Atlanta Braves relief pitcher Luke Jackson throws to a Washington Nationals batter during the ninth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in Washington. Atlanta won 11-8. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

680 THE FAN, ATLANTA – As we inch closer and closer to the start of the regular season, one of the Braves biggest strengths this year figures to be the depth of their bullpen. Even with Will Smith unavailable to this point, the club has a number of options when it comes to where they’ll turn in high leverage situations, including the eighth and ninth innings. Mark Melancon will handle the duties in the ninth with Shane Greene likely serving as his eighth inning setup man. Chris Martin would likely fill the seventh inning role with last season’s closer, Luke Jackson, finding himself as one of the first options in relief. But, with Will Smith’s status still TBD, there’s another lefty very quietly putting together a solid Summer Camp.

26 year old southpaw AJ Minter has been extremely impressive over the last few weeks of intrasquad action. Primarily known for his fastball that sits in the mid 90’s and cutter in the low 90’s, Minter has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency over the last two seasons. When he’s at his best, he can flat out dominate. All you need to do is look back to 2017 to see the numbers that are off the charts impressive. In 16 appearances at the Big League level three years ago, Minter struck out 26 batters in just 15 innings with only TWO walks! Flash forward to last season, a year that saw him spend the majority of his time in Gwinnett, after issuing 23 free passes in 29.1 innings with 35 strikeouts. But perhaps the biggest difference for Minter in 2020 is the usage of his changeup. Without that third pitch, in years past, hitters could just sit on the hard stuff. Now that he can drop down and throw that changeup in the mid 80’s, it’s got a chance to be a game changer for the former second round pick out of Texas A&M.

Again, with just three days to go, while the team hasn’t ruled him officially out, it’s all but certain the season will move forward without Will Smith. But Brian Snitker, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and everybody involved have to feel that much better about their chances if Minter can keep up what we’ve seen of late. The game of baseball is all about opportunities. And Minter just may have just stumbled upon a golden one…one he never could’ve seen coming just a few short weeks ago.

Kevin McAlpin has covered the Braves since 2012 for @680TheFan and the @BravesRadioNet.

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