Braves' first-round pick impressive in debut

Until Thursday night, Mike Minor was just a name and a number to Braves fans.

Minor? He’s the left-hander the Braves drafted this year, seventh overall out of Vanderbilt with their highest pick since 1991. The number? That’s the $2.42 million signing bonus he got, the largest in Braves history.

It’s more than Jeff Francoeur got, and Francoeur was a household name in Atlanta before he played his first game for the Danville (Va.) Braves in 2002.

Minor was a clean slate entering his debut for the Rome Braves on Thursday.

“Stud or dud,” Minor said Wednesday, having a little fun with the buildup for his first start, which came from two months of waiting to sign, two weeks of building arm strength, and two million dollars.

He had two innings or 30 pitches to introduce himself. The result? Stud.

Minor pitched two perfect innings with two strikeouts against the Charleston Riverdogs. His showed the control he was drafted for, throwing first-pitch strikes to each of the six hitters he faced, despite not pitching since the NCAA regionals on June 1. Of his 24 pitches, 16 were strikes.

Afterward, he sounded good, too, for a Braves front office looking for a hungry young pitcher.

“My curveball was a little off, my change-up was off,” said Minor, 21. “It’s usually my best pitch. Didn’t really get it over for strikes today. At first I thought two innings or 30 pitches would be all right, just to get my feet wet. But once I got out there, I didn’t want to stop.”

Minor started making a good impression on his Rome teammates and coaches long before he got on the mound. Twelve days of nothing but side sessions and one 10-hour bus ride to Hagerstown, Md., were good for that.

“You wouldn’t have known he signed for [big] money,” Rome manager Randy Ingle said. “He’s been awesome, he’s fit in so well and so quick.”

Minor said his teammates have embraced him.

“I thought they’d rag me a little bit, especially being a first-rounder,” Minor said. “I thought they’d say something to me about the money situation, but they didn’t. They’re all cool guys, all nice guys.”

Ingle can’t help but kid him a little, but that just makes the elephant in the room disappear.

“I told him I didn’t want much, just a swimming pool and a jet ski and a boat,” Ingle said with a smile.

Minor is not exactly what people might expect. He played for three years at Vanderbilt, but he’s no prep. He comes from a blue-collar background in a two-stoplight town. Chapel Hill, Tenn., has a population of 1,000, and he’s brothers and sisters with seemingly half of them.

Minor is the second youngest of seven kids. He’s always tried to keep up with his older brothers. His dad says he was on a skateboard at 18 months. There was no room for ego in that household. Not that he’s ever had much of one.

“He’s always been one of those kids if you told him to do something — like as a toddler not to touch something or he’d get his hand smacked — he didn’t,” said his mother, Shirley Minor, who made the 3-1/2 hour drive to Rome with her husband, Mike. “He’s always been a perfectionist. I laughed at him in high school. I’d ask if he’d done his homework and even if it meant he’d get yelled at, he’d tell on himself. He’s very grounded.”

Minor is still driving his father’s truck. He’ll wait until the offseason to look for a car of his own. It’ll probably be an SUV, he said, since he’ll be traveling a lot in the minors.

Otherwise, his spending plans center around helping his parents with a mortgage, two car payments, and some furniture they bought before realizing the economy was about to turn. Both Mike and Shirley have spent time laid off from their jobs at a Saturn plant. His dad is back at work, but his mother took early retirement to avoid another layoff.

“I don’t want to do too much now until I actually work my way up and get an actual contract, a big-league contract,” Minor said. “A lot of guys can make it to low-A ball. I still have work to do.”

Minor will make three more starts for Rome, then head for instructional league in Orlando in September. After that, he’s been invited to play in the Arizona Fall League.

“It’s so wonderful to see someone that had a goal at such a young age and keep it,” said Shirley Minor, who said her son has talked about being a major-league pitcher since he was in seventh grade. “It’s really paid off for him.”