Braves’ A.J. Minter has heard the hype, and it’s not changing a thing

Relief prospect A.J. Minter (right) earned his first spring training invitation after posting a 1.30 ERA and .149 batting average against in 2016.
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KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A.J. Minter is well aware of the buzz he’s created on social media since his breakout first season in the Braves organization.

But buying into it is another thing entirely.

“You see it out there, but you can’t pay attention to it,” the rising left-handed relief prospect said as he enjoys his first taste of major-league spring training.

Turning a blind eye would be a chore, though, with this kind of hype:

That’s just a sample of what’s followed the 23-year-old Texas A&M product after he posted a combined 1.30 ERA, .149 batting average against and 47 strikeouts to 11 walks over 34 2/3 innings at Class-A Rome, Class-A Advanced Carolina and Double-A Mississippi:

In all, Minter — taken with the 75th selection in the 2015 MLB draft — allowed five earned runs in 31 appearances, and four of those game in just one game.

He didn’t allow a single run in 6 2/3 innings over five games in Rome, then had 9 1/3 scoreless innings in Carolina before debuting in Mississippi on July 9. Minter gave up one run in his first game at Double-A, but that would be it over it over his initial 15 innings.

The only hiccup along the way was yielding four runs on two hits with a pair of walks on Aug. 24 at Biloxi.

“I had a great season,” Minter said, “couldn’t have asked for a better year.”

It landed him his first trip to spring training as a non-roster invitee, and further reminder that the Braves got a steal when they grabbed him with the final pick of Day 1 of the 2015 draft.

Atlanta had viewed Minter as a potential first-round pick before he underwent Tommy John surgery in March of that year. Said Braves scouting director Brian Bridges the night of the draft, “He’s a strike-thrower. One of our scouts saw him at 94-96 mph for six innings before he got hurt.”

Now, he’s hitting 98 and 99 at his peak, the result of Minter getting back to basics during his rehab. Unable to compete, he figured he’d take full advantage and rebuilt his mechanics from the ground up.

“I feel like that really paid off for me, going into the year just keeping it super-simple,” he said. “Get ahead in the count, command my fastball and work off my secondary pitches.”

Super-simple was what he’d learned from Aggies coach Rob Childress, the two-time SEC Coach of the Year and who has seen 22 of his pitchers selected in the first 14 rounds of the MLB draft since 2006.

“His philosophy was keep it super-simple,” Minter said. “That’s what pitching is. If you get outside yourself you’re going to get in trouble. Just working off your strengths and working on your weaknesses. That’s all your can really do.”

That’s a similar mindset that Minter brings with him this spring.

He opened eyes within the Braves organization with those gaudy 2016 figures and landed himself a spot at camp. He also earned the praise of Atlanta president of baseball operations John Hart, who at MLB’s Winter Meetings said he believes Minter could reach the majors in ’17.

The Braves do have closer Jim Johnson, who saved 20 games last season, under contract through 2018, and more options with Arodys Vizcaino (a combined 19 saves in ’15 and ’16) and flamethrower Mauricio Cabrera (2.82 ERA over 38 1/3 innings). So Minter isn’t putting too much pressure on his time at spring training, or what it could potentially turn into as the season progresses.

“I look at is as just be who I am,” he said. “Remember to just go out there and breathe. It’s just baseball. … Now I’m asked to just do what I did last year, go out and compete, throw strikes and do my job. Every thing else will take care of itself.

“I can only control what I can control and have to put trust in the front office and let them make a decision.”

Manager Brian Snitker noted he’s only seen Minter throw a couple of side sessions on the backfields of the team’s Disney complex so far. He is, however, more than aware of an arm whose exploits preceded his arrival at camp.

“He’s an impressive kid to watch and talk to and how he goes about it,” Snitker said. “Just listening to the guys who had him last year, there’s a lot of positives around this kid.”

And, yes, hype. But Minter points out 2016, and those mind-boggling numbers are in the past.

“This is a new year and I have to go out there and prove myself all over again,” he said.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney and Facebook. His books, ‘Tales from the Atlanta Braves Dugout: A Collection of the Greatest Braves Stories Ever Told,’ and ‘The Heisman Trophy: The Story of an American Icon and Its Winners.’ are now available.