The 2013 season marks the fifth in the brief history of the Gwinnett Braves Baseball Club. To honor that milestone, GwinnettBraves.com will feature some of the great players from the previous four seasons of G-Braves baseball on "5th Season Friday." The feature will run each Friday until Opening Night on April 4.
Friday, March 1: Stefan Gartrell
In the first four seasons of Gwinnett Braves baseball, no player has slow-trotted around the bases more than Stefan Gartrell. The 6-foot-3 masher from San Francisco joined the G-Braves via trade in 2011 and went on to hit a franchise-high 45 home runs over a nearly two-year span. Not only had Gartrell been a threat to lift off in each at-bat, he also was one of Gwinnett's most acclaimed run producers, driving in 146 RBI over 238 games.
Gartrell's path through the minors has always included power and potential. Selected in the 31st round of the 2006 Draft out of the University of San Francisco by the Chicago White Sox, he recorded three double digit homer seasons as he climbed the organizational ladder. In his sophomore season with Advanced-A Kannapolis in 2007, Gartrell hit .301 with 20 doubles, 12 home runs and 57 RBI over 95 games. Over parts of his next two seasons with Double-A Birmingham, he combined to bat .269 with 42 doubles, 33 home runs and 122 RBI. By the end of 2009, he joined up with Triple-A Charlotte for the first time and added four more blasts and 19 additional RBI to his already impressive season.
A year later, Gartrell truly enjoyed his breakout success. In 139 games with Charlotte in 2010, he launched a career-high 27 home runs while driving in 80 runs and hitting .255. Those solid power numbers also came with a downside - a league-high 152 strikeouts - that ultimately earned him a return trip to Charlotte in 2011.
Seven games into the season, he was given a change of scenery. On April 15, Gartrell came over to the Braves from the White Sox in exchange for cash considerations. He immediately joined Gwinnett and made his debut for the club on April 16 at Durham, going 1-for-3 in a 1-0 loss. A game later he made the first steps to win over his new teammates, going 2-for-6 with three RBI in an 18-7 beatdown of the Bulls.
Gartrell mostly struggled through April with Gwinnett but took off in May, hitting .345 with 11 doubles, five homers and 20 RBI. His OPS in his first full month as a G-Brave was a staggering 1.003. The newest addition to the Gwinnett offense now became its most celebrated, as he was named the team's Player of the Month for May by the Braves organization.
He'd never quite recapture the same success in the following months, but steady production continued to be Gartrell's hallmark. In June, he hit .250 with eight homers and a season-high 26 RBI, including a four-hit, two-clout, five-RBI effort on June 4 vs. Buffalo. The pair of blasts, both two-run shots off Bisons starter Pat Misch, marked his first multi-homer game as a G-Brave and raised his season total to 10. On June 16 vs. Durham, he again reached the five-RBI mark with a 3-for-5 game that included a three-run bomb, his 13th of the year.
Gartrell entered the Triple-A All-Star Break with 18 total home runs and 59 RBI, garnering him International League All-Star status. A natural selection for the Triple-A All-Star Home Run Derby on July 11, he became the first G-Braves representative to win the contest as he battered Salt Lake City's Spring Mobile Ballpark with 16 total home runs. Seven came in the final round as he outlasted the field of IL and Pacific Coast League stars.
Following his All-Star display, Gartrell got back to work for a Gwinnett club chasing the IL Wild Card spot. On July 18, he slugged two homers for the fourth time on the year and drove in four, leading a 5-2 win over Louisville. The game brought his season total to 20 home runs, giving him at least 20 for the third-straight season. Before the four-game set with the Bats was over, he'd leave Coolray Field twice more to raise his IL-leading total to 22.
Gartrell hit only .237 with three homers and 19 RBI in August and September, yet still finished near the top of the International League in most offensive categories. His combined efforts between Charlotte and Gwinnett made him the league's RBI leader (94 total), while his 26 homers ranked second only to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Jorge Vazquez (32 HR). Gartrell finished third in extra-base hits (58) and fifth in total bases (229) as he went on to earn IL postseason All-Star honors alongside teammate Julio Teheran.
Yet, all of his 2011 accolades didn't amount to a Major League debut. He'd return to Gwinnett a year later for his third-straight season in Triple-A.
Gartrell didn't pull off quite the same campaign with Gwinnett in 2012, but was still one of the most feared power hitters in the circuit. With first baseman Ernesto Mejia enjoying a Rookie of the Year caliber season and drawing most of the focus, Gartrell quietly produced his fourth-straight 20-homer season. He hit a respectable .251, but saw his RBI chances diminish behind Mejia and totaled just 55 RBI for the year.
His 2012 season wasn't without numerous highlights. On April 11 at Norfolk, he connected on a three-run homer - his first of the year - and drove in four to lead Gwinnett's stunning 14-12 comeback win over the Tides. Nearly a month later, he socked a two-run walk-off homer over the brick wall in left to beat Buffalo 5-3 on May 10. May again proved to be a hot month for Gartrell as he hit .333 with an astounding 10 home runs and 23 RBI to lead the first-place G-Braves. For the mighty effort, he was named the Topps International League Player of the Month for May.
The bright season would eventually turn on the G-Braves, and so too Gartrell. An inconsistent finish would cost him a shot at another IL postseason All-Star award, but wouldn't keep him out of Gwinnett fans' thoughts in August. In a special pregame ceremony at Coolray Field on August 30, Gartrell was presented with the team's "Fan Favorite" award.
At age 29, Gartrell appears to have come full circle in his career. After electing free agency this off-season, he signed a minor league deal with the Chicago White Sox, the team that drafted him way back in 2006. Though not a member of the 40-man roster, he's still getting a look in Major League camp as a non-roster invitee. Time will tell if 2013 is finally the year Gartrell breaks through to the big leagues, but regardless, he'll continue to live on as the greatest power threat over Gwinnett's first four seasons.
The Gwinnett Braves are honoring five great former players during Season Five in 2013 with the Alumni Bobblehead Series! Collect bobbleheads of Brandon Beachy (4/6), Freddie Freeman (5/18), Jason Heyward (6/22), Kris Medlen (7/6) and Craig Kimbrel (8/10)! Want to secure your tickets to all five G-Braves Alumni Bobblehead dates? Purchase the Bobblehead 5-Pack starting at just $50 today!