LAWRENCEVILLE — A couple of weeks ago when playing for the Class AA Mississippi Braves, Mike Minor sat at his locker and read the details regarding an upcoming All-Star Game.
Assuming it was an invite to the Southern League All-Star Game, Minor became confused when he saw the location was Anaheim, Calif. A teammate quickly pointed out that the invite was to Monday’s Futures Game, which precedes the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and includes the top talent in the minor leagues.
“I didn’t even know what the letter was,” Minor said Friday prior to the Gwinnett Braves game against the Charlotte Knights at Coolray Field. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, and I don’t care if I pitch.”
With the way his career has started, it is no wonder the 22-year-old left-hander is taking every accolade along his quick journey through the minor leagues with much appreciation.
“It’s been fun,” said Minor, who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves with the seventh overall pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft. “I’ve been able to play in a lot of different places, and as I move up, the hitters get better, the defense gets better, so the competition gets better.”
Minor’s rise to the highest level of minor league baseball should come as no surprise.
A highly-touted prospect coming out of high school, after winning 13 games (12 shutouts) and boasting a 0.08 ERA with 188 strikeouts as a senior, Minor was selected in the 13th round of the 2006 draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays but chose to attend Vanderbilt University after contract talks stalled.
“All the time I was angry because it was a bad deal,” Minor said, “but in the end, it worked out.”
Off to college and not to play professional baseball, Minor relished the opportunity to become a better — and more complete — pitcher.
“I grew up as a man, as an athlete and I learned how to throw a baseball,” said Minor, who is currently 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in two starts with Gwinnett. “I never would have learned here, because at Vanderbilt, it’s a classroom atmosphere, and here you have to learn as you go.”
Those lessons learned have impressed Gwinnett pitching coach Derek Botelho.
“His first start was outstanding, that’s for sure, Botelho said. “I saw him in spring training and during camp, segmented pieces, not a lot of innings pitched or anything like that. But what I’ve seen from the start is everything I’ve been hearing about him.
“His composure out there stands out,” he added. “That was the biggest thing. He has three outstanding pitches. He’s all business, displays a lot of confidence and has great mound presence.”
Although he’s confident, Minor, who averaged 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings in 15 starts with Mississippi, said he isn’t your typical arrogant, and unapproachable first-rounder who rises quickly in the minor leagues.
“A guy once told me that one guy has to be that guy and it might as well be you,” Minor said. “There’s always going to be that one player who rises through the ranks quickly and everyone wants to be that guy. You have to accept it.”
How quickly he gets promoted again is anyone’s guess, but when it does happen, Minor is ready to place his name among the great Braves pitchers of the past and present.
“I want to follow them, but I want to be my own guy,” he said. “I want to be better than them and I don’t want to settle and just say I want to be like this guy or that guy. I want to make a name for myself.
“I’m still learning a lot,” he added. “The Braves have an awesome staff right now and there’s no reason for me to be up there.”
One day, there will be, and Botelho knows Minor will be ready.
“There’s little things he needs to work on,” Botelho said. “At this level, he’ll face more experienced, patient, quality hitters and it’s going to be more a test of his ability -- but he has the ability. He could pitch in the big leagues tomorrow.
“But he has a timetable to further his development… this is good for him.”