By JAY LeBLANC
Mike Minor posted an absurd 0.08 ERA as a senior at Forrest High School in Chapel Hill, Tenn., and made the Southeastern Conference All-Freshman Team in 2007 after spurning the Tampa Bay Rays - who had selected him in the 13th round of the 2006 draft - to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound southpaw followed that up by leading the Commodores in wins and strikeouts as a sophomore in 2008 and established himself as a truly elite prospect that summer by going 3-0 with a 0.75 ERA and defeating vaunted Cuba twice as the ace of the undefeated 24-0 USA National Team that included eventual 2009 No. 1 overall pick Stephen Strasburg.
After a solid if unspectacular junior campaign, Minor headed into the 2009 draft as the consensus top college left-hander available. The Atlanta Braves used their highest draft choice - No. 7 overall - since 1991 on the 21-year-old and, on Aug. 6, brought him into the fold with the most lucrative signing bonus in team history, $2.42 million. “This is a great day for the Braves,” Braves director of scouting Roy Clark told MLB.com. “He was a very polished college pitcher who experienced a lot of success, especially for Team USA, and we think he has a chance to be special. We’re excited to get him started in our organization and to watch him develop.”
Minor joined the Class A Rome Braves this past weekend, and he expects to make his pro debut next Thursday. I had a chance to speak with him Monday night after Rome’s 2-1 road win over the Washington Nationals-affiliated Hagerstown (Md.) Suns.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Braves? Did you know in advance that they were looking to pick you?
A: I knew they were looking to pick me but it was still a toss-up between a lot of teams. Even before that day of the draft, I still didn’t know until a minute before the pick. When I got that call, I was pretty excited.
Q: Could you talk a little bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I throw a fastball, changeup - changeup being my best pitch - curveball, slider. I picked up my curveball a year ago in summer ball, on Team USA with [Old Dominion coach] Jerry Meyers; he was the pitching coach and helped me with that. I throw all of my pitches to every batter, lefty or righty. A lot of guys like to throw, say, fastball/changeup to righties and fastball/slider to lefties or whatever, but I’ll throw anything to any batter. I just add and subtract [velocity], go up and down, in and out. You’ve got to find their weakness, especially in this league, where I don’t know anybody really, so mostly I’m just going to have to go by where their hands are - high or low - where their feet are in the box, whether they’re close to the plate, in front or in back, stuff like that. I just try to mix it up.
Q: Do you consider yourself a strikeout guy, a guy who pitches to contact, or some mixture of the two?
A: A little bit of a mixture. I mean, every guy is out there trying to strike ‘em out; that’s the easiest out. But at the same time, I’m pitching to contact. I’m throwing strikes, and I’m not throwing a lot of chase pitches until I get 0-2, 1-2 on a guy, and then I’ll throw a chase pitch - make ‘em six inches outside, or six inches in, or up, down. You can make them extend [the strike zone], because with two strikes it’s so close that they have to swing sometimes, to protect. But mostly I pitch to contact, which is how a lot of starters need to be if they’re going to get through a game. With 100, 120 pitches, it’s not going to happen unless you pitch to contact.
Q: What are some of the things you do off the field to help prepare you to succeed on it?
A: It’s a lot of hard work with weight training, med ball stuff. We do a lot of med ball stuff at Vanderbilt so I’m going to carry that over here; I felt like it worked for me there, so why stop here? The next day I’ll do legs, do squats, do hamstring stuff, just lower body stuff. And abs - you’ve got to do a lot of core stuff. And the day after that I’ll do upper body. My upper body is not as sore, so I get more out of it. I do a lot of shoulder stuff - the five-pound dumbbells - do a lot of shoulder stuff to keep yourself out of injuries. And then comes the baseball stuff. You have to prepare yourself on the field with bullpens and long-toss, stuff like that.
Q: What are some of the things you’ll need to work on in order to be a successful big league pitcher?
A: Just maintain a good work ethic. A lot of guys get in a situation where, “Oh, they’re in the big leagues,” so they think they can relax. It’s a different ballgame between college and pro ball. I’ve only been here a couple days and I can see that. Guys are walking places - not that it’s a bad thing, but at Vanderbilt we had the work ethic of, you know, run everywhere or jog everywhere at least. We were always working hard, trying to find something to do. Here I kind of get the vibe that people think they can just get by without working out; a lot of guys don’t like to work out, and that’s a big part of the game, I believe. And that’s the thing with injuries - if you don’t work out you’re going to get injured quick - your elbow, shoulder, whatever, is just going to blow. So I’ve got to keep on with my work ethic.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish between now and the end of the minor league season?
A: Nothing much. I got here late, so I’ve only got probably three, four starts max, and then I’ll go to instructs. I’m just trying to get used to it, trying to get used to wood bats. I had that every summer, pitching to wood bats, but it’s different here. I don’t know anybody, which I said, and usually I go into summer ball knowing and having played against these guys in previous years. This summer, it’s guys I have no clue who they are, don’t how to pitch ‘em. But they don’t know me, so that’s a good thing. So I’m not really expecting anything besides getting used to the system of how pro ball works and how guys hit and how they prepare themselves. And I’ll try to prepare myself better than that.
Q: Any plans for fall or winter ball?
A: You know, if I get invited to the Arizona Fall League it’s an honor, because they only take one Single-A guy out of the system. So I’m not really going to expect that, but if that does happen, that’ll be nice. If not I’ll just go to instructs - that’s until a week before Thanksgiving, and then I’m off after that. So I guess that’s my plan for right now. I’m just going with the flow.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: I guess I’d say David Price. I got to play with him at Vanderbilt for one year and I got to see his work ethic and I got to see how he pitched and prepared himself. And it’s obviously working - you know, he got there pretty quickly to the big leagues. He might be struggling right now but he’s still trying to get used to it, and he’s still got the stuff, still got everything that a pitcher needs. He had the right attitude; he was always confident and he was always having a good time at the same time. So I guess that’s the guy I’d look up to as my idol.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Braves?
A: I mean, I’m ready to get out there right now. But it’s going to take a while - I don’t get my first start until next Thursday - they told me that [Monday]. So it’s going to be a long process. I have to still throw two more bullpens and two more live BPs - throwing like I throw to hitters - and then they’ll throw me out there. They don’t want to rush anything; they don’t want to injure me or whatever. But I’ve been throwing all summer on my own, so I’m ready to go out there right now. I think by next year, if I stay on it, that’s the earliest - next year at playoff time, I could maybe help them out. If not, the next year would be my goal.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Photo by The Associated Press
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s:
2009 -Jack McGeary, Nationals; L.J. Hoes, Orioles; Jordan Danks, White Sox; Mike Moustakas, Royals; Danny Duffy, Royals; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins; Xavier Avery, Orioles; Ryan Kalish, Red Sox; Derek Norris, Nationals; Zach Britton, Orioles; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates; Robbie Grossman, Pirates; Brandon Waring, Orioles; Casey Kelly, Red Sox; Michael Taylor, Phillies; Brandon Snyder, Orioles; Kyle Drabek, Phillies; Drew Storen, Nationals; Nick Hagadone, Red Sox; Matt Moore, Rays; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Eric Hosmer, Royals.
2008 -Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves; Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals; Nick Weglarz, Indians; Gorkys Hernandez, Braves; Beau Mills, Indians; Stephen King, Nationals; Brad Bergesen, Orioles; Fernando Martinez, Mets; Derrick Robinson, Royals; David Hernandez, Orioles; Jason Castro, Astros; Bobby Parnell, Mets; George Kontos, Yankees; Brian Matusz, Orioles; Matt LaPorta, Indians; Austin Jackson, Yankees; Jeff Bianchi, Royals; Cole Rohrbough, Braves; Pat Venditte, Yankees.