Minor drafted by Braves

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

ATLANTA -- The Braves were denied a chance to pick another local star.

They didn't seem to mind.

Atlanta selected pitcher former Forrest High School star Mike Minor of Vanderbilt with their first pick of the amateur draft on Tuesday night, grabbing the left-hander at No. 7 overall. He was the highest Braves' choice since Mike Kelly was taken at No. 2 in 1991.

"This guy is a winner," said scouting director Roy Clark. "We've been tracking him for a long time."

The Braves usually stay close to home, having used five of their last nine top picks to select Georgia high school stars.

That wasn't an option this year. Outfielder Donovan Tate of Cartersville High School went to San Diego at No. 3 and pitcher Zach Wheeler of East Paulding High was grabbed by San Francisco with the sixth pick - just ahead of the Braves.

Still, Clark insisted the Braves were happy to land Minor, whose scouting report varied widely depending on the source. Baseball America ranked him as a second-round prospect, but Atlanta had him among its top three players on the board.

"I'm very pleased with the guy we got," Clark said. "I know the baseball world thought we were going to take Zach Wheeler."

Count Minor among them.

"I thought the Wheeler kid was going to be there," Minor said. "But (San Francisco) ended up taking Wheeler earlier, and I was still there. I was surprised by that."

Make that pleasantly surprised. Minor grew up as a Braves fan in Chapel Hill, Tenn., about 45 minutes south of Nashville and no more than a five-hour drive from Atlanta.

"Being so close to home, all my friends and family can come see me play when I do make it," Minor said on a conference call. "Everyone is going wild. It's awesome to be with the Braves."

Minor, originally drafted out of high school by Tampa Bay in the 13th round of the 2006 draft, did not have a dazzling season for the Commodores. He went 6-6 with a 3.90 ERA, giving up 109 hits in 110 2-3 innings.

But he had an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio (114-37) and, according to Clark, Minor's numbers improved significantly when the Vandy coaching staff allowed him to call his own game, rather than look to the dugout for what pitch to throw.

"His numbers were a little bit deceiving this year," Clark said. "They allowed him to start calling his own game the last month or so, and that's when he really took off. A lot of guys are just better like that."

Minor said it comes down to responsibility.

"If you throw a pitch and they hit it - hit it hard - then it's your fault," he said. "It makes you aware of every pitch the whole game."

The Braves were most impressed with Minor's performance on the U.S. national team last summer. He beat amateur powerhouse Cuba twice and was the best pitcher on a squad that also included Stephen Strasburg, picked No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals.

The 6-foot-4, 195-pound Minor has been clocked in the low 90s with his fastball and throws a slider and curve. But his best pitch is a changeup. Not surprisingly, two of his favorite Braves were Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, pitchers who relied on guile and location more than overpowering stuff.

Minor started throwing the changeup when he was 12.

"My dad wouldn't let me throw breaking balls because he was afraid I would hurt my elbow, so I started throwing the change," he said. "It ended up being my best pitch."

It didn't hurt to play for Vanderbilt, which has produced several top prospects in recent years. Jeremy Sowers is now in Cleveland, David Price was the top pick in 2007 and Pedro Alvarez was No. 2 overall a year ago.

Minor turned down a $750,000 offer from Tampa Bay coming out of high school. He'll get a lot more with the Braves, who know that someone with three years of college experience has a chance to make it to the big leagues a lot quicker than a prep player.

He doesn't expect contract negotiations to be an issue this time around.

"I see it happening pretty quick, probably in the next week or two," Minor said. "I'm definitely not planning to hold out."