(Via Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)
It wasn't too long ago where Mike Minor looked to be, for lack of a better term, a bust. He had all of the potential in the world, but couldn't live up to it. He just kept getting injured, he couldn't even start games, and somehow in 2019, he was named an American League All-Star. How did he get here?
Out of high school in the town of Chapel Hill, Tennessee, Minor was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 13th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. He would turn down Tampa Bay in order to attend the college baseball powerhouse that is Vanderbilt University. He was a consensus Freshman All-American and named the SEC Freshman of the Year for a Vandy Boys team who won a then-school record 54 games as well as both the SEC Regular Season title and the SEC Championship before losing in the Regionals of the NCAA Tournament. How did Minor do? Well, how about 90.0 innings pitched, 88 strikeouts to only 19 walks, and a 3.09 ERA. The rest of his college career wasn't as good for both Minor and the Commodores (save for his performance at the 2008 World University Games) however that didn't stop the Atlanta Braves from taking him seventh overall in the 2009 MLB Draft. He'd rise through the minors, making the All-Star Futures Game in 2010, and on August 9 of that same year, Mike Minor made his major league debut. It was nothing to write home about, six innings pitched, five strikeouts, a walk, four runs allowed (three earned) on five hits in a no decision, but his next three starts would show the Mike Minor the Braves saw when they took him seventh in the draft: a combined 17.0 innings pitched, seven runs allowed (all of which were earned) on 19 hits with 21 strikeouts to only six walks. The Braves went 3-0 in those games. While he would get shelled in the remainder of his starts that season, there were still reasons to believe that Minor couldn't have become a good pitcher, or even a great pitcher, if just given the time. After a couple more meddling seasons, it looked like he broke out in 2013: 204.2 innings pitched, a 3.21 ERA, a career-high 181 strikeouts to only 46 walks for a Braves team that would win 96 games and the National League East before losing to the Dodgers in the NLDS in four games. He'd pitch 6.1 innings of one run ball in his only postseason appearance to date, and helped the Braves win their only game of that series.
Both Minor and the Braves would take a major step back the next season. For Minor, his ERA would balloon to a monstrous 4.77, his highest in a full season. His strikeouts and innings pitched would both be down. The Braves would go from the playoffs to 17 games out of first and a 79-83 record. It is worth noting that Minor would pitch through pain for much of the 2014 season, but this toughness would actually accelerate his downfall. In 2015 Spring Training, Minor would report discomfort lingering from the previous season. It turns out that Minor had actually tore his labrum, and he'd be immediately put on the 60 day disabled list. His season was done, and so was his tenure in Atlanta, given that the Braves would choose to non-tender him. He'd end up in Kansas City, signing with the defending World Series Champion Royals. They'd have to defend their title without him, however, as Minor would miss his second straight season recovering from his surgery. He'd make his first appearance as a Royal on Opening Day 2017, out of the bullpen. He hadn't pitched out of the bullpen since his rookie year. And that was mop-up duty in game 160. The former seventh overall pick was no longer considered good enough to start.
The crazy part is Minor was good in Kansas City. He wasn't just good, he was their best pitcher out of the bullpen. He'd lead all Royals relievers in innings pitched (77.1), strikeouts (88), WHIP (1.017), and batters faced (307) while finishing second in FIP (2.62), ERA (2.55), and ERA+ (176) as well as having the second fewest walks (22). Despite this performance, the Royals would decline his option, leading Minor to sign with his current team, the Texas Rangers. The Rangers put him back in their starting rotation even though he seemed to have found his calling in relief. His return to the rotation seemed to be a return to his past self: an ERA of 4.18, an ERA+ of only 112, all for a 67 win Rangers team. Was he that team's best pitcher? Well, maybe, but they had a terrible rotation. Their #1 was Cole Hamels, who would get traded to a real team in the Cubs at the deadline. Outside of Minor and Hamels, they didn't have much. 45 year old Bartolo Colon, Martin Perez, Yovani Gallardo, Matt Moore, and Doug Fister all made double digit starts for the ballclub. In 2019, once again, Minor turned around. And this time, it might just be for good. At 31 years of age, Mike Minor is finally fulfilling his potential. He's recorded the lowest ERA of his career at 2.54, his season in the pen included. He's leading the American League in ERA+ with 199. In other words, he's 99% better than the average American League pitcher. This is essentially unheard of for a guy who never recorded an ERA+ over 117 as a starter. The Rangers have turned it around as well. They've gone from last place in their division, finishing 36 games out of first in 2018, to being only a half game out of the second Wild Card spot in 2019. And by the way, through all this, Mike Minor was named an American League All-Star. While he won't play in the game due to starting the last Rangers game before the Break, making the team is an incredible accomplishment in and of itself.
Mike Minor is one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in recent baseball history. And only time will tell if he continues this comeback.