It is honestly crazy how much can change in a single year of baseball. Just last season, A.J. Minter was set to assume the closer’s role for the foreseeable future in Atlanta. He had a rapid rise to the big leagues, and even got a taste of the closing in 2018, converting 15 of 17 opportunities. It seemed that their top relief prospect had panned out, and it was time for him to take the next step.
As we all know, that is not what transpired for Minter in 2019. He was catastrophically terrible, and though the Braves continued to give them opportunities with a short-handed bullpen, eventually enough was enough. Overall, for the season, he walked 23 batters in 29.1 innings and became a liability on the mound. They sent him back down to AAA Gwinnett to work out these kinks, and after issuing only two walks in nine outings, he had made his way back to the big leagues before long.
Unfortunately, not much changed when Minter returned. He continued to offer free passes like candy on Halloween, and after a couple of months of having a long leash, he was sent back down. Oddly enough, his “walk-itis” disappeared yet again in Gwinnett.
Like many issues in baseball, his problems appear to be entirely mental, like a bad case of the yips. In the big leagues, Minter posted an abysmal 7.1 BB/9. In Gwinnett, he posted a sharp 1.2 BB/9. We have all seen Minter be an effective major league reliever in the past, and his stuff his off the charts nasty. This just goes to show how volatile relief pitching can be, even if he’s been somewhat of an extreme case.
The best thing the Braves can do is extend a vote of confidence to Minter in 2020. Give him the offseason to clear his head, maybe even prod him to see a sports psychologist if he has not already. Minter has the talent, but the pressure got to him big time in 2019. Could this be due to the high expectations set before the season? Perhaps, but it is not normal. Giving up on Minter would be foolish. While Mark Melancon is the reported closer for 2020, chances are it will be Will Smith before long. If that is the case, the Braves have limited options for southpaw middle relief, especially if Sean Newcomb makes the rotation. Step in A.J. Minter. He has options remaining, so management can send him up and down based on his performance.
Hopefully, we see the hard-throwing lefty bounce back in 2020. If he can perform, it would be the icing on the cake to a now loaded Braves bullpen. But they will have to find some lefty production somehow, barring moves, and Grant Dayton will be out of options. Minter has a chance to lock down a spot and put 2019 in the rearview mirror if he performs well early.