On August 5, the Braves took the field with their spring training caps, featuring a lone tomahawk on a field of blue. The symbolism was obvious; the rest of the season was for all intents and purposes like extended spring training. The team would be evaluating players to see who would could be expected to be contributors for the 2018 season. The team had started the season stocked liberally with veterans brought in to allow young players to keep maturing in the minor leagues. With the Braves out of playoff contention, it was time to move on and allow some of the talent that the front office has been fastidiously accumulating come up and test themselves in the big leagues.
To that end, the team that started with just Dansby Swanson as its lone Opening Day player under the age of 25 has been mixing in that young talent over the course of the season. Johan Camargo, Sean Newcomb, Lucas Sims, and Ozzie Albies are expected to be parts of the next great Atlanta Braves run. Now the team has promoted another potential piece of that puzzle, young left-hander A.J. Minter.
A.J. Minter, LHP
OFR Rank: 24
2017 Level: AAA Gwinnett Braves
3.33 ERA, 3.40 FIP
26 G, 0 GS
(classes A, A+, AA, and AAA including rehab appearances)
Minter was a 2nd-round supplemental pick by Atlanta in the 2015 draft out of Texas A&M, a pick acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league outfielder Victor Reyes (thanks again, Dave Stewart). Minter underwent Tommy John surgery a few months before the draft, which allowed the Braves to get him far below his initial Top 30 estimated draft position. Minter rested, recovered, and rehabbed all of the 2015 season and off-season before making his organizational debut in May 2016 with class A Rome. Minter then proceeded to blow through the Braves organization, only allowing 5 earned runs total in three minor league stops, striking out 47 batters in only 34.2 innings pitched.
Minter was expected to compete this spring for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, but forearm inflammation kept him in the trainers room for much training camp. While rehabbing that issue in April, he suffered a groin injury that shelved him for two more months. Minter finally got his season going in mid June with rehab outings in Rome, high-A Florida, and AA Mississippi before finally getting assigned to Gwinnett in early July. In his roughly seven weeks with Gwinnett, Minter has pitched to a 4.70 ERA, striking out 17 in 15.1 innings pitched while walking 10. Minter had a tough stretch in the middle of July where he surrendered six earned runs in four outings. In his 9 outings since then however, he has pitched to a 1.00 ERA, only allowing a .138/.278/.138 batting line against in those 9 innings.
Minter is a pure short-outing, high-leverage reliever that should be used to get the most critical outs of the game. Minter’s fastball regularly plays in the 96-98 mph range with movement, and he complements it with a cutter that darts away from right-handers in the low-90s. Minter’s bread-and-butter out pitch however is a hard, biting slider that he throws down and away to lefties that… well, just look at it.
Because of his elbow history and other ailments this year, the Braves have been very conservative with how much they’ve used Minter. In his pro career, he has only pitched back-to-back games once, and once he gets past 20 pitches he typically starts to lose his command. When Minter doesn’t strike out batters, he’s an extreme flyball pitcher, and while he has only allowed two home runs in his brief pro career, that will be something to watch as he faces big league hitters for the first time.
A.J. Minter becomes the first player drafted during the rebuild to make it to Atlanta, which is appropriate given that he was the first college player drafted in the 2015 draft. His make-up and stuff indicate a potential back-end of the bullpen talent, but due to how protective the Braves have been about his usage he seems more likely to be held as a special weapon, to be brought out when the Braves have to get a tough out, especially against left-handed hitters.