Keeping up with Minor, Senzel and the Sheffields

Mike Minor, a former Brave from Forrest High and Vanderbilt, will be the Rangers’ Opening Day starter (photo by Mike Morrow)

A noteload on home-grown players:

The long road of perseverance continues to pay off for former Forrest High School and Vanderbilt University pitcher Mike Minor. He learned this week he will be the starting pitcher for the Texas Rangers when they face the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day March 28 in Arlington.

Minor spent the first six seasons of his professional career with the Braves. He made it to the big-league club in 2010 after being drafted in the first round in 2009, the seventh pick overall. He built a 32-24 record in his first four seasons, including a 13-9 record in 2013.

But he developed shoulder problems in 2014 when he went 6-12. He missed all of the 2015 season after surgery for a torn labrum and became a free agent in December that year. The Royals signed him to a two-year contract in 2016 but he never made it out of the minor leagues that year.

The Royals put him in the bullpen for 2017, and his appearance that year on April 3 against Minnesota was his first since September 20, 2014. He made 65 appearances in 2017 with six wins and six saves. In December of that year, he signed a three-year deal with the Rangers for a reported $28 million.

Last year, Minor started 28 games for the Rangers and built a 12-8 record, throwing 157 innings. He got the word on Sunday that manager Chris Woodward named him the starter for Opening Day.

T.R. Sullivan reported the decision for mlb.com and quoted Minor saying, “It’s something every off-season you go into to work hard to be that guy, and this year I thought there was a chance. But there are a lot of guys in there that could be the Opening Day guy. It feels good that Woody had the confidence in me. I’ve always been labeled a No. 5 or a No. 3 or 4. I feel like I can be an ace, and this year I want to show it.”

Minor is 31. He lives in Chapel Hill, Tenn., in the off-season …

… Former Farragut High School and University of Tennessee star Nick Senzel is ranked the sixth best prospect in baseball in the mlb.com rankings, including a ranking as the top prospect for the Reds. Baseball America ranks Senzel 10th overall. Baseball Prospectus has him at No. 9.

The big question for Senzel is where he will play. He has been playing center field this spring for the Reds, mainly because the Reds simply need a center fielder. Senzel came up as a solid prospect as a third baseman. But the Reds have veteran Eugenio Suarez at third, which presents a problem for Cincinnati to find a place for Senzel in the lineup.

Senzel is considered versatile, with speculation he could play second base or the outfield. The Reds have plenty of outfielders, but most of them, including Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, are corner outfielders. So they’re trying Senzel in center. The Reds had a stellar defensive center fielder in Billy Hamilton, but Hamilton couldn’t hit a lick. He’s now in Kansas City.

Illness and injuries have been drawbacks for Senzel. He suffered from vertigo last season, then fractured his right index finger, which required surgery. He has also had elbow issues. Senzel may start the season in Class AAA Louisville, but his hitting is considered strong enough to land him with the big club for much of this season.

For sure, the scouting reports on Senzel have been outstanding. Baseball America, which may be the gold standard in rating talent, has glowing things to say about Senzel.

“From the first day he arrived at Tennessee, Senzel showed he was special,” Baseball America said in its Prospect Handbook. “The Reds have moved Senzel around the field because they know his bat should play anywhere and he has the kind of easy athleticism that allows him to handle various defensive challenges.”

Baseball America concludes, “His maturity and advanced approach both offensively and defensively should allow him to have an immediate impact on the big league club. When the Reds non-tendered Billy Hamilton, Senzel’s path to an outfield job in 2019 cleared, but second base is a logical landing spot once Scooter Gennett’s contract expires after the 2019 season.” …

… The trade that sent former Tullahoma High School star Justus Sheffield to the Seattle Mariners has apparently put him closer to the majors.

Sheffield, who was drafted by the Indians in the first round in 2014 and was later dealt to the Yankees, is currently ranked the Mariners’ No. 1 prospect by both mlb.com and Baseball America. He is consistently ranked in the top 50 overall. He was traded along with two other prospects to the Mariners from the Yankees in the deal that sent pitcher James Paxton to New York.

Sheffield recently joined Nick Pollack on a podcast for pitcherlist.com. He talked about his development as a player.

“When I first got into pro ball I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into,” Sheffield said. “I kind of went into it not knowing too much, what to expect. But I think the grind in the minor leagues in the early stages is what determines what kind of player you are.

“The travel is tough. You’re sometimes sitting next to a guy on an eight-hour trip after a 7 o’clock game. That was the hardest part, getting past that, baseball-wise. Once I got to AA and AAA, that’s when I really started feeling like I was in pro ball. I started learning a little more about pitching.”

Sheffield said he had begun pro ball as basically a fastball/slider pitcher, but as he rose through the ranks of the minors he found the necessity to develop a third pitch, a changeup, which he says is a big help.

Sheffield’s older brother, Jordan Sheffield, who also played at Tullahoma High and played at Vanderbilt, is in the Dodgers organization, currently as a minor leaguer.

Pollack asked Justus Sheffield if he remembered the first time he threw 90 mph, and his answer involved brother Jordan. Justus was a sophomore in high school, Jordan a junior. When Justus “touched 90,” he said he was “all-hyped,” but Jordan cited a technicality, saying they were using an artificial mound that was not made of real dirt.

“That was his excuse,” Justus said. “He was saying it wasn’t a real dirt mound. That was the first time I threw 90.”

Categories: Home-grown

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