A.J., I genuinely want to say that your 2020 has been fantastic. I’m truly sorry for giving up on you. We cool?
Okay, all jokes aside, it’s time for me to swallow my pride. A.J. Minter rightfully caught some heat last season from Braves fans, including myself and others here at SportsTalkATL. He had one of the worst years by a relief pitcher in recent memory, especially one that came into the season as the closer. Eventually, the Braves had no other option but to send him down. In Gwinnett, Minter still didn’t look like his typical self, but he did receive one more chance in Atlanta before they closed the book on his 2019 season. Here’s a look at his numbers last year in both AAA and the majors:
2019 AAA: 22.2 IP, 9 ER, 4 HR, 9.5 H/9, 1.2 BB/9, 1.19 WHIP
2019 MLB: 29.1 IP, 23 ER, 23 BB, 11.0 H/9, 10.5 BB/9, 2.01 WHIP
Coming into 2019, the expectations for Minter were way too high, and it’s possible that played a role in his troubles. Alex Anthopoulos deserves a bit of blame for that. He completely ignored Atlanta’s bullpen issues in the offseason leading into the 2019 campaign, leaving Minter as the only option in high-leverage situations.
The man dubbed “The left-handed Craig Kimbrel” and “The Braves closer of the future” after 2018 couldn’t do anything right, and it looked as if his career was in jeopardy. However, Minter’s come out and silenced all of his critics.
Our own Chase Irle hadn’t given up hope on Minter, mentioning how the hard-throwing southpaw could be an X-Factor in 2020. And even earlier in the season, I wrote how he had made a sneaky comeback. Minter’s managed to sustain that success with less than two weeks until the playoffs.
AJ Minter 2020: 17.2 IP, 1 ER, 8 BB, 0 HR, 4.1 BB/9, 9.2 K/9, 1.01 WHIP (0.51 ERA)
Minter has been vital to the Braves success. It’s no secret Atlanta’s rotation has been in shambles, but the Braves prized offseason acquisition, Will Smith, has not had the best start to 2020 either. Minter’s stepped in and filled the hole of shutdown lefty reliever to a T.
The best part about Minter’s turnaround is that he is under control until 2024. This allows the team to focus on Shane Greene, Marcell Ozuna, and other free agents — Trevor Bauer, anyone? The money will be tight, and adding a premier starting pitcher is a must. Having another shutdown reliever in the fold will allow Anthopoulos to focus on those other areas.
Regaining confidence is no easy task for an MLB reliever, but Minter deserves all the credit for grinding, waiting for his opportunity, and trusting his stuff. He has been an integral part of the Braves quest for their third consecutive NL East title, and he deserves to be the second Brave in the last three seasons to be named Comeback Player of the Year.
I’ve never seen a guy cut his ERA from over seven to less than half of a run, shortened season be damned. He hasn’t faltered at any step, and outside of Atlanta, this should be a massive story. Minter had every excuse to quit — his hometown fans despised him, and he seemed to be mentally distraught. That’s how most young pitchers’ careers come to an end far earlier than they should. Minter made a choice to work and shut everyone up. This is more than just a comeback to the majors. He’s become one of the best relievers in baseball, and that deserves national recognition.
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