Atlanta Braves pitcher A.J. Minter throws to loosen up his arm during the first full squad workout on Saturday Feb. 18, 2017, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

A.J. Minter finding early success in Braves bullpen

A.J. Minter, the 24-year-old flame-throwing lefty that some peg the Braves’ eventual closer, has something to prove to his coaches. 

Minter has been in the bullpen since Aug. 23. He debuted that night against the Mariners, striking out two in a perfect inning. 

“After that first one, it’s just like baseball again,” Minter said. “It’s definitely routine, finding it and just sticking with it.” 

Whatever routine Minter has adopted is working. He’s retired 11 of the past 12 batters he’s faced. He’s focused on not giving free bases; he’s seen how walks have hurt some of his starter counterparts. Minter hasn’t issued a walk in his six appearances. 

At the same time, he doesn’t pitch timidly. Minter’s mission is to stay aggressive and attack the strike zone. He has seven strikeouts in six innings. 

Helping Minter’s cause, he said, is familiarity with who’s behind him. Minter knows Johan Camargo, Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies from their not-too-distant minor-league days. 

“It’s weird now because you’ve got Camargo, Dansby and Ozzie,” he said. “I’ve played with those guys in Double-A, Triple-A the past year and a half now. So I definitely feel comfortable with them. It’s exciting to see all the young guys play. 

“It’s just chemistry. That’s all it is. That’s what great baseball teams have. And it’s definitely awesome to see everyone come together now, like I said, playing the last few years together and everyone coming up at the same time. It’s fun to see.” 

Trailing 1-0 in the sixth inning of an Aug. 27 game against the Rockies, Mark Reynolds took Minter deep, leading to a 3-0 Colorado win. Braves manager Brian Snitker knows Minter – and the other growing prospects – will have those moments. The key is to let them battle through them. 

“It’s why we’ve got him up here,” Snitker said. “He’s going to go out there and he’s like all the rest of them. He’s going to learn as he’s out there. He’s got really good stuff. He’s not afraid. You can tell he’s not afraid to go after guys. It’ll be a learning curve, but you like what you see out of him.” 

His manager’s trust means a lot to Minter. 

“I think it’s just having faith in the coaching staff putting me in situations where they know that I’m going to succeed,” he said. “Just having confidence in me just going out and executing my job. That’s what they’re relying on me to do, get the guys off the field, into the dugout so they can hit.” 

Minter wants to use this month to soak up all he can. He wants to be a player the next group of rookie Braves can turn to and learn from.  

“It’s an exciting time to be a Brave; we have a lot of excitement going on,” he said. 

And with Minter in the fold, the next question is his role as those future Braves come up. There isn’t a clear-cut closer on the roster, and while the system is stacked with starters, there hasn’t been an obvious closer candidate to emerge.

Minter knows there’s been chatter he could be the closer at some point. As most athletes tend to say, he’s not focused on factors out of his control. But he knows to earn it, he’ll have to win over his coaches. 

“I just want to help this team out anyway possible,” Minter said. “Whether it’s coming in to face a left-handed hitter or closing a game out. I’ll let (pitching coach) Chuck (Hernandez) and Snit make that decision. I just have to do everything I can to prove to them that I want to be in those situations.”

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