The first time I saw Daniel Minor was on the mound in Greeneville, Tennessee in August. He worked quickly, confidently and efficiently. He threw strikes. He was in control. And he won. He did a lot of that in August. In four starts for Greeneville in August, he was 3-0 with an 0.35 ERA and a 0.538 WHIP. One of those games was a combined one-hitter. He struck out 11 in that game. For the season, he led the league in ERA (2.75) and WHIP (1.034) among qualified pitchers.
The second time I saw Minor was at the final Hooks playoff game in Corpus Christi a couple of weeks ago. The product of Texas A&M Corpus had taken a brief break after his season had ended in Greeneville and was already in Corpus working to get ready for next season. He was sitting a few rows in front of me. He came back and we talked for an inning or so about his season, the Astros organization in general, his pitching coach in Greeneville (Hector Mercado) and the starting pitcher for that night, Ross Seaton. I enjoyed the conversation.
Had I met him in a casual setting first, I might have trouble reconciling his college coach's description of him (in the article linked below) as "a bulldog, aggressive, mean and tough," going on to say, "He walks across the (baseline) like he's a little irritated." But having seen him first on the mound, I know exactly what his coach meant. As Daniel told me, "You really have to turn it on, flip that switch, compete well and think you're better than everybody."
On to the interview, edited for clarity and brevity ~
On his transfer to A&M Corpus and the draft process: "Coming out of junior college [McClellan Community College in Waco, Texas], I really didn't have many places to go. On the last day of our regional tournament, Corpus called and that was the only Division I [program] that had called me so I was pretty set on going down there and playing baseball there. [Here's a great article from the Corpus Christi Caller Times explaining a little more about how Minor got to A&M Corpus and was signed sight unseen.]
"So I went there, just worked real hard to get better, and ended up having a really good year. There weren't tons of scouts at the games. There were only a few scouts here and there. The Astros were one of the first ones to see me so I was kind of under the radar the whole year and then [during the Southland Conference] tournament I had a really good game and after that a bunch of teams got in touch with me, but it was really late by that time. When draft day rolled around, I'd been in contact with the Astros, but I really had no clue what was going to happen, what round or anything. I was the first pick of the ninth round so I was pretty excited to see that. It was pretty cool."
On his pitch repertoire: "Fastball, 4-seam, 2-seam. It will range anwhere from a low of 86 up to 93, 94. Usually 88-91, touch 93 in a game. I throw a changeup which is by far my best off-speed pitch, probably low 80's. Throw 12-6 on a curveball and [throw] a slider. I've worked on [the slider] a lot this past summer. [What's his best strikout pitch?] For a righty, it would be a slider and for a lefty, it would be a changeup."
What did he accomplish in the short season?: "What I accomplished was being able to throw my off-speed for strikes on a more consistent basis and make them more deceptive to where hitters can't identify them as easily and working with [Pitching Coach Hector] Mercado over the season was helpful. He always knew the right thing to say to me to make it click in my head and make it work. [To what does he attribute his outstanding numbers in August to end the season?] Mostly it was just getting more comfortable as the season went on, being more comfortable on the mound and against better hitters."
What does he need to work on?: "I think the things I need to keep working on is pretty much the same stuff, just keeping the ball down around the knees, moving the ball to both sides of the plate and just competing well."
What was the biggest surprise from his first professional season?: "Probably just how much you had to take care of your body on a daily basis. Going and doing stuff like running or lifting and making sure you're in shape to be able to perform. I guess for me, starting every five or six days, making sure you're able to go out there and perform your best every time and just overall keeping your body in shape. It's kind of difficult to do, trying to eat healthy and get your workouts in, but it's manageable."
On what he's doing this off-season: "I'm down here [Corpus Christi] working out with my strength coach from college. I really liked him so [it's] probably one of the best things for me to come and do. Get a little stronger and get back in shape and ready for a full season next year."
Which of his teammates has a pitch he'd like to steal?: "That would probably be Jordan Jankowski's slider. It's filthy. It seems like it's near unhittable, always striking people out with it. People just swinging at it. Sometimes it doesn't even have to be close to the plate and people are still swinging at it. I guess he sets it up well or something but it's dirty."
Which of his teammates would he least like to face in the batter's box?: "That's a tough one. Being a pitcher, I feel like I could face anyone and get him out, but if I had to pick one, probably [Brian] Blasik because he does not swing at bad pitches. If it's a strike, he's swinging or if it's a ball, he's not swinging. It's difficult to fool him when he's hitting. He has a really good eye."
Which of his teammates does he like having behind him when he pitches?: "I'd say Blasik. He never made many errors. The ball was always hit to him and he would always make the play no matter how difficult or how easy. I can't remember once when I was pitching that he made an error."
Who on the team makes him laugh?: "That would be pretty much everybody in the bullpen from Tanner [Bushue] to [Zach] Dando to [Michael] Dimock and [Andrew] Walter. All those guys in the bullpen were absolutely the funniest group of people I've ever been around."
What's would he do if he couldn't play baseball?: "Probably I'd either do something with lessons or trying to teach younger kids. As a matter of fact, that's what I'm doing right now. I'm giving lessons to kids in the off-season. Growing up, the guy that gave me lessons, he affected my life so much and taught me everything literally from scratch. He taught me everything on how to pitch. Doing that would be a good way to give back and help kids try to get where I [am]. Or something like strength and conditioning, helping people be in shape."
Something that most people don't know about him: "Up until this year, up until I flew to Greeneville, I haven't really flown. I was kind of scared when I was flying up there and flying back. I really hadn't flown that much until this year."
There was one other thing that he talked about that really stuck with me. I asked him about his very stingy walk rate and he said, "I hate walking people, just giving them a free base because you can't throw a strike? That's a terrible thing. You're already facing good enough hitters. You don't want to give them [an extra] chance to score [by walking them.] The one run I gave up in August was on one of the two walks I had. Most of the time, if you throw strikes, they're going to get themselves out and that's why .300 is a really good hitting average. I mean seven out of ten times, they're going to get themselves out."
I was impressed by Minor's mound presence when I saw him. I am impressed by his aggressive philosophy of pitching. I'm impressed that he only walked two batters in August. But I think I'm most impressed that he remembered the details of those two walks and had already filed them away in his memory banks as something not to repeat. There is a simple elegance to his approach. "You just have to be able to compete well and make pitches. That's pretty much all that pitching comes down to."