Zac Gallen, Jordan Yamamoto, Braxton Garrett, Trevor Rogers, Edward Cabrera. These names you know and are getting to know well this season. One which you may not have heard of but should start speaking aloud in your household on a regular basis, especially after a lights-out month of May: Chris Vallimont.
Chris Ryan Vallimont, a native of Erie, Pennsylvania, just celebrated his 22nd birthday on March 18th. His amateur baseball career began in 2011 at Mercyhurst Prep where he also competed in football and basketball. In 43 games played from the mound, despite having the projectable size to succeed, Vallimont’s success was fairly limited due to his suffering the same fate as many prep hurlers, especially those that play other positions: being given the baseball and simply being told to go throw it as hard as you can without being taught the craft.
“I was bigger, but I wasn’t really fine-tuned,” Vallimont said. “Coming out, I only had three D-II offers and not many D-I, because I didn’t have everything. I didn’t throw that hard, just sort of did my thing.”
However, showing poise and maturity beyond his years, Vallimont was able to use the fact that he was sparsely recruited to his advantage, successfully turning a usually-negative teenage experience into a positive one. Knowing he still had plenty of innings ahead of him, this is when Vallimont truly got to work on becoming a pitcher. As fate would have it, being under the radar became an ally for Vallimont and allowed him to find his most advantageous companion: Mercyhurst College.
“I went into college with a chip on my shoulder in knowing that I had to put in the work if I wanted to play past it,” Vallimont said. “It actually helped me out being underdeveloped and going into the program at Mercyhurst with the success that their pitching staff and the coach there created, it was the perfect fit. I fitted really well into the system and it worked out.”
According to Vallimont, his being recruited by Mercyhurst wasn’t by chance but rather by a design. That blueprint was laid out by their head coach Joe Spano, the same mind responsible for berthing Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla as well as Royals outfielder David Lough.
“The way Joe does it is he looks for people who are underdeveloped. He works with them and sees in them the potential to get to the next level,” Vallimont attested. “With Dan also being there a year before me, just knowing that it wasn’t all about going D1 in order to make it to the next level, but just if you put on the work, you can make it. That’s really what made the difference.”
Above all though, Vallimont credits the turning point of his amateur career to one moment. That occasion happened during his first season at Mercyhurst when the ball was forced away from him by a teammate. According to Vallimont, it is that bear-down mindset that is passed down from Spano and then from player to player that gives Mercyhurst a more-than-viable reputation for berthing MLB caliber hurlers.
“It was freshman year in the regionals I was supposed to start the championship game to get us to the World Series. Colin McKee ended up begging for the ball, telling coach he wanted it,” Vallimont said. “It was just that dog mentality that he got from Dan and I got from him. There are a few young guys there is now that get that mentality from myself.”
Following that aforementioned game in which McKee wound up begging the ball away from him, McKee imparted this quote upon Vallimont, one which has stuck with him ever since and is partly responsible for making Chris the pitcher he has become.
“I’ll never forget it. After that game, he told me, “if you put in the work, you can be the best pitcher this school has ever seen,”” Vallimont said. “It was at that moment where everything clicked. He had seen so many people there that had success and when he said that, it pushed me to work harder and really get serious about everything.”
With a new means of motivation, Vallimont used a building block sophomore season (60 IP, 2.69 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 88/41 K/BB) to vault into a completely dominant junior campaign in which he set Mercyhurst’s single season mark in strikeouts (147).
“My sophomore year I was up there in the country in walks per nine, I was just trying to throw hard I didn’t care where it was going,” Vallimont attested. “That offseason, I started focusing on control and staying mechanically sound. It helped my velo and my control by focusing on little things that I didn’t think about before.”
Vallimont attributes that success to building around his fastball rather than exclusively building on it, keeping his opposition guessing and, above all, the desire to pitch to 100% of his ability.
“More than anything, It was just the mentality to be the best that I knew I could be. I would always want to throw harder and everything just started to click, “My changeup came along a bit in my junior year and the curveball was a big pitch. Keeping hitters off balance was big, but overall it was just the mindset of just keep doing my thing and not giving in to anyone else, no matter who it was, was doing in the box.“
After a 21-5, 166.2 IP, 2.59 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 14.47 K/9, 3.57 K/BB tenure at Mercyhurst, the Marlins turned their heads towards Vallimont and called his name with the 147th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft.
This is where Marlins 5th-rounder Chris Vallimont was when his name was called pic.twitter.com/CIR4ORd0eh
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) June 6, 2018
Days later, Vallimont decided to ink an entry level contract with the Marlins for $300K, forgoing his final collegiate season. According to Vallimont, that decision was attributed to the Marlins’ new ownership having the faith in him to stay true to his own training while also fitting in with what they were seeking.
“I figured it was a great opportunity; it’s what I’ve always wanted to do is play professional baseball. When they called, I couldn’t have been more happy to be with Miami,” Vallimont said. “I’m a big Driveline guy and I knew the old regime wasn’t really a big fan of it. Once they got Gary [Denbo] and everybody, they were telling me it’d be a little easier to do my thing while also staying in the lines of what they wanted as well. Having them trust me to be able to be me has been great.”
Upon his arrival in the instructional league last year, it didn’t take the Marlins long to recognize that Vallimont had many tools. One which was absent though was the ability to use the strike zone advantageously. Immediately, Marlins’ Minor League pitching coordinator Chris Michalak got to work with Vallimont on spotting his pitches. According to Vallimont, that tutelage has made a huge difference so far this season.
“Michalak really helped out with keeping me under control more. Whereas in college, I was just throwing it down the middle, now it’s more about inside/outsiding the fastball with the curveball in the dirt,” Vallimont said. “It’s not commanding he zone but just spotting stuff now. That’s what I’ve been working on and it’s working out well.”
Since learning how to get the most out if his projectable 6’5”, 220 pound frame by incorporating a downward plane to the plate, Vallimont has grown into heat reaching up to 97 MPH and resting between 93-95. Offsetting the heat is Vallimont’s best breaking pitch, his curveball which holds tight 11-6 arc and run to his corner of choice. He can also bury the pitch via its late break, making it a viable swing-and-miss pitch. Vallimont also mixes in a shapely mid-80s changeup plays up and a power slider with frisbee action in the high 80s.
Along with his already deep arsenal that holds plus velo expanse, Vallimont further messes with timing by showing hitters two completely different looks from the wind and the stretch. With the bases empty, Vallimont steps back to the first base side, executes a high leg kick when loading up his back leg and comes home deliberately. With bags occupied, the righty speeds up his motion, diminishes his leg kick and limits time between pitches.
Already an awesome mix of stuff and headiness just 25 games into his professional career, Vallimont is a guy who has barely missed a beat in a huge jump from JuCo to the affiliated ranks. Should he continue to respond to challenges during the rest of his journey through he minors, the 22-year-old who was once overlooked coming out of high school has the potential to become a more than viable 2-4 starter.
The next of Vallimont’s assignments should come in the next few days when he is promoted to A+ Jupiter.