A.J. Minter’s Climb is Complete

A.J. Minter’s Climb is Complete

We can thank J.B. Moss for this freak out.

Moss, a former Braves farmhand who was released earlier this season just a year after being selected in the seventh round, took to twitter last night to say this:

It did not take long for Braves fans to make a connection. Before he was drafted by the Braves, Moss was a big part – when healthy of the Texas A&M baseball program. In 2015, Moss played in 52 games for the #13th ranked Aggies. Also on that team, before he went down with injury, was A.J. Minter. He was dominant over four starts in what was supposed to be a big move to the rotation after 40 K’s in 37.1 relief innings the previous two years.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Shawna L. Keyes

That injury I spoke of? Of course, it’s the Braves so you know what follows an injury to a pitcher – Tommy John surgery. It quickly eliminated of any hope of Minter being a first round selection, but the Braves were still very interested in the lefty. Brian Bridges, the Braves scouting director, was interested in Minter with the #28 pick before the injury. Ultimately, they grabbed Mike Soroka there. When their competitive balance draft choice, the #75th overall selection came around – a pick they gained by trading outfield prospect Victor Reyes to the Diamondbacks at the start of the season that year – the Braves could wait no longer. In addition to Soroka, they had selected prep stars Kolby Allard, Austin Riley, and Lucas Herbert. Now, they were getting the cherry on the top – Alex Jordan Minter.

The Braves knew Minter’s 2015 was done. But while they figured their top selections would need plenty of time to mature and develop, Minter was seen as a guy who could shoot up the system once healthy. There was some internal debate whether he projected better as a starter or reliever. Much of that depended on a changeup that was fringy at best. Perhaps it wasn’t a bad pitch, but when your heater and slider are that good (and they are), any average pitch will look that much worse. Less than two weeks after his selection, Minter signed for $814,300, or the assigned slot for the #75th pick.

There was a great deal of anticipation related to Minter’s debut. The 2015 draft class was shaping up as the Braves’ top class in years and that was before Minter had thrown a pitch. Atlanta refused to push the kid, though, and even though he made his debut on May 5 of last year with Rome and stayed healthy throughout the year, Minter would only pitch 31 times between that first game and the end of the season. He never had less than two days between games and threw over 20 pitches just seven times. Nevertheless, Minter flashed the potential that made Bridges want to spend a high-value first rounder on him before his injury. With Rome, he toyed with the South Atlantic hitters, allowing just two hits, a walk, and striking out six over 6.2 innings. After just a handful of games, he received his first promotion. It wouldn’t be his last of the year.

With Carolina, Minter continued to show that he was too advanced for A-ball. Over eight games and 9.1 innings, he gave up just three hits and walked four. In the process, he struck out ten. With 13 games in the tank and 16 innings overall, Minter had not allowed an extra-base hit, walked just five batters, and struck out 16. He retired his Mudcats jersey and took his talents to Pearl, Mississippi. Finally, Minter was given at least a challenge. He gave up a double and a run in his second outing. On August 24, he had his worst outing of the year, surrendering four runs on two singles and two walks while failing to finish at least one inning of work for the first time all year. Those two outings were the only times all season he was scored upon. In 18 games with Mississippi, he gave up those five runs and walked six, but struck out 31. He went on a strikeout binge between July 9 and July 18. He faced 15 batters. Only one of them got a hit (that double I mentioned earlier). All 12 outs were recorded via the strikeout.

It was the kind of dominance that makes everyone sit up and notice you. As season previews were penned about the Braves 2017 bullpen, Minter was often mentioned as an x-factor. If he pitched well in camp and earned a promotion, he could have a big impact on this year’s bullpen. However, that hope quickly turned to fear as Minter struggled with inflammation in his left arm. He was shut down after one pitching session and reported numbness in his fingers and hand. Braves fans, who have seen many of their favorite pitchers fall under the knife multiple times, feared the worse. However, the diagnosis of radial tunnel syndrome wasn’t serious and while Minter wouldn’t be in the mix for an opening day assignment with the team, once the inflammation went away, he could be back on the road to a possible debut.

He amped up his rehab and was ready for his first outing shortly after the Florida Fire Frogs inaugural season began. On April 11, Minter made his season debut with two strikeouts in a perfect inning. However, two days later, he hit the DL again with a groin strain. Some start, huh? Two months later, he returned for the Fire Frogs and tossed a perfect inning while striking out the side. Four days later, he made an appearance with Rome before returning to Florida for three more games. All told, he threw six innings in A-ball and allowed just one run on a solo shot by the Yankees fine second baseman prospect, Nick Solak. It was the first homerun Minter had given up in his career. He also struck out 10.

The next step was a three game-run with Mississippi. Over a week with the M-Braves, he added three more innings, the first two walks of the year, and three strikeouts. Finally, on July 5, he made his Triple-A debut. After an okay start, Minter ran into a four-game stretch where he gave up at least a run in each game – and six total earned runs. However, after a rough outing on July 23 (four runs, one earned, only two outs recorded), Minter did something for the first time. He pitched in a back-to-back. The next night, he retired all four batters he faced with a strikeout. In fact, since July 23, Minter has worked nine games with nine innings and nine strikeouts. The six walks in that time frame…is a bit much and uncharacteristic for Minter.

His last outing came on Monday. He threw a scoreless inning and worked around a single and a walk by striking out three batters. It was the first time he had struck-out-the-side in Triple-A.

What’s the scouting report on Minter? Since college, Minter has worked with the Braves to try to clean up his delivery. It’s a lot smoother now and he gets through the motion with much less wasted effort. He delivers out of a high 3/4’s release point and when I have seen him struggle with his mechanics, his release point has been a bit of a tell. It drops a bit too much, which leads to not just less explosive pitches, but weaker control. While his delivery is a lot cleaner than it was in college, he’s still a high-effort pitcher on the mound. This limits his ability to work beyond one frame at a time.

His heater has the great velocity you look for with consistent mid-to-upper 90’s heat. He’ll work around the plate and is not afraid to burn a fastball by a hitter up in the zone before nailing the outside corner with a low heater. It’s not just his control with the fastball that impresses, but the movement. It has a bit of natural sink and run to it which makes it difficult to barrel up. It appears he has a cut fastball, but that might be changing speeds with his fastball because the movement on the two pitches isn’t that dissimilar. What will pay the bills, though, is the slider. It has the nasty sweeping action you are looking for in a slider with good depth to it. It’s a swing-and-miss pitch that lefties throw their bats at while righties swing over the top of it as it bears down on their ankles.

Minter is a quick worker on the mound and seemingly unfazed by whatever is happening at the moment. He goes after hitters without fear and the fastball/slider combo has high-leverage inning quality.

The biggest question with Minter is his health. This is unfair to some degree because he’s young, had wonky mechanics at A&M, and got hurt. The Braves were extra careful with him as a result and the groin injury was just one of those things that happens. He could be healthy and excellent moving forward. But until he can show that, the concerns about his health will remain.

At worst, it’s hard to see Minter fail to find a role in a major league bullpen – even if it’s as only a left hand specialist. Lefties have managed just eleven hits against Minter in the minors and with his profile, it’s difficult to see major league lefties having much more success than that. Will he reach his full potential that has often included the tag, “closer-in-waiting?” It’s quite possible. With maturity, consistent mechanics, and more experience learning the art of pitching, Minter would have all the tools to be a high-leverage arm who could anchor a pen. As long as he’s able to stay on the mound, it’s all there for him. It’s going to be fun to watch.

As an aside, the Braves sent Max Fried down. He’ll likely join Gwinnett, though he could return to Mississippi. Fried struggled badly with his control in his new role as a reliever for the Braves. They got a look at him and he’ll probably return sometime in September. simply wasn’t able to find his curveball consistently, which led to some bad outings. A few starts in the minors might help him adjust once more.

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