Atlanta Braves’ 2009 first round draft pick Mike Minor was recently promoted to Class AAA Gwinnett. In 15 games with Class AA Mississippi Minor stuck out 109 batters.
LAWRENCEVILLE — After one clean inning in California two weeks ago, Mike Minor’s short vacation began.
Pitching in his first full professional baseball season, the lefty from Vanderbilt didn’t believe the warnings about more innings, less rest and a longer season taking a toll on young pitchers. But as the All-Star break approached, Minor began to understand.
“My arm is starting to slow down, it’s starting to get weaker,” the recent call-up to the Class AAA Gwinnett Braves said. “At the beginning, I still didn’t really care. I thought, ‘I can do it.’”
In his final season at Vanderbilt, Minor pitched 1102⁄3 innings. By this season’s All-Star break, he had thrown 992⁄3 innings, that number is now 1052⁄3. And those don’t count spring training or his perfect one-inning appearance in the recent Futures Game in Anaheim, Calif.
In college, starters throw once a week. Pros go every five days.
“Once you pitch it seems like the next day you are pitching again,” Minor said. “The days just run together.”
With the All-Star game, Minor got a bit of an extra break. He was set to start for the G-Braves last Sunday but missed it for the Futures Game, and when the team returns he will be in the fifth rotation spot to extend his break. Like college, he’ll have more than a week off.
His arm may feel weaker, but his results keep improving.
Over his more than 100 minor-league innings, mostly in Class AA and three starts with Gwinnett, Minor has an ERA of 3.70 and 124 strikeouts. He is 3-0 with the G-Braves and his Class AAA ERA is 1.93.
Minor began this season in Class AA Mississippi after a strong showing with the Rome Braves in Class A after his first-round selection in 2009. In four starts with Rome, Minor allowed one run over 14 innings for a 0.64 ERA.
Coming out of college, Minor felt over-qualified for the batters in low-A.
“I don’t want to sound cocky, but it’s kind of easy,” Minor said of getting outs in Rome. “Most of those guys are one- or two-year guys. They are still learning the game.”
By the time the Braves selected Minor with the seventh overall pick, he knew the game. It’s the reason he chose three seasons at Vanderbilt over signing with Tampa Bay out of high school.
“(Vanderbilt) was better overall, for everything,” Minor said. “The draft. Growing up as a man. Being a better person. You grow up and you have responsibility.”
The Chapel Hill, Tenn., native picked Vanderbilt as much for convenience as its baseball program, but mostly for its academics.
“I had always thought, ‘What if my arm blows out?’” Minor said. “I feel like if you have a Vanderbilt degree that means a lot.”
His years in Nashville also prepared him to make a quicker impact. He skipped up to Class AA Mississippi in spring training and felt confident facing the rising talent at that level.
“The SEC prepared me for double-A,” Minor said. “It’s like the SEC with wooden bats.”
Add wooden bats to his list of pleasures in pro ball.
“In college it was home runs or off the wall,” he said of the difference between metal and wooden bats. “Here it is caught at the warning track.”
In just two starts in Class AAA, Minor has succeeded, but learned quickly he must work harder with every batter.
“Going from double-A to triple-A it’s the professionalism,” Minor said. “These guys have (been playing) for a long time. They have been up and down from the big leagues.”
He’s also learned to trust the eight guys behind him. He was 2-6 with a 4.03 ERA in Mississippi despite his 104 strikeouts and batters hitting .233 off of him.
“The defense has been backing me up,” Minor said. “Even if I make a bad pitch, (outfielder Jordan) Schafer or whoever is in the outfield, tracks it down and it’s an out. In double-A those were doubles and triples.”
So there are still lessons for the 22-year-old. Rested for the second half, Minor keeps winning.
“The game is still the same,” Minor said. “There are still 27 outs.”