their first Sierra League title. He later transferred to the Bay area to finish out his high school career and pitched for two years for West Valley College.
He was drafted in the 35th round by Kansas City following his freshman season at West Valley but opted to come back for another season of college.
That led to a significant bump in draft status the following year and he made an immediate impact in rookie ball. He won Pioneer League Pitcher of the Week honors three times on his way to the Pioneer League Pitcher of the Year award in 2009 with Casper, Wyo. He went 4-0 in 11 starts with 60 strikeouts in 57 innings pitched while walking 10 with a 1.58 ERA.
Midway through the 2010 season, the Rockies traded Balcom-Miller to Boston for then major-leaguer Manny Delcarmen.
Following the 2011 season, during which he was promoted to Double-A Portland, Baseball America rated Balcom-Miller as having the best pitch control in the Red Sox system.
This offseason, as Boston set about rebuilding its major league bullpen, Balcom-Miller kept a close eye on his phone to see if he'd be involved in any transactions.
Making matters more interesting, this was Balcom-Miller's first year eligible for the Rule 5 Draft. Every December, players not on their major league organization's 40-man roster and who signed four years prior can be selected by any other team provided they are kept on the major league roster for the entire following season.
"It's one of those things where you never know if you are going to get a call," Balcom-Miller said. "I wasn't worried. I figured I had a pretty good shot of staying with the Red Sox. But you still pay attention to what is happening.
"I'm determined to pitch as well as I can and just compete for a spot on a roster at a higher level."
Balcom-Miller now lives in Georgia with his wife and he spent the offseason training, hunting and teaching pitching lessons.
"I relaxed a little, but once November rolled around, I stepped things up," he said. "I was excited to get back into it. It's been nice being back at the park. JetBlue is really nice. It's an awesome setup."
He said he came to see his mom in Dayton, Nevada for a week last fall, and spent some time in California before heading back to Georgia.
Spring training lasts through March and the regular season opens April 1.