clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Division II star Chris Vallimont ready for next challenge: pro baseball

“It was one of those atmospheres where everybody pushed each other.” Mercyhurst University helped turn Vallimont from fringe prospect into the top pitcher of Marlins 2018 draft class.

Photo by Mercyhurst Athletic Communications/Ed Mailliard

“I thought if I put the work in, it doesn’t really matter where you go,” Chris Vallimont says. “People are still gonna find you.”

The hard-throwing right-hander is proof of that. Vallimont has spent most of his life in Erie, Pennsylvania, the fourth-largest city in the state, but 100 miles away from anything that resembles an “urban” area.

The climate isn’t ideal for baseball, either. Situated along the southern shore of Lake Erie, it annually receives one of the largest snowfall totals in the United States. This past winter was more severe than ever (h/t, burying Erie underneath approximately 200 inches of accumulation.

“It’s hard to get games in and stuff, but I love it,” the 6-foot-5 Vallimont says.

On this afternoon, barely a week removed the 2018 MLB amateur draft, he’s calling from the Marlins player development complex in Jupiter, Florida. They found him...and then quickly picked him (fifth round, No. 147 overall) and signed him. The college junior received the top bonus of any pitcher in Miami’s entire draft class thus far (reportedly $300,000).

The Marlins are investing in a confident 21-year-old who transformed himself from a fringe prospect into the single-season strikeout king at Mercyhurst University. Or, as he sees it, Mercyhurst transformed him.

Vallimont’s senior season stats at Mercyhurst Prep—also located in Erie—were bananas: 80.1 IP, 5 ER, 17 BB, 122 K, 0 HR. That’s a 0.44 earned run average.

However, only three colleges made offers to him, all of them in the Division II Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC). No MLB teams had him on their radars heading into the 2015 draft. His fastball sat in the mid-to-high 80s and he seldom used his changeup, as told to Tom Reisenweber of Erie Times-News. His skills at the time wouldn’t translate at higher levels of competition.

Despite that, Vallimont was determined to improve at his craft and never considered more traditional career paths.

“If I had to come up with a backup plan now,” he says, “it’d just be coaching or scouting, or something still within the game.”

Fortunately, he didn’t have to travel far to continue his maturation on the mound.

Coach Joe Spano is the all-time wins leader in Mercyhurst University history, posting winning records in each of the past 14 seasons. Twelve of his players have been drafted since 2007 (with several others also joining professional leagues). Mariners reliever Dan Altavilla came from the Lakers baseball program. He was one of MLB’s most unhittable relievers in 2018 prior to suffering an elbow injury earlier this month.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Kansas City Royals
Altavilla, a Mercyhurst alum, has a 3.28 ERA across three major league seasons
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Mercyhurst University MLB Draftees under Joe Spano, 2000-Present

Year Name Position Round Overall Pick MLB Team
Year Name Position Round Overall Pick MLB Team
2018 Chris Vallimont RHP 5 147 Marlins
2018 Andrew Ciolli RHP 37 1105 Orioles
2017 Cam Balego IF 30 915 Cubs
2016 Colin McKee RHP 18 547 Astros
2016 Hank Morrison OF 22 663 Twins
2014 Dan Altavilla RHP 5 141 Mariners
2013 Zak Blair 2B 20 588 Cubs
2011 Nicholas Gillung LHP 19 590 Cardinals
2009 Jamie Walczak RHP 15 449 Reds
2009 Steve Grife RHP 26 800 Cubs
2007 David Lough OF 11 336 Royals
2007 Brian Espersen RHP 18 561 Astros

Trusting their track record, Vallimont walked a few blocks from his high school home to the university campus and got to work.

During his three seasons in the PSAC, he began incorporating that changeup and saw his fastball velocity spike. He now tops out around 97 mph, but regularly sits in the 92-96 range, according to prospect expert Jonathan Mayo. The curveball looks like a legitimate out pitch. This spring, the Mercyhurst ace put up a 2.58 earned run average and program-record 147 strikeouts over 80 13 innings.

Vallimont attributes his growth to being surrounded by a group of guys who constantly pushed themselves to get better in the weight room and on the field:

“A lot of that has to do with everything Coach Spano does developing players and the environment he creates at Mercyhurst. It’s almost like we compete against each other more than other schools. It was one of those atmospheres where everybody pushed each other.”

When it comes to conditioning, he advocates for Driveline Baseball, a data-driven player development method. Their MLB clients include Trevor Bauer (Indians) and Adam Ottavino (Rockies), both of whom are likely to be first-time All-Stars in 2018.

Vallimont’s tall frame affords him room to add a few pounds, but he believes in maintaining flexibility. From a 2017 interview he gave while spending the summer with the Jamestown Jammers:

Vallimont prefers not to compare himself to other players, noting that everybody has their own unique mechanics. He tries to get the most out of his own abilities, rather than emulate established players.

The only specific name he mentions is perennial Cy Young award contender Max Scherzer.

“[Scherzer] just wants to attack people, go after them. That’s what I like to do, too. It’s not necessarily pitching style. Just seeing what he does, when I look at film of myself, I yell at myself and yell into my mitt.”

Although Vallimont expects to make his pro debut this summer, he doesn’t know exactly where or when. The Marlins scheduled him to go through his first bullpen session this past weekend. Their Short Season A affiliate in Batavia just began its regular season, but as of Monday afternoon, he has not been added to the roster.

The more intriguing long-term question is what role they intend to use him in. Vallimont started in 24 of his 27 Mercyhurst appearances from 2017-2018 and wants the opportunity to prove that he can keep doing it:

“Obviously, I want to be a starter. I’m more comfortable starting, but I’ll do whatever I have to do in order to get to the next level and keep progressing...Being able to maintain velo for 120 pitches isn’t something that a lot of people can do.”

Vallimont is referring to his outing with the Lakers in the Division II World Series on May 27. Against a Columbus State team that would make it all the way to the national championship game, he racked up 119 pitches and recorded five of his final six outs via strikeout.

Photo by Mercyhurst Athletic Communications/Ed Mailliard

On the other hand, transitioning to the bullpen could present a quicker path up the ladder.

Take current Marlins closer Kyle Barraclough, for example. The Cardinals selected him the seventh round of the 2012 draft out of Saint Mary’s College, where he’d been in the starting rotation. But casting Barraclough as a reliever allowed him to leverage a lethal fastball-slider combination. After one trade and only 137 23 pro innings, he was up in the big leagues.

Regardless, Fish fans can expect Vallimont to do what he always has: make whatever adjustments are required in pursuit of his lifelong goal.

You can follow Chris at @Valli_Swag7 on Twitter.