Minter’s a strikeout machine poised for big role in bullpen

His highly anticipated big-league arrival last season was delayed by nagging injuries, but once Braves reliever A.J. Minter made it to the majors, he showed why a man described him in the minors as a future major league closer and why some people go so far as to call him a left-handed version of Craig Kimbrel.

While the Kimbrel comparison might be getting a bit carried away at this point of Minter’s fledgling career, suffice to say the two sturdily built sub-6-foot flamethrowers have things in common including a wipeout breaking ball to complement their fastball, and eye-popping strikeout rates as a result.

Minter, 24, made his major league debut in late August and proceeded to record 26 strikeouts with only two walks in 15 innings while posting a 3.00 ERA in 16 appearances, allowing 13 hits.

His strikeout rate of 15.6 per nine innings ranked among the best in major league history for a rookie in 15 or more innings, not far off the jaw-dropping 40 strikeouts that Kimbrel had in 20 2/3 innings (17.4 per nine innings) during his debut season with the Braves in 2010. 

Minter’s rate was just ahead of the 14.8 per nine innings that Kimbrel had in his first full season in 2011, when the then-Braves closer had a league-high 46 saves and 127 strikeouts in 77 innings and was National League Rookie of the Year and finished ninth in Cy Young Award balloting.

“(Minter) has got a chance of being special, Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “Coming to camp now he’s healthy, he had a normal offseason where he wasn’t rehabbing any kind of an injury. And I think that’s big for these guys once they go through that, to have an offseason where just getting healthy isn’t the focus, they can train and get themselves ready. 

“This kid has a chance of being a really big part of our bullpen if he’s healthy and can handle that normal major league load. ... He’s got a chance of just being really electric.”

Kimbrel has built a stunning 14.8 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate for his entire career, including 16.4 last season for Boston in his seventh full major league season and fifth All-Star season.

Is Minter ready to maintain for a full season anything close to the torrid strikeout pace he had in his late-season call-up? We’ll find out 2018 because there’s no doubt the lefty from Tyler, Texas, will have a crucial role in the Braves’ bullpen provided he stays healthy.

“As I’ve played baseball for a while now, I learned there’s a lot of things you can’t control,” Minter said about his strikeout rate. “Once that ball leaves my hand, I can’t control what the hitter does. The only thing I can control is throwing strikes, and to keep it super-simple I try to keep my walks down. That’s the only thing I can control. Keep my walks down and I should be in a good place.”

Minter reported to spring training this week fit and eager to get started.

“It helps out tremendously,” he said of last year’s major league call-up. “I’m really just picking up where I left off. That’s the plan. Felt good going into the offseason. My main goal is not really trying to do too much, just stay healthy, that’s about it. Just really looking forward to getting back to it.”

Minter was a second-round pick by the Braves in the 2015 draft out of Texas A&M, and likely would’ve been a first-round pick if he weren’t recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery at the time. He didn’t pitch until 2016, when the Braves kept him on a conservative plan with plenty of rest between appearances and he dominated to the tune of a 1.30 ERA with 47 strikeouts and no homers allowed in 34 2/3 innings.

He went to 2017 spring training with hopes of winning a major-league roster spot. But an inflamed nerve near his pitching elbow during sprint training quashed that possibility, and a strained adductor (groin) muscle in April caused him to miss two months of the minor league season and led the Braves to be cautious again with his workload once he returned.

After pitching at four different minor league levels last season and getting his strength back following the long injury rehab, Minter took advantage of his first major league opportunity, producing a better ERA and strikeout rate than he had in the minors during 2017. 

Now he’s back in big-league camp, ready for his first schedule of Grapefruit League games and eager to show he can handle a full workload. Minter looks a little stronger in the upper body but said more of his offseason work was focused on his legs, which were already muscular and not resemble tree trunks.

Yes, he spent plenty of time in a gym back home in Texas this winter.

“I did, but it was more smart lifting than anything, not trying to get too big,” he said. “Trying to fix the groin where I got hurt last year, trying to get the lower half strong.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Atlanta Braves

Gohara goes on bereavement list, Wisler recalled
Gohara goes on bereavement list, Wisler recalled

The Braves placed left-hander Luiz Gohara on the bereavement list as planned Friday and recalled right-hander Matt Wisler from Triple-A Gwinnett. Gohara traveled to Brazil to spend some time with his mother, who is recovering from heart surgery. He can spend from three to seven days on the bereavement list, per Major League Baseball rules. The 21-year-old...
Watch: What a difference a year makes for the Braves
Watch: What a difference a year makes for the Braves

On May 24, 2017, a year ago, the Braves lost to the Pirates and fell to 20-24. Freddie Freeman had a fractured wrist and was on the disabled list and the Braves’ infield that day included Matt Adams at first base, Brandon Phillips at second base, Jace Peterson at shortstop and Rio Ruiz at third base. Things sure have changed. The Braves are 29-19...
Gabe Kapler had a plan for Braves offense - and it worked
Gabe Kapler had a plan for Braves offense - and it worked

Gabe Kapler said he had a plan against the Braves’ “dangerous lineup,” and whatever his Phillies executed worked. Kapler’s first series as a manager, the opening three games of the season against the Braves, went so poorly some were questioning if he would make it past the All-Star break. On May 24, he has the Phillies a half-game...
Luiz Gohara gets mixed results in emotional first start
Luiz Gohara gets mixed results in emotional first start

Luiz Gohara’s first start of the season was brief, but meaningful. Gohara pitched four innings, allowing two runs, striking out six and walking four in a 4-0 road loss to the Phillies on Wednesday. He exited after 78 pitches. “I felt pretty good since the first inning to the last inning,” he said. “Just competing and doing my...
What Braves said after losing series in Philadelphia
What Braves said after losing series in Philadelphia

The Braves couldn’t solve the Phillies’ pitching in three games at Citizens Bank Park this week. They were shut out for the second time in three nights, with Jake Arrieta and the Phillies winning 4-0 Wednesday to take two out of three. The Braves scored three runs in the series, all of which came on Tuesday night. Here’s what the...
More Stories