The next wave of Braves power arms has begun to make its way to the big leagues, with another arriving Wednesday when the Braves called up hard-throwing left-handed relief prospect A.J. Minter from Triple-A Gwinnett.
He joined the team in time for its pregame workout before Wednesday night’s game against the Mariners.
Minter had a 3.36 ERA in 26 relief appearances at three minor league levels this season, with 30 strikeouts and 12 walks in 24 1/3 innings. He was expected to contend for a major league bullpen spot sooner, but was slowed early by inflammation of nerves near his pitching elbow during spring training and a strained adductor (groin) muscle at Single-A Florida.
In 17 appearances at Triple-A, Minter had an unimpressive 4.70 ERA, .259 opponents’ average and 1.63 WHIP (walks-plus-hits per inning pitched), with 17 strikeouts and 10 walks in 15 1/3 innings. What that doesn’t reflect is the significant progress he made in recent weeks.
In a nine-appearance stretch through Monday (his last appearance before the call-up) in which he allowed just one run and four hits in nine innings, with six walks and nine strikeouts.
Minter had a .416 opponents’ OPS with one run allowed in nine innings over his last nine appearances, a .118 opponents’ average in six scoreless August appearances, and he collected five strikeouts with one walk in 2 2/3 innings over his final three games before the call from the big club.
“Looking at the game reports at all, the velocity’s up and the whole thing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I haven’t seen much of him. (Braves pitching coach Chuck Hernandez) is in tune with all that because he saw him a lot last year, and he’d be making comments about, ‘He’s starting to get there, he’s starting to get there.’
“What little I saw last year and I just watched some live BP (batting practices) and I was like, my God, I don’t know how guys hit him. And talking to guys who played with him last year, they were like, this guy is something else. So we’ll see.”
Minter, who’ll turn 24 on Sept. 2, was a second-round draft pick out of Texas A&M in 2015,and likely would’ve been a first-rounder if he weren’t recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery at the time. With a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and devastating slider, he was projected as a potential future major league closer and was dominant in his first minor league season in 2016, posting a 1.30 ERA and 0.837 WHIP across three levels while striking out 47 and walking 11 in 34 2/3 innings.
But he was used cautiously in that first season coming back from elbow surgery, with the Braves usually giving him a couple of days rest between appearances. They wanted to see him operate on a more normal relief schedule this season before bringing him to the majors, and the early-season elbow issues slowed that process.
Sending Fried back to Gwinnett wasn’t an indication of how his first major league call-up went this month. Fried is a top starting-pitching prospect and will move back into the Gwinnett rotation after getting a taste of the major with the Braves via four relief appearances in his first stint in the majors.