Braves' prospect Minor motivated by skeptics

Phoenix – As might be surmised from the fact he was matriculated at Vanderbilt and a student in good standing for the past three years, Braves pitching prospect Mike Minor is sharp.

The left-hander, who'll turn 22 on Dec. 26, is aware there was some dissenting opinion regarding his worthiness of being the No. 7 pick in baseball's June draft.

"I don't really look up things like that, but [the sentiment] is out there," he said last week in Arizona, where Minor and five other Braves prospects are playing for the Peoria Saguaros.

"It does motivate me," he said, "but at the same time, I just want to laugh in their faces. I want to meet these people who say that, because the things they say -- it's usually the people who don't watch baseball, who think they know things when they really don't."

Actually, a conspicuous Minor-is-overrated riff came from a guy who watches plenty of baseball: Jim Callis, executive editor of Baseball America.

"I don't doubt that he'll pitch in the majors and the Braves love him, but I would have wanted someone with more upside with the No. 7 overall pick," Callis wrote in one of his weekly ESPN.com chats in October.

He was asked again about Minor during a Nov. 2 Internet chat, by a fan who noted Minor had pitched well in his professional debut at Class A Rome and his early fall-league starts.

"No one ever has disputed the fact that Minor can really pitch," Callis replied. "He does a nice job of mixing and locating his fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He has been very impressive in four starts at low Class A Rome [though that's a small sample size] and in four brief outings in the AFL. …

"Still, Minor doesn't have a true plus pitch beyond his changeup, and his fastball usually operates in the upper 80s. His realistic ceiling is as a No. 3 starter, it's easier to project him as a No. 4 and it's not difficult to draw parallels between him and another Vanderbilt finesse left-hander who was a top 10 choice, Jeremy Sowers."

Ouch.

Sowers, the sixth pick of the 2004 draft, is 18-30 with a 5.18 ERA after four seasons with the Cleveland Indians.

"I proved myself time and time again," said Minor, whose stock rose during two summers on the USA National Team when he compiled an 8-2 record and 1.17 ERA, including two wins against Cuba.

"When people say I should have been a second-rounder and blah blah blah – I don't see how you can say that when I establish myself everywhere I go."

The Braves, after giving Minor a franchise-record $2.42 million signing bonus – the largest in draft history for a No. 7 pick – would not be pleased if he had, say, a plus-5.00 ERA five years from now.

But they don't think that will happen. Many in the organization believe he will be part of the starting rotation in another year or two.

"Minor's a polished pitcher," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "He's got a pretty good feel for what he wants to do, and you're talking about a kid who has hasn't pitched for significant time in the minor leagues. He has more developing to do, but we like what we've seen so far."

Wren said that two days before the fall league Rising Stars game Saturday, where Minor gave up seven runs (six earned) and seven hits while recording just two outs in the first inning.

Three hits were broken-bat jobs, but he also gave up a three-run homer to center field by Diamondbacks prospect Brandon Allen, who hit four homers in 32 major league games last season.

Minor said last week that one thing he's learned in Arizona is that he can't get away with many mistakes over the plate to the best prospects, not like in Class A.

A few of the many scouts on hand for a Saguaros game last week were asked about Minor, moments after he allowed two runs and three hits in three innings.

"My impressions of him? He's right on schedule," said one scout from an American League team – a team that tried to sign Minor three years earlier out of Forrest High School in tiny Chapel Hill, Tenn.

"He's advanced. He's got good stuff, a good pickoff move, good presence. He looks like a big leaguer to me. Just a matter of time."

As for whether the Braves could've done better at No. 7, the scout smiled and said, "I wouldn't over-think it. They got a good pick right there. If he stays healthy and stuff, he'll be fine."

Minor is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds, with strong legs and improving upper-body strength. "I've gained 30 pounds since high school, but I'm going to still try to put on 10 or 15 pounds this offseason," he said.

Scouts clocked his fastball at 91-93 mph last week in Arizona -- not bad for a lefty with other quality pitches. He has a changeup some scouts rated exceptional, and a good curveball and decent slider.

Though he doesn't overpower hitters, he gets plenty of strikeouts.

"I think the more he goes along, the harder he's going to throw," said Jim Czajkowski, pitching coach for Class A Rome and the Saguaros. "I've had pitching coaches tell me he might be the best pitcher out here, and that includes the savior, [Stephen] Strasburg."

Whoa. Strasburg, the No. 1 draft pick by the Washington Nationals, has been called the best pitching prospect in at least a decade. He got a record $15 million contract.

Minor and Strasburg were named starters for the Rising Stars game, but Strasburg was scratched due to a strained neck. He was 3-1 with a 5.28 ERA in four fall-league starts.

Minor was 1-0 with a 2.31 ERA through five starts for the Saguaros before the Rising Stars debacle.

Czajkowski, a former Braves minor-league pitcher, has seen enough of Minor to form an opinion. A strong one. He believes Minor should have been selected even higher than No. 7.

"I think some teams are going to think twice that they passed him up," Czajkowski said. "A left-hander that throws the way he does, with the body he has, the type of pitches he has, and the way the ball comes out of his hand? He's as close to a can't-miss as I've seen."

Minor was a modest 6-6 with a 3.90 ERA at Vanderbilt in 2009, though he had 114 strikeouts with 37 walks in 110-2/3 innings.

He signed with the Braves in August and made four starts at Rome before the season ended, posting a 0.64 ERA with 17 strikeouts and no walks in 14 innings.

"For the guys who drafted ahead of us -- everybody remembers Sam Bowie was drafted ahead of Michael Jordan," Czajkowski said, with not a hint in his voice to indicate he might be exaggerating to make a point.

About Mike Minor

• Hometown: Chapel Hill, Tenn.

• College: Vanderbilt

• Born: Dec. 26, 1987

• Background: Michael David Minor is the son of Mike and Shirley Minor. He has six siblings. ... Nickname is "Spike."… Minor is 33 hours shy of a sociology degree at Vanderbilt, and plans to take classes toward his degree during future offseasons. ... As a high school senior, he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 13th round out in 2006, but turned down the offer and accepted a scholarship to Vanderbilt. ... Recorded 12 shutouts in 13 wins as a Forrest High senior, posting an 0.08 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 86 innings. ... Freshman All-America selection in 2007 after going 9-1 with a 3.09 ERA. He was 13-9 during his last two seasons at Vanderbilt. ... Was top pitcher on the USA National Team that went 24-0 during the 2008 summer. He was 8-2 with a 1.17 ERA and 79 strikeouts in 69 innings during two summers on the USA team.