The two "kids" round out the starting pitching reviews for the 2010 Braves here at Talking Chop. I quote "kids" because Mike Minor and Brandon Beachy are technically the youngest starters on the Braves staff in their age-22 and age-23 seasons respectively, though Beachy is only a few days younger than Tommy Hanson and was born in the same year as Jair Jurrjens. This highlights how young the Atlanta starting pitching staff really is. There are the old guys, Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson, but the rest of next year's staff will be filled with pitchers who will all be in their age-25 season or younger.
Mike Minor proved the Braves right this year when they said he would make it to the Major Leagues quickly when they drafted him. He became the fourth first-rounder from the 2009 class to reach the Majors when he made his debut on August 9th in Houston. After a quick stint at A-ball last year Minor wasted no time in disposing of double-A, then triple-A hitters before the Braves deemed him ready for the Majors.
His 5.98 ERA may look ugly on the surface, but much of that came in his last four starts in which his velocity dropped several miles per hour and his location deserted him just a bit. It's not that Minor pitched more innings than he did the year before, it's the type of innings he pitched. In 2009 between college, the minors, and the Arizona Fall League, Minor threw 140.2 innings. In 2010 he threw 160.1 innings -- not a major increase -- but those innings were harder innings at higher levels, including the higher stress Major League innings. This year's innings also included more fastballs than Minor had thrown in college, where he was known as more of an off-speed let-the-batter-get-himself-out pitcher.
Minor's K/9 rate in college was just under 9.0, and only surpassed 9.0 in his last season (9.3). To the surprise of most observers Minor's K/9 rate spiked this year to 11.3 at double-A, then 10.0 at triple-A, and 9.5 in the Majors. This coincided with an increase in velocity on his fastball from 90-91 to 93-94.
The increase in velocity and strikeout rate was a pleasant surprise to Braves fans, and with a year of that kind of experience under his belt he should be more prepared to handle the long season and increased innings load next year. Still, it's likely that Minor, a first-round draft pick, will have to compete for the final spot in the Atlanta rotation with an undrafted free agent, Brandon Beachy.
Beachy was one of the great stories for the Braves, in a season of great stories. Undrafted out of Indiana Wesleyan in 2008, he remained an obscure prospect as he rose through the Braves minor league system, emerging this year with dominant performances in double-A and triple-A. When Jurrjens went down in September, Beachy was called into action from the Instructional League.
He made three starts down the stretch for Atlanta, and while the team didn't win any of his starts, it certainly wasn't the fault of Beachy, who became the victim of a lack of run support and bad defense -- a grizzly foreshadowing of the Braves playoff woes. Beachy pitched good enough to make the playoff roster, where he was for a time scheduled to start game-four of the NLDS before the team opted to go with Derek Lowe.
Beachy showed a good fastball with some late action and plus location, as well as a good change-up curveball mix. He's not a flashy pitcher, but he does the things that he should do, and he does them very well. I was impressed with the poise he showed in his three September starts, when twice he faced Philadelphia in difficult playoff-like games.
He goes into 2011 as still a bit of a mystery. He seems to be durable for a young starter, and seems to have the ability to pitch in the Majors. As I mentioned above, he should complete with Minor in spring training for the fifth starter spot. Beachy is also a possibility to be a reliever out of the bullpen, but with the Braves current lack of depth at the starting pitcher spot he will likely remain a starter wherever he ends up.
He's one of those great stories, and for that he's a guy that I root for and that many Braves fans will likely root for. The hope is that he can continue to improve and show that he is indeed a Major League starting pitcher. Certainly between Minor and Beachy the Braves have two good young (still rookie) starters who can grow with the team, even though they each took very different routes to the big leagues.