The only thing I love more than the Braves in the world of sports is Vanderbilt University. You can imagine my excitement to have these two collide in the form of a first-round draft pick.
That said, I realize that fans are, with good reason, disappointed in the Braves' selection this year. With a pick that high, one would hope for a player with superstar upside, and I think it's fair to say Minor doesn't have that. However, I do think that Braves' fans, with the help of some members of the media, are undervaluing a very, very good pitcher who has a high probability of helping the big-league club in the near future. With that in mind, I'm going to offer a rundown of what the Braves are getting with their first-round pick.
Mikie Minor---those of us who've followed him at VU and earlier will always call him Mikie---is a 6'3" lefty with good, but not great, stuff. His fastball sits in the 89-91 range, topping out at around 94 mph, and his best pitch is a changeup which sits about 10 mph below the fastball. He also has a slider and a recently-added curve, but neither of those is anything special, at least not yet. His out-pitch is that changeup, which is legitimately excellent. His pickoff move is also top-notch. Mikie, out of a tiny town in rural Tennessee (Chapel Hill), is a quiet kid, but he's a good leader.
In his 3-year Vanderbilt career, Minor posted some really good numbers while averaging roughly 6 2/3 innings per start: 3.79 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.97 K/9, 2.49 BB/9, and 0.74 HR/9. The main problem is that, other than strikeouts (which increased some as his velocity ticked upward), he regressed a little each year, culminating with a Junior-year line of 3.90 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 9.27 K/9, 3.01 BB/9, and 0.81 HR/9. Those stats aren't bad by any stretch, but they aren't amazing, either, and the trend isn't a great one.
As far as accolades are concerned, Minor was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2007 (the same season in which David Price was the National Player of the Year and Vanderbilt was ranked #1 for much of the season), made the all-conference squad in each of his three years in Nashville, and was Baseball America's 2008 Summer Player of the Year after dominating in international competition as Team USA's ace. (His numbers were better than those of his teammate, Steven Strasburg, against wooden bats with the national team.)
In particular, he twice beat the Cubans---essentially the same team that won the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics---including in the championship game. If you're looking to pinpoint the main reason, other than finances, why the Braves tabbed Minor, I think that summer performance is it. [ed. note: Braves scouting director Roy Clark basically admitted as much, saying, "He was the ace of the USA Baseball national team last year that had a number of pretty good pitchers, including Mr. Strasburg."]
All in all, the Braves are getting a kid who projects as a middle-of-the-rotation arm with #2-starter upside. He's polished and, because of the likelihood that he signs quickly, should be able to pitch in the big leagues before the end of 2010, though the Braves probably won't need him that soon. On the Jeremy Sowers-David Price scale of elite Vanderbilt lefties, Minor is much closer to the Sowers side, but he profiles as a better pro because his stuff is markedly better.
He certainly wasn't a sexy pick, but I'm excited to watch Mikie develop in Atlanta's system.
[ed.: there's more draft analysis, especially on the later round picks, at this site.]