To celebrate 25 years of Triple-A baseball in New Orleans, we are taking a look back at the best players at each position over the last quarter-century. This week, we conclude our trip around the infield with the top five shortstops.
Mark Loretta was the first player in franchise history to be named to the postseason All-Star team, earning American Association honors in 1995 after hitting .286 with 22 doubles, five triples, seven home runs and 79 RBI. Loretta began the season with back-to-back three-hit games and never slowed down, ending in a tie for second in the league with 137 hits.
Known for his exceptional batting eye, Loretta struck out just 68 times in 688 career at-bats in New Orleans. He carried that skill set into a 15-year run in the big leagues with the Brewers, Astros, Padres, Red Sox and Dodgers, which included two All-Star nods and a ninth-place finish in National League MVP voting in 2004. In more than 6,500 career plate appearance, Loretta fanned only 605 times.
The Zephyrs' starting shortstop for most of the 1998 championship season, Carlos Guillen did not get to see the September title run after the Astros included him along with Freddy Garcia and a player to be named later (John Halama) in a trading deadline deal to acquire Hall of Famer Randy Johnson from Seattle.
Before the trade, Guillen batted .291 in 100 games with 18 doubles, four triples, 12 home runs and 51 RBI. His hot streaks coincided with the team's hot streaks, as he homered in three straight games in late-April to spark a 16-9 run, and went deep in back-to-back games in July as the Zephyrs won 12 of their final 15 games with Guillen. After making his Major League debut that September, Guillen went on to collect 1,331 hits across a 14-year career, which included three All-Star bids and a top 10 finish in American League MVP voting in 2006 when he helped Detroit reach the World Series.
Adam Everett's name appears near the top of the career leaderboard in many offensive categories, earning him a place in the New Orleans Professional Baseball Hall of Fame. Everett ranks first in at-bats (1,339), runs scored (225) and triples (18) and third in hits (341), doubles (67), walks (145) and stolen bases (52).
Everett was a PCL All-Star in 2000, though his biggest accomplishment that year came on the opposite side of the world when he helped lead the United States to an Olympic gold medal in Sydney. He returned to New Orleans in 2001 and put up nearly identical numbers as the Zephyrs stormed to the league's co-championship, then debuted with Houston in September to begin an 11-year big league career.
The quintessential utility player, Jason Alfaro saw time all over the field during a pair of stints in New Orleans. Alfaro played in seven games at first base, 25 at second base, 97 at third base and 45 more in the outfield, but his most common position was shortstop, where he started 128 times.
Alfaro ranks 10th on the club's career chart with a .311 batting average, with his finest campaign coming in 2004 when he hit .325 to finish 10th in the PCL, the fifth-best single-season mark in team history. Alfaro paired a high average with power, collecting 35 home runs with 167 RBI, including a team-record three grand slams in 2007.
A teammate of Alfaro's on the 2007 division title winners, Anderson Hernandez finished with 167 hits that year, two shy of the league lead and the highest single-season total in club history. The team's leadoff hitter in each of his 128 games, Hernandez carried a .269 batting average into the All-Star break before going on a tear in the second half with a PCL-best .374 mark. He ended the year on an 11-game hit streak, including five multi-hit efforts in a row on the final road trip as the Zephyrs erased a three-game deficit and overtook Albuquerque and Oklahoma City.
However, Hernandez's career in New Orleans is defined by two vastly different seasons, as his 2008 campaign was nearly as disastrous as his '07 campaign was brilliant. In his second tour of the PCL, Hernandez's batting average hovered around .190 for most of the summer, ranking last among the league's qualified hitters before he was traded in mid-August.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.