In 2008, it was Jair Jurrjens. In 2009, it was Tommy Hanson. Now 2010 is here and the Braves are in need of a rookie pitcher to fill a void.
With Kris Medlen injured and Kenshin Kawakami trying to stretch himself out after rotting away in the bullpen for the past month, the Atlanta Braves will turn to highly touted prospect Mike Minor to start game one of their series with the Houston Astros.
Their first round draft pick just a year ago, Minor has progressed extremely rapidly (which was expected) and will be the fourth player from his draft class (following Mike Leake, Stephen Strasburg, and Drew Storen) to reach the majors.
But even though he is just a year into his professional career, Minor has already given plenty of indication that he will exceed the expectations that were originally placed on him.
When the Braves originally picked him out of Vanderbilt, they thought they were getting a “safe” college arm that would rapidly rise through the organization and quickly be ready to help out at the Major League level. Some even criticized the pick, as the Braves used the seventh overall selection on a player who projected to be a reliable, but unspectacular, third starter who never would dominate or strike many batters out.
Although Minor did dominate in his first taste of professional baseball, he didn’t change many people’s opinions of him. After all he had only pitched 14 innings in 2009. Although he allowed just a single run and struck out 17 batters (while walking none), it was expected for the strikeouts to decline when Minor faced stiffer competition.
2010 has turned into a coming out party for Minor. Starting at AA Mississippi, Minor quickly showed that he might have a higher ceiling than originally expected. Minor added a couple ticks to his fastball, and went from being a finesse pitcher to a dominant strikeout artist seemingly overnight.
Although his initial numbers (2-6, 4.03 ERA) at Mississippi don’t show anything special, you notice something else when you look deeper. Minor struck out an incredible 109 batters in just 87 innings and posted an FIP of just 2.78.
Although Minor’s star was quickly rising, it wasn’t until he reached AAA that everyone saw the dominant pitcher he could become. In 33.1 innings there, he has allowed just seven earned runs (good for a 1.89 ERA) and continued to strike out more than a batter per inning.
On the year as a whole, Minor has struck out 10.9 batters per inning and posted an FIP of 2.64. He has actually posted a better strikeout rate and FIP than Tommy Hanson, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting despite being a mid-season call-up last year.
In just a year, Minor has quickly become a stud prospect in a Braves system loaded with young pitching talent (be on the lookout for Julio Teheran next summer). He made Baseball America’s mid-season top 50, and will look to be the next young Braves pitcher (following Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson) to burst onto the scene with a terrific rookie season.