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High-octane heat has Minter in line for 'pen role

MLB.com @mlbbowman

ATLANTA -- A.J. Minter's sample size is small. But given his tremendous potential, it still seems appropriate to point out that during his brief time at the Major League level last year, he produced strikeout rates never previously matched by any reliever who has tallied at least 15 innings during a rookie season.

Minter will be among the many young talented arms who will be present as Braves pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training by Tuesday and complete their first workout on Wednesday. Many of the position players will arrive long before the first full-squad workout, which will take place exactly four days before the team hits the road to open the Grapefruit League season on Feb. 23 against the Mets.

ATLANTA -- A.J. Minter's sample size is small. But given his tremendous potential, it still seems appropriate to point out that during his brief time at the Major League level last year, he produced strikeout rates never previously matched by any reliever who has tallied at least 15 innings during a rookie season.

Minter will be among the many young talented arms who will be present as Braves pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training by Tuesday and complete their first workout on Wednesday. Many of the position players will arrive long before the first full-squad workout, which will take place exactly four days before the team hits the road to open the Grapefruit League season on Feb. 23 against the Mets.

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Much of the focus in Braves' camp will center around Ronald Acuna, the 20-year-old outfielder who ranks second on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects List. Six of Atlanta's seven other representatives on this distinguished list will also be in big league camp. This includes LHP Kolby Allard, RHP Kyle Wright, RHP Mike Soroka, LHP Luiz Gohara, LHP Max Fried and 3B Austin Riley.

Though Minter is not included within this list, he certainly showed his potential last year as he displayed why he has been considered the best relief-pitching prospect the Braves have produced since Craig Kimbrel. The stocky southpaw arrived in Atlanta in late August and ended up posting a 3.00 ERA over 15 innings. He showed great control with his fastball-slider repertoire as he recorded 26 strikeouts and issued just two walks.

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Though the sample size is small, it's worth noting where his rates ranked among all-time rookies and some of the game's top relievers. Minter produced a 15.60 K/9 rate, struck out 43.3 percent of the batters faced and constructed a 13.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio. No other pitcher in Major League history matched any of these numbers while completing at least 15 innings during a rookie season.

Among all relievers who completed at least 15 innings last year, he ranked second to Kimbrel (16.43, 49.9 percent) in strikeouts per nine innings and strikeout percentage. He also ranked second to Kenley Jansen (15.57) with his strikeout-to-walk ratio.

After surrendering three hits, including Mark Reynolds' two-run homer, in the second appearance of his career on Aug. 27 vs. the Rockies, Minter limited opponents to a .208 batting average and .240 on-base percentage. He struck out 23 of the 50 batters he faced to cap the season, including 17 of the last 31.

Taken in the second round of the 2015 Draft out of Texas A&M, Minter spent his first professional season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. He produced dominant numbers as he worked a moderated schedule at three different Minor League levels in '16 and came to camp last year with aspirations of being on Atlanta's Opening Day roster.

Minter's bid ended when he was sidelined throughout Spring Training with an inflamed nerve in his left elbow. He then sustained an adductor strain in April and was sidelined for nearly two months with that leg ailment. He hasn't yet been given a chance to pitch back-to-back days on a consistent basis, but he may be given more opportunities this year, as he'll likely begin the season as a primary setup man.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.

Atlanta Braves, A.J. Minter