Atlanta Braves: 10 Reasons Mike Minor Will Break Out in 2011
Needing a helping hand for the rotation, the Atlanta Braves called up 6’4” 210-pound, left-handed pitcher Mike Minor on August 7th this past season. Minor started off very strong, posting an impressive 3.91 ERA in August, but he struggled a good bit in September, during which his ERA rose to 6.18.
He ended his first stint in the majors having thrown 40.2 innings with an ERA of 5.98, with 43 strikeouts against 11 walks.
The main reason for Minor’s late season struggles may have been an effect of throwing the most innings of his young career, racking 120.1 innings between the Braves’ minor league affiliates Mississippi (AA) and Gwinnett (AAA).
With a new season ahead, Minor seems primed to be the team’s fifth starter and starts the season as one of the top Rookie of the Year candidates. Will he live up to expectations? Or will we see his struggles from September continue in 2011? Here are 10 reasons why you should expect the former for Minor.
10. A Forgotten September
Along with an arm that was starting to wear down, Minor was also pitching right in the heat of a playoff race. The two obviously didn’t mix well for Minor, but there is nothing he can do about that now.
Minor has been hard at work this offseason perfecting his craft, and it can be assumed that other players told him not to worry about it. Braves’ fans shouldn’t be expecting him to look like he did in the last month of the season, and should instead look to his first month when trying to guess how he will pitch in 2011.
Minor had no idea that he would get called up and have to pitch in the middle of that same race, but now he knows his place in the organization.
Knowing that he will be in the rotation when May 31st rolls around will only give Minor time to mentally and physically prepare himself to help the team as much as he can. He should expect to see around the same number of innings as he did last year this season, which should leave him somewhere in the 160-180 innings range at the end of 2011.
8. Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson
These two pitchers have over 20 years of combined experience, so Minor will be in good hands when it comes to watching and learning from those ahead of him in the rotation.
Hudson has been considered to be a top pitcher for the last decade with a 3.42 career ERA, which includes a 2.83 ERA in 2010. Lowe has been a horse during his career, piling up well over 2000 career innings with a 3.85 career ERA. Lowe has also been incredible in the postseason, with a 3.21 ERA in October.
If these two guys can’t help Minor become a great pitcher, then who can?
Most wouldn’t consider a guy that threw just 134.1 innings in the minors to have a lot of experience, but Minor isn’t like other pitchers.
Minor will be 23 this season, a year older than Jair Jurrjens and the same age as Tommy Hanson when they made their debuts for the Braves.
Minor’s pitching in college makes it to where it wasn’t a huge necessity for him to spend several seasons going through the Braves’ farm system.
Then he has the experience of already having pitched nine games as a major leaguer. Though he did struggle in September, the time he got in then while helping the Braves make the playoffs is golden for his future in 2011. His poise is much greater than that of most 23-year olds, and he should be able to take all expectations in stride and hopefully fulfill them.
6. Great College Pitcher
Success in college doesn’t guarantee that you will be successful at the major league level, but all signs point to him being successful when it comes to Minor and his college career.
Minor was drafted out of Vanderbilt in 2009. During his time there he played with two other guys that are in the majors: Pedro Alvarez and David Price. Alvarez looks like a lock for the starting third base job in Pittsburgh this year while Price is already one of the best pitchers in the league for the Tampa Bay Rays.
Minor posted a 3.80 ERA in college, with a rough sophomore year blowing it up to that high of a number. His strikeouts per nine innings increased every year, from 8.77 as a freshman, 8.83 as a sophomore, and a very good 9.27 as a junior in his final season.
5. Another Homegrown Talent
Mike Minor follows along the likes of players like Hanson and Jason Heyward as players that were drafted by the Braves, rose through the farm system, and have played in the major leagues.
He is also at the forefront of another big group of pitchers coming up through the minors. This group includes Julio Teheran, the Braves’ number one prospect.
Minor may not have the potential or expectations that Hanson and Teheran possess, but coming along the same lines as them has given the opportunity with the same coaches.
4.Was Great in the Minors
Like being a great college pitcher, being very good in the minors at any position does not guarantee success when you reach the big leagues. It is something that scouts and personnel look at to try and gauge how you play against better and better competition though, so it can’t just be thrown out of the window.
Minor posted 3.15 ERA through his short stint in the minors, but also added a 10.9 SO/9 number that has continued to rise throughout his baseball career.
Minor’s one weakness in the minors was his 3.1 walks per nine innings number. His strikeouts can help make up for that though, as that gives him a 3.54 SO/BB number, which is certainly good for a guy still trying to gain more control over his pitches.
3. An Incredible SO/9 Number
As stated before, Minor posted almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors, but was also very impressive at the major league level by posting 9.52 SO/9 number. The major league leader, Tim Lincecum, posted 9.79 strikeouts per nine innings.
The number makes him look like he will be an elite strikeout pitcher, and his numbers coming up through college and the minors show that he should continue to be around that number for his career.
Perhaps more importantly, Minor only walked 2.43 walks per nine innings. If he can continue to improve on that number, Minor may have a fantastic career.
Minor showcased everything he had in his repertoire against the Chicago Cubs in late August, when he struck out 12 batters in just six innings of work.
Minor has a low- to mid-90s fastball, a plus changeup, and an improving curveball. He has improved and worked on all of them to the point that he can throw all of them for strikes.
Those three pitches allow him to go about all batters in different ways, and there are no weaknesses for a hitter that he can’t exploit. Continuing to develop the curve and change will help him put together a fine 2011 campaign.
Mike Minor is the fifth starter in a rotation that includes Hudson, Lowe, Hanson, and Jurrjens. All those guys have shown what they can bring the table and all have shown that they can pitch well and win ball games at this level.
This puts little pressure on Minor, as he can have a rough patch or two and still be bailed out because of the way the other four guys can pitch. His development will be the focus for pitching coach Roger McDowell, while his stuff will be enough to help the Braves win a good amount of his starts.
Minor’s stuff mixed with learning from Lowe and Hudson, as well as the teachings of McDowell, should end up with Minor contending, if not winning, the Rookie of the Year award.