Braves: A.J. Minter could be the answer to the bullpen’s biggest issue

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Last offseason, Alex Anthopoulos decided to ignore the Braves’ most glaring issue — the bullpen. As a result, he had to reach into the organization’s prospect pool at the trade deadline, moving the likes of Kolby Allard, Joey Wentz, and others for Shane Greene, Chris Martin, and Mark Melancon. Anthopoulos then added the most-prized reliever of this year’s free-agent class, Will Smith, on a three-year deal, giving the Braves one of the most well-respected relief cores heading into the 2020 season. However, there is still one thing missing.

Outside of Will Smith, the Braves don’t have another reliable lefty reliever. Grant Dayton looked like the most logical option, but he was awful in Spring Training 1.0, pitching to the tune of an 11.42 ERA, allowing seven earned runs in just 5.2 innings, and things started just as bleak for him in Spring Training 2.0. The Braves also have Chris Rusin, who’s had some success at the big-league level and was effective before Spring Training was shut down in March, but we have yet to see him since the restart.

The lefty relief role isn’t nearly as vital as it has been in the past, with baseball going to the new three-batter rule, forcing every pitcher to face at least three batters unless it is the end of the inning. Still, though, you need more than just one lefty in the ‘pen for specific situations, especially since the only left-hander the Braves have could be their closer.

A.J. Minter can put a lot of those headaches to rest with a bounce-back campaign. The hard-throwing southpaw entered the 2019 season as the team’s primary closer, but control issues forced him back to AAA. He walked 7.1 batters per nine innings, leading to a 7.06 ERA, but his problems improved while in Gwinnett. He only walked three batters in 22.2 innings with the Stripers, finishing with a 3.57 ERA.

The thing about Minter is the talent is undeniable. There’s a reason why people who have watched the Braves for decades referred to him as a left-handed Craig Kimbrel. Not many players can throw it 100 MPH while snapping off a nearly unhittable slider in the low-90s, but Minter is one of the few, which is why he was viewed as the closer of the future just last year. He’s also proven that he can have success at the top level over a full season.

In 2018, Minter was a crucial piece to a Braves bullpen that struggled for the most part. He appeared in 65 games (61.1 innings), posting a 3.23 ERA with 15 saves in 17 opportunities.

Perhaps the Braves put a little too much pressure on him early in his career, expecting him to be the closer at just 25-years-old in his second full season, but that’s not the role they need him in any longer. They have guys like Will Smith, Mark Melancon, Shane Greene, Chris Martin, and Luke Jackson that can handle the highest leverage situations. However, adding a power arm from the left side strengthens this group exponentially while fixing the bullpen’s most significant need.

The Braves have some other options, and there’s a high chance that Alex Anthopoulos is doing his due diligence, searching through free-agent relievers, but their best bet may already be on the 40-man roster. Given his upside, allowing Minter the opportunity to shake off the rust early in the season — especially with 30 players allowed on the Opening Day roster — makes too much sense. He could become yet another weapon for Brian Snitker to use in late-inning situations.


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