Mike Minor spent a lot of time on the road between Atlanta and Gwinnett last season, but it looks like he may finally get a shot to stick in the Atlanta Braves starting rotation in the 2012 season. Barring injury or trade, the rotation has one open slot available after Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Brandon Beachy. Minor is the likely front-runner for that position.
Minor, who was the seventh pick in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, will be 24 on Opening Day of the 2012 season. After dominating at Triple-A Gwinnett during a brief stint in 2010 (1.89 ERA in 33 1/3 innings) and for the majority of 2011 (3.13 ERA in 100 2/3 innings), it is safe to say he doesn't have anything else to prove at the minor league level.
Minor has consistently struck out over a batter an inning throughout his minor league career while walking a little over three batters per nine innings. His major league strikeout and walk numbers are basically in line with his minor league numbers. In 2010 he had a K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) of 9.5 while walking 2.4 batters per nine innings, a better ratio than his minor league walk rate. Those numbers dropped a bit in 2011, when he had a K/9 of 8.4 and a BB/9 (walks per nine innings) of 3.3. Despite his drop in peripheral numbers from 2010 to 2011, he had a significantly better ERA and WHIP in 2011 (4.14 ERA, 1.488 WHIP) than 2010 (5.98 ERA, 1.574 WHIP).
Based on his strong minor league numbers and a definite improvement in his overall pitching performance from 2010 to 2011, it is a safe bet that Minor will continue to improve and put up overall numbers that are closer to his minor league stats. With an above average fastball that sits in the low-to-mid 90s, a strong change-up and a developing slider and curveball, Minor has the arsenal of a pitcher who can be very successful.
Perhaps the one thing that gives Minor an advantage over the other candidates for the rotation is the fact that he is left-handed. Minor is the only left-handed starter on the entire team, and in a division with Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, having a left-handed starter is a nice commodity.
The offseason is still young, and we may see a trade or two shake up the potential rotation. Additionally, injuries and Spring Training performances will certainly have an effect on the rotation. Regardless, Minor has cemented himself as the strongest candidate to take over the fifth spot in the Braves rotation.
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