In 2018, the Braves’ bullpen had fans on the verge of cardiac arrest nearly every time they were called upon. Although, it wasn’t for lack of talent. Last year’s pen had numerous young arms, and they did what young arms do early in their career – tip-toe around the plate. The result was way too many walks, and for a bullpen pitcher, that’s the easiest way to earn a one-way ticket out of town.
Among those explosive live arms was that of A.J Minter. The 25-year old out of Texas A&M has worked his way through Atlanta’s farm system with one goal of being the closer for the Braves down the road. He sniffed it last year as a rookie with Arodys Vizcaino injured. And now, he feels ready to become the next shutdown late-inning pitcher in the MLB.
Minter is the closest thing a true-closer the Braves have had since Craig Kimbrel, and the craziest thing is he has a lot of Kimbrel in him. The only difference is he throws from the left side. From his hunched over stance, staring down to the catcher’s mitt, to his high 90’s fastball with a wicked slider; Minter mimics the former Braves star from start to finish.
But that’s not necessarily who he wants to be compared to. A few days ago Minter had this to say to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman as he arrived to spring training:
“I want to be in the game when the game is on the line, the best hitters are up,” Minter said. “Whether that’s the seventh, eighth or ninth inning, I want to be facing the toughest part of the lineup. Of course, I want to be the closer who is closing games out and getting saves. But the way baseball is going now, I want to be the Josh Hader. I want to be the guy who when he comes in the ballgame, you know it’s over.
He may get his opportunity in 2019. The Braves still have Arodys Vizcaino on their roster, and while he was the go-to option in the ninth inning last year, he has to prove to the coaching staff he’s still the same pitcher after missing a large chunk of last season with shoulder discomfort. But even if Vizcaino is the same pitcher, the Braves will want to give Minter every opportunity to take control of the role given that he has four years of team control remaining.
While Minter stood apart from the remaining young Braves bullpen arms, he suffered from the same Achilles’ Heel: Walks. The hard-throwing southpaw pitched in 61.1 innings and allowed one less walk (22) than he did hits (23). On average, he gave up a walk every third time he came to the mound. For a starter, you can overcome that. But with the game on the line in the late innings, you must be more precise.
Minter’s strikeout numbers were still off the charts, averaging 10.1 Ks/9 innings, and those were actually low for him. He can make the best of hitters look silly, like Bryce Harper on this cut-fastball that left him flailing at air.
Braves' pitcher and former @AggieBaseball AJ Minter has been on a tear to start the season. Has not allowed a run in 6 appearances. Struck out the side in one inning of work in the @Braves 5-3 extra inning win today. #12thman pic.twitter.com/EfTi0yjtwN
— Matt Trent (@MCTrent23) April 12, 2018
But all that does not matter if Minter cannot fine-tune his control. Command was his most glaring issue in the minor leagues as well. It’s not a foregone conclusion that he will be able to figure it out enough to where he becomes the Braves full-time closer.
Nonetheless, his mindset is in the correct place. He has the stuff to make opponents sick when he’s called from the pen – where they know its over. Now it’s time to see if he can put it all together. The Braves do not necessarily need to spend top-dollar on a star closer like Kimbrel. They have one right in their backyard.