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A.J. Minter, Akeel Morris should see increased role in 2018

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Minter and Morris look like they are ready for prominent roles in Atlanta’s bullpen

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We wrap up our review of Atlanta’s bullpen with a look at five players, who some of which, could see a much bigger role in 2018.

A.J. Minter

A.J. Minter 2017 Projections/Stats

Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
A.J. Minter (ZiPs) 1 0 3.48 33 33.7 11.23 3.74 3.53 0.3
A.J. Minter (AAA) 1 2 4.70 17 15.1 9.98 5.87 3.92
A.J Minter (MLB) 0 1 3.00 16 15.0 15.60 1.20 0.96 0.6

A.J. Minter made a late appearance in the Braves’ bullpen in 2017 but could become a major piece as soon as next season. Minter worked his way back from a groin strain that sidelined him to start the season. He initially struggled with his control at Gwinnett but settled in before getting the call to the majors.

Once in Atlanta, Minter showed the potential of a late-inning option striking out 26 over just 15 innings. He walked just two batters over 16 appearances and became the first Braves pitcher in the modern era to not issue a walk in his first 13 games. In the majors, Minter only faced 60 batters in his 15 innings of work, but you can’t say enough about how ridiculous he was in those outings. He struck out 43.3 percent of the batters he faced, and walked just 3.3 percent. The only pitcher with a higher strikeout rate? Craig Kimbrel. Only eight pitchers had a lower walk rate. Kimbrel was the only pitcher with a better K%-BB%, Kenley Jansen was the only pitcher with a better K/BB ratio. A.J. Minter, guys. He’s awesome. (Also, his 0.96 FIP and 1.63 xFIP, along with 0.6 fWAR in just 15 innings are pretty amazing.)

It will be interesting to see how the Braves handle Minter next season. He pitched 34.2 innings in 2016 and 39.1 last season. If he can stay healthy, he will see an increase in workload and figures to be a prominent fixture in Atlanta’s bullpen going forward.

Akeel Morris

Akeel Morris 2017 Projections/Stats

Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Akeel Morris (ZiPs) 3 3 4.30 49 58.7 11.51 6.14 4.56 -0.2
Akeel Morris (AAA) 1 3 3.09 30 46.2 10.22 4.44 3.44
Akeel Morris (MLB) 0 0 1.23 8 7.1 11.05 4.91 2.34 0.1

Akeel Morris is another reliever that figures to see an opportunity in the Braves’ bullpen next season. Morris has a solid fastball/changeup combination and posted a 3.44 FIP in 46.1 innings at Triple-A. He struck out 10.22 per nine innings and was able to reduce his walk rate from his 2016 numbers.

Morris had just a short stint with the Braves allowing one earned run in 7.1 innings. Interestingly enough, he was not a part of the team’s September roster additions.

The exclusion of Morris from the roster for most of the season was one of the year’s more puzzling narratives; it felt like Morris should have received more of an opportunity in 2017 especially given Atlanta’s bullpen struggles. Still, he should go to Spring Training with a reasonable opportunity to secure a spot in the 2018 pen. Unless, well, the Braves decide to snub him again.

Jason Hursh

Jason Hursh 2017 Projections/Stats

Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Jason Hursh (ZiPs) 3 4 4.57 56 69 6.26 4.04 4.60 -0.4
Jason Hursh (AAA) 3 4 5.50 28 37.2 9.80 2.87 3.23
Jason Hursh (MLB) 1 0 5.06 9 10.2 5.91 3.38 4.47 0.0

While Morris’ opportunity has yet to come, you have to wonder if Jason Hursh is running out of time. Hursh put up mediocre numbers in 28 games at Triple-A although his peripherals were much better. He posted a 5.50 ERA at Gwinnett but recorded a FIP of 3.23 and an xFIP of 2.94.

However, it didn’t translate to much success in his short stint with the Braves, where he allowed six earned runs in 10.2 innings. Still most of his work in the majors came in a mop up role. Hursh was sent back to Gwinnett on August 30 and, like Morris, was not a part of the team’s September roster additions. Hursh has now pitched in parts of three seasons in AAA, and seems an unlikely bet for next year’s bullpen unless a rash of injuries occurs.

Daniel Winkler

Daniel Winkler

Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Daniel Winkler 1 1 2.51 16 14.1 11.30 3.77 2.81 0.3

Daniel Winkler worked his way back from injury again returning to the majors for the first time since April of 2016. Winkler was solid in a short stint in Atlanta’s bullpen over the final few weeks of the regular season. He appeared in 16 games allowing four runs over 14.1 innings. Winkler had a scoreless outing in 13 of his 16 appearances and held opposing hitters to a .152 average.

Winkler is arbitration eligible this offseason despite appearing in just 21 games for Atlanta. If he can stay healthy, Winkler looks deserving of a chance to prove that he can be a reliable option. The Braves have already invested a lot in him and you have to like his resolve in battling back from injury. Still, the bullpen will be a major area of focus and a numbers game could develop. Health aside, though, Winkler should have a leg up in said numbers game: his stats are a 2.95 ERA, 3.97 FIP, and 3.35 xFIP in the majors despite the injury issues, and he’s struck out over a third of the batters he’s faced. The walks need to come down, but he seems like a promising middle relief option at worst, assuming he can stay on the field.

Rex Brothers

Rex Brothers 2017 Projections/Stats

Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Name W L ERA Gm IP K/9 BB/9 FIP WAR
Rex Brothers (AAA) 0 0 2.57 7 7.0 10.29 1.29 1.48
Rex Brothers (MLB) 4 3 7.23 27 23.2 12.55 4.56 3.66

Brothers signed with the Braves in February of 2017 after being released by the Cubs. He posted good numbers in a short stint at Triple-A before being promoted to the majors. After his promotion, he had mixed results with an ugly ERA of 7.23 in 23.2 innings. Still he had some solid peripheral numbers with a 3.66 FIP and a 3.60 xFIP.

A large part of his mixed bag of results was his usage. Brothers had a 2.46 FIP / 2.22 xFIP against lefties in 2017, but a much worse 4.55 FIP and 4.60 xFIP. He’s been better (like most lefties) when he’s had the platoon advantage in his career, yet he faced 64 righties to 41 lefties this past season. His stats would probably have been much better had he been limited to facing lefties, but with the Braves not playing many competitive games down the stretch, you can see how his usage wasn’t quite by-the-book.

At times Brothers looked like he was still working his way back from injury which is why I am including him in this post. The fastball velocity was there but the command was lacking. There is a scenario where Brothers gets a chance in Spring Training to make an impact. But, the Braves could also move on and let someone else take a chance on his continued recovery, as Brothers will be more expensive than their other options but does not necessarily offer more of a sure thing for solid relief production.