A.J. Minter put together the type of season we thought he was capable of – and there is still plenty of room to grow for him. The Braves made him the 75th pick overall in the 2015 draft despite an arm injury keeping him out most of the 2015 season. In 2016, Minter moved quickly through the minors going from A-ball to Double-A in just 13 games. It was in his first stint in AA where Minter showcased the arsenal that could keep even the most polished hitters unbalanced as he appeared in 18 games, had a 15 K/9, 2.89 BB/9, 2.41 ERA, and 0.96 FIP.
The Braves made sure to work Minter back slowly from his arm injury as he didn’t play in back to back games for quite some time. In 2017 Minter pitched in nine games before he found himself in Gwinnett where he struggled with command (5.87 BB/9) but got the call up to the majors where he was absolutely dynamite – 0-1, 3.00 ERA, 15.6 K/9, 1.2 BB/9, 0.96 FIP, 1.000 WHIP. It was because of this display that many expected Minter to make the big league team in 2018 and be a big contributor, and he did not disappoint.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? Minter appeared in 65 (!!) games in 2018 where he had a 3.23 ERA, 2.72 FIP, 10.1 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, and 1.288 WHIP. He also picked up 15 saves on the season as well. While his numbers weren’t quite ripped from a videogame (79 ERA-, 67 FIP-, 89 xFIP- are good but not the sorts of ridiculous reliever numbers we see these days), they were still some of the best in baseball. Among all relievers qualified for end-of-season awards (151 of them), Minter finished 23rd in fWAR and 29th in FIP-, and 25th in WPA. He was occasionally shaky, especially later in the year (mediocre July, negative WPA in August and September thanks to some really bad blown games), but he was so dominant early in the year that his numbers could weather the hiccups.
Will he be on the roster in 2019? He will absolutely make the big league team in 2019, assuming he stays healthy.
What is he going to do next year? I expect Minter to reduce the walks, his 3.2 BB/9 walk rate was the highest of his career outside of a 9 inning stint in 2016, and put his name among the NL’s elite in the bullpen. Minter is kind of a strange case overall (two pitches, not much movement, extreme velocity, tends to miss over the plate a lot despite the walks) but has already had some very strong results without everything going right. If he can continue to throw hard enough to keep hitters from teeing off even when they do make contact (see his 67 FIP- versus his 89 xFIP-), and stay healthy, he should continue to be a highly-quality contributor in a bullpen with a ton of question marks.
Highlight of 2018: He had plenty of highlights this season but if I had to choose one – his perfect inning of work on April 11th where he struck out the side against the Washington Nationals. He also had a pretty impressive outing in Cincinnati on April 25, slamming the door on Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, and eventual Brave Adam Duvall in 11 pitches to preserve a one-run lead.
Lowlight of 2018: As stated, Minter had a definite share of shaky or downright awful outings. One was on July 10th – 0.1 IP 3H 4R 3ER 0BB 0K. He came into a tie game, and with two errors leading off the inning, he got one out and then allowed three straight singles to basically sink the Braves. Shane Carle didn’t help either, allowing two doubles and putting the game out of reach, but Minter didn’t help matters much either. And, of course, there was the game that shall not be discussed any further, featuring a Brandon Phillips game-winning home run and a lot of cursing.