Peoria Saguaro pitcher Mike Minor prefers to call his own pitches when he’s on the mound.
The 21-year-old lefthander was sometimes able to call his own game during his college career at Vanderbilt, and continued that practice after being picked by the Braves with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft.
“If you’re calling your own game,” said Minor, “you’re thinking the whole time. You’re paying attention to each guy rather than just looking in to the catcher and seeing a sign, throwing it and not knowing why you’re throwing it.”
The Braves organization likes the idea that Minor had that experience before turning pro.
“We encourage our pitchers to call their own game,” said Saguaro pitching coach Jim Czajkowski, who coached Minor in his first pro stop this summer with the Braves’ low Class A Rome affiliate. “For Mike to be intelligent, to know what he feels when he throws, and what to throw in certain situations puts him ahead of the game than most college guys.”
Heading into the draft, Minor was speculated to go anywhere from as high as the third overall pick to perhaps dropping into the second half of the first round. His agent told him on draft day that he could go anywhere in round one. But he didn’t have to wait long to hear his name called by the team that he followed as a boy growing up in Tennessee.
Minor wasn’t surprised to go that early in the draft.
“All the teams were contacting me right before the draft,” he said, adding that they all wanted to know how much it would take to sign him and how long it would take him to sign.
Minor going No. 7 overall as the second college pitcher drafted (after Stephen Strasburg) was something of a surprise. The industry consensus had Minor as a first-rounder who would go higher than BA’s pre-draft projection; he ranked 35th on the predraft Top 200 because many scouts project him as more of a third or fourth starter at the big league level.
Czajkowksi doesn’t agree with that assessment.
“When he pitches, he’s got four quality pitches,” he said, “and I’m nothing but impressed with what he did on the field with us. Off the field, his work habits were real good.”
“I see a lot of upside in him. We’ll know more when he starts becoming more of a professional and gets that first full season under his belt. He’s going to get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Minor signed with Atlanta on Aug. 5 for a $2.42 million bonus. The 6-foot-3, 200-pound southpaw got into four games for Rome, finishing his first season with an impressive 0.64 ERA and a 17-0 K/BB rate in 14 innings. He’s had his ups and downs in the Arizona Fall League, but overall has posted decent numbers in his six starts to date with a 3.14 ERA, .296 opponents’ batting average, and 10 strikeouts against six walks in 14 1/3 innings.
His changeup is his best pitch, followed by his slider, curveball and fastball. He’s been throwing the latter in the 91-93 range in Arizona, just a tick below his first inning velo while at Vanderbilt.
Minor didn’t add the curveball to his arsenal until his junior year at Vanderbilt, but he’s especially pleased with the pitch now.
“It has more movement and more depth,” said Minor about his curveball. “It’s a different look for the hitters. I threw one the other day to a lefty and I hadn’t thrown one yet the whole game. I just dumped one in for a 1 and 2 strikeout. It was kind of a hanger and he didn’t know what it was.”
Minor was selected to be one of the starting pitchers in the AFL’s annual Rising Stars game, which was televised on MLB Network and mlb.com. He was originally scheduled to face Strasburg, whom he played with during the USA Baseball college national team tour in 2008, before Strasburg was pulled from the game due to a sore neck.
While Minor was honored to get the starting assignment for this prospect showcase, it didn’t exactly turn out the way he would have liked. He gave up seven first inning runs, leaving with two outs in the top of the first, but was spared the loss when his AFL West teammates rallied for a dramatic 8-7 win.
Still, Minor enjoyed the experience and believes that he learned a lot from the game.
“I was pretty pumped up for it,” he said. “It was still a good experience. I got to play with different guys from the other teams around here, so it was a lot of fun. It was a good feeling to have a crowd, too . . . to have somebody behind you, to have somebody rooting for you. My parents were in town, so it was a good feeling.”
Czajkowski learned a lot about Minor’s character from the Rising Stars game.
“It was unfortunate to see that he had that little setback,” said Czajkowski, “but I was very proud of him the way he went about his business, kept on pitching, and didn’t throw the blame off on someone else . . . (he) really showed me high character.”
“I think our scouts did a great job of making him our first pick.”
• Strasburg returned to action on Saturday after missing the previous weekend’s Rising Stars game. The No. 1 overall pick was sharp in earning his fourth win in a 1-0 Desert Dog victory. Strasburg pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings, yielding only one hit and striking out six Peoria Saguaro hitters. His fastball was generally in the 96-98 range and he also showed an effective 91 mph changeup with good sinking action.
Strasburg should be available to start next Saturday’s championship game at Scottsdale Stadium. The Desert Dogs have a 3 1/2 game lead over East division rival Mesa Solar Sox with four games remaining. The Peoria Javelinas have already clinched the West division title.
• Another high profile AFL pitcher, Aaron Crow, also had a fine outing on Saturday. Pitching for the Surprise Rafters against Scottsdale, the Royals’ first round pick threw four scoreless innings, giving up only one hit while striking out four Scorpions batters.
• Desert Dogs outfielder Grant Desme (Athletics) homered Friday for his league-best 11th round tripper, after going nine games without one. He’s three off the league record.