The 14th season of Triple-A baseball in Gwinnett County has come and gone. Though a Triple-A championship was not attainable for the Gwinnett Stripers in the 2023 season, the team remained a crucial instrument for the Atlanta Braves, the Stripers’ parent club, as they pursue a World Series title for the second time in three seasons.
As the Braves barnstormed their way to a sixth-consecutive National League East division title, a total of 35 players made appearances for both Gwinnett and Atlanta. Whether it was top prospects, established veterans, or journeyman specialists, each contributed toward maintaining the Braves’ status as one of the unquestioned best teams in Major League Baseball.
Under the guidance of third-year manager Matt Tuiasosopo, the Stripers began their season on March 31 at Coolray Field and concluded it on September 24 in the same ballpark. Along the way were record-setting performances, sensational stretches, and plenty of memorable moments in Lawrenceville and around the country.
In total, the Stripers deployed 83 players and made 315 roster moves this season, both marking new records in respective categories for the club.
And while transaction pages and new faces in the lineup were a big part of the picture, they cannot tell the full story of the season or the team.
Over the course of the season, six players were featured in six different editions of the Stripers' FIRSTCAST gameday program. Each brought a unique story to the team, reflecting the ebbs and flows, triumphs and challenges, and the moments, trends, and numbers that shaped this season of Stripers baseball.
This is the story of the 2023 Gwinnett Stripers through that lens.
In late March, the Stripers announced one of the most exciting Opening Day rosters in the 20-team International League (IL). Out of the 31 players on the roster, 21 had prior MLB experience.
That included players like Yolmer Sanchez, who won a Gold Glove with the Chicago White Sox in 2019, as well as Michael Soroka, who was a National League All-Star that year as well. Bryce Elder, who became a first-time National League All-Star this season, was the Opening Night starter.
Not on the Stripers’ Opening Day roster was then-No. 1 Braves’ prospect Jared Shuster. The left-handed pitcher with a signature changeup had been named to the Atlanta Braves’ Opening Day roster for the first time in his career. Having first joined Gwinnett in 2022, Shuster became the 112th former Striper to debut in the big leagues since 2009 with a start against the Washington Nationals on April 2.
After two starts with Atlanta, Shuster made his season debut with the Stripers at Coolray Field on April 14, firing a 6.0-inning gem with eight strikeouts against the Memphis Redbirds. It was his highest strikeout total across 16 Triple-A starts this year.
Early Losing Skid
When Shuster exited the game, the Stripers held a 3-2 lead. But the Redbirds erupted for seven runs over the final three innings to win 9-4. The loss was part of a 10-game losing skid that began with a loss to Norfolk on April 5 and contained a six-game sweep dealt by Memphis. It was just the second time the Stripers had been swept in a six-game series since the IL adopted them in 2021.
The 10-game losing streak was also the longest for a Gwinnett club since the 2013 G-Braves dropped 14-straight games and defined the earliest weeks of the season as the Stripers limped into a six-game set in Omaha on April 18 at 2-12.
That night, Soroka dominated with 6.0-shutout innings in a 4-1 Stripers win. Gwinnett broke out to win the first five games of the series against Omaha, steering the season back on track headed into the final series of April at home against Buffalo.
The Stripers split the first four games against Buffalo. Entering the fifth game of the series on April 29, Shuster got the ball for his third Triple-A start of 2023.
After opening the season with 17.2 innings across MLB and Triple-A without allowing a home run, Shuster yielded two homers to the Bisons in a rough fourth inning and exited the game with the Stripers down 4-3.
Seismic Inning of Swats
Gwinnett hit 134 home runs this season, the second-fewest total in IL. But in the eighth inning, Joshua Fuentes, Hendrik Clementina, and Nick Solak lit up Coolray Field with three homers to turn a 6-4 deficit into a 9-6 lead. The three-homer inning was the first for the Stripers since 2021 and tied a Gwinnett record. Despite the thrilling comeback, the Stripers would finish March and April at 10-16.
Shuster would be summoned to Atlanta four more times, going 4-3 with a 5.64 ERA over 11 starts. There were high points, like his three-start stretch from May 31-June 16, where he won all three starts and posted a 3.38 ERA. There were also trials and periods of adjustment, as he finished his final two starts going 0-1 with a 9.39 ERA.
At the Triple-A level, he was often solid, and sometimes spectacular. He went 5-6 with a 5.01 ERA, boasting three scoreless starts and six quality starts over 16 total starts with Gwinnett.
When Spring Training began for the Atlanta Braves at their facility in North Port, Florida, an open tryout for the fifth and final rotation spot materialized. Two left-handed prospects, Shuster (No. 1) and Dylan Dodd (No. 10) emerged as the leading candidates.
The clubhouse locker mates took turns dominating opposing lineups, and as the season drew nearer, neither had completely established himself as the favorite.
When Braves’ manager Brian Snitker summoned both into his office on March 26, Dodd assumed it would be to inform one of them they had made it, and one was going to Triple-A.
Instead, Snitker broke the news that Atlanta would be taking both on to the Opening Day roster. The opening to do so was the result of right-hander Kyle Wright, a 20-game winner in 2022, landing on the 15-day IL with right shoulder soreness.
Wright would make his season debut on MLB rehab with Gwinnett on April 5 at Norfolk and would rejoin the team for another rehab stint from August 30-September 10.
Of the 14 other Atlanta Braves to join the Stripers on a rehab assignment, two garnered the most excitement.
2022 NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II played in parts of two games against Memphis in April, hitting .143 (1-for-7) with two walks and a stolen base. It was his Triple-A debut after he skipped over Gwinnett on his way to the Majors the previous season.
The ace of the Braves rotation and 2021 World Series hero Max Fried joined Gwinnett for three starts in July, finishing with a 5.00 ERA while striking out 10 batters in 9.0 innings.
The Stripers got off to a turbulent start in May by dropping four of six games at home to the Charlotte Knights, which ultimately finished with easily the worst record in the IL at 53-96.
Dodd did not pitch in the series. He was up with the Braves, producing his first career MLB quality start on May 4 in Miami. The Braves won 6-3 to deliver him his second career MLB win.
He was optioned to Gwinnett on May 5 and struggled in two starts against the Nashville Sounds. Of the 11 teams the Stripers played this season, only Durham matched Nashville in success against Gwinnett, with both clubs posting a 13-5 record in the season series.
Conversely, Gwinnett found its most success against Charlotte (13-5) and Jacksonville (12-9), while also finishing with a winning record against Memphis (11-10) in 2023.
The Stripers went 8-4 during a successful 12-game road trip through Nashville and Memphis in the middle of May. Six of the 12 contests were decided by one run, where the Stripers went 5-1 during that stretch. On the season, Gwinnett went 17-15 in one-run games.
Soroka’s Strong Season
Back at Coolray Field on May 23 for a six-game set against Durham, the Stripers grabbed a 3-1 victory thanks to a dominant start from Soroka. The former NL All-Star was working his way back from two surgeries on a torn right Achilles first suffered on August 3, 2020, and was in top form, striking out eight and throwing 96 pitches, the highest total since his injury, on the way to a quality start and a win.
On May 28, Soroka was recalled back to the Braves for the first time since the injury and pitched against the Oakland Athletics on May 29. After four more starts over two stints with Atlanta, he was optioned again on July 23.
Upon Soroka’s return, he dominated Triple-A in the month of August. Across five starts, he went 1-1 with a 2.77 ERA, including a 7.0-inning complete-game shutout of Charlotte on August 12. He led league qualifiers in lowest BAA (.165) and WHIP (0.88) and was named the IL Pitcher of the Month, the first Stripers to claim such an honor since left-hander Kyle Muller in June 2022.
Soroka had his season meet a premature end after exiting a start with Atlanta with right shoulder inflammation on September 5. He finished the season going 4-4 with a 3.41 ERA with the Stripers.
As the season reached June, new prospects began to rise in the Braves’ system, moving Dodd down from No. 10 in the MLB.com rankings at the start of the year to No. 20 by the conclusion of Gwinnett’s season.
Still, the man from a town of around 600 people in Bismarck, Illinois remained a viable option for Atlanta, going 2-2 with a 7.60 ERA in seven starts across five stints with the Braves. In his final appearance of the season for the Stripers on September 23 against Durham, Dodd tossed 4.0-shutout innings of relief and collected his fourth win of the year.
There was no player that attracted more media attention when the Stripers’ Opening Day roster was announced than infielder Vaughn Grissom. There was a good reason, too. The 22-year-old had burst onto the scene as a midseason call-up in 2022 with the Braves, hitting .420 (21-for-50) in his first 14 games in the Majors, the best mark by a Braves rookie in that stretch in over 100 years.
Grissom had done so by skipping Triple-A Gwinnett, and so Opening Night for the Stripers was also his first experience in Triple-A. He made his introduction with a triple in the first game of the season and blasted his first homer as a Striper two days later.
But it wasn’t a single hit or moment that represented Grissom's brilliance at the plate, but rather a prolonged stretch of excellence for the Stripers’ Most Valuable Player. Beginning with a 2-for-5 effort in St. Paul on June 28, Grissom embarked on a 45-game on-base streak that stretched until the final series against Durham on September 19.
It matched both his professional high (45-game on-base streak with High-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi in 2022) and Tanner Morris of Buffalo for the longest in the IL this season.
Amid the on-base streak, Grissom also posted the Stripers’ longest hit streak of 14 games from August 4- September 14. Forrest Wall and Clementina had the other double-digit hit streaks for Gwinnett at 10 games.
Other Sensational Stretches
There were tremendous stretches from other Stripers as well. The Stripers’ Reliever of the Year Grant Holmes held a team-best nine-game scoreless streak spanning from April 11-May 3. Holmes also had a stretch where he went 11-for-11 in save opportunities from June 6-August 27.
Joe Dunand began a sizzling summer with a scorching-hot June, hitting safely in 15 of 21 games and recording eight homers, which was tied for the third-most in the IL that month.
Hoy Park took his cue from Dunand and followed up with a terrific month of July. The Stripers’ Fan Favorite player posted a team-best five-game multi-hit streak from July 19-July 25, which included a walk-off single against Norfolk on July 19.
A Leap with the Leather
With Grissom, for all his prowess as a hitter, the spotlight was on his maturation as a defender. He showed growing pains early on, committing nine errors in his first 54 games with Gwinnett and six errors in 19 games during an early season stint with Atlanta.
But he visibly improved as the season went on, dispelling the doubts and quieting the critics of his work in the field. In his final 48 Triple-A games, he committed just three errors.
Grissom’s improvement coincided with an overall team defense progression. On May 2, the Stripers were ranked 12th in the IL defensively, but climbed to the top spot by late August, eventually finishing the year as the second-ranked defense in the IL.
Often in command behind the plate for Gwinnett was either Chadwick Tromp or Joe Hudson, two of the best catchers in the IL at limiting an opponent's base-stealing success. Hudson led the IL in caught steals (28), while Tromp placed sixth (21).
In total, the Stripers committed 82 errors (second fewest) and turned 140 double plays (seventh-most) in the IL.
Braden’s Big Moments
No player turned more double plays with Grissom than his middle-infielding mate and good friend Braden Shewmake. After seeing his 2022 season cut short with a knee injury, Shewmake began the season healthy and as Atlanta’s top-ranked position prospect at No. 6 overall.
Opposite of Grissom, Shewmake’s year was defined by standout moments. His three-run home run against Jacksonville in the ninth inning on Opening Night was the first of six walk-off victories and 15 total last-at bat winners for Gwinnett.
On July 4, Shewmake clubbed a solo homer to seal a 3-1 win over Omaha in front of a Coolray Field crowd of 10,067, the largest since 2014 and the eighth largest in Coolray Field history.
The week before, the Stripers began the second half of the season with a six-game set in St. Paul. The first half Stripers had won just four of their final 12 games to finish at 33-42 and 10th in the IL West division.
Gwinnett was swept for the second time in three series and third time overall on the season. Despite the disappointing result, Shewmake delivered one of the top moments of the year on June 28. The left-handed batter became the first player in Gwinnett history to hit for the cycle (4-for-4, 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI) and the seventh in Atlanta Braves’ Triple-A history to do so (first since 1993).
The Stripers weren’t done making history. On the way to taking four of five from Omaha in early July, they turned a 5-4-3 triple play (Daniel Robertson-Vaughn Grissom-Joe Dunand) on July 9, the seventh in Gwinnett history.
Grissom finished his first season in Triple-A among the best in the IL with the bat, ranking fifth in batting (.330), fifth in OBP (.419), fifth in doubles (36), and eighth in OPS (.920). He was also Gwinnett’s leader in multi-hit games with 42, which included a 3-for-4 day in the season finale September 24.
As a collective unit, the Stripers left much to be desired in terms of raw production on offense in 2023, ranking 18th in batting (.250), 16th in OBP (.350), 20th in SLG (.388), 19th in OPS (.738), 18th in Runs (718), and 19th in homers (134) in the 20-team IL.
While the Stripers struggled to score runs the conventional way, few teams worked better within the margins to generate scoring opportunities.
Gwinnett finished the season with the most sacrifice flies (60) and second-most bases-loaded walks (35) in the IL. Boosted by Grissom leading Minor League Baseball in batting in 0-2 counts (.438) and ranking second in 1-2 counts (.321), the Stripers were the second-best team at batting behind in the count (.224).
Underlining their overall athleticism, the Stripers finished third in stolen bases (190), just five shy of tying the all-time record for a Braves’ Triple-A team set by the 1986 Richmond Braves (195) and had eight players record at least 10 steals for the club.
At the front of the pack was Wall, who recorded 52 stolen bases with Gwinnett (3rd in IL). Wall had topped all of Triple-A with 52 steals over 120 games with Tacoma in 2022 but needed just 90 games to reach that mark with Gwinnett in 2023.
The 52 stolen bases for Wall set a new Gwinnett single-season record, passing Luis Durango (46 steals in 2012) for the top mark with steals on consecutive pitches on August 20 at Durham.
Historic Inning of Theft
Wall led the way for the Stripers’ running game, but it was four other Stripers that made baserunning history on August 4 against Indianapolis. On the way to a comeback win, the Stripers stole five bases in the eighth inning. Shewmake had two, while Magneuris Sierra, Justin Dean, and Luke Williams swiped a bag each.
It was just the second five-steal inning ever recorded by an Atlanta Braves Triple-A club, and the first since Richmond had a five-steal first inning on April 22, 1983, at Columbus.
Wall was not the only Striper to set a new single season record in 2023. Sanchez, the Stripers’ Most Competitive Player of the Year, set a record for most walks (89) in a season. Grissom set a record for the most doubles (36, passing Freddie Freeman and Ernesto Mejia) and highest OBP (.419) in a season.
On the pitching side, Allan Winans set Gwinnett single season records for lowest qualifying BAA (.218) and WHIP (1.08). Soroka tied the record for most Complete Games (2) with six other former Stripers.
The Stripers began the second-half 0-6 after the six-game sweep to St. Paul but rallied to win six of their next eight by taking series against Omaha and Memphis. Entering a six-game set at Coolray Field against Norfolk, Gwinnett had won 14 of its last 18 home games.
Ahead of the first game of the series, Wall was told he would be joining the Braves for his MLB debut. It was a call-up years in the making for the former Colorado Rockies’ first-round selection and made him one of eight Stripers in 2023 to make his MLB debut with Atlanta.
Wall was not the only notable promotion from Gwinnett to Atlanta in July. Stripers’ manager Tuiasosopo earned his first MLB coaching call-up, spending three days as the Atlanta Braves’ third base coach.
‘Coach’ Tui Makes MLB Debut
Tuiasosopo oversaw the Braves’ three-game sweep of Milwaukee at Truist Park (by a combined 29-18 score). In his absence from the Triple-A club, coach Wiggy Nevarez went 2-2 in his first stint as Gwinnett’s acting manager.
The Stripers went 12-11 in July, the club’s first full winning month since May 2022 (15-11 in 26 games) despite a -5 run differential and entered the month of August at 12-14 in the second half.
20-year-old right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver began the 2023 season with High-A Rome and tossed 14.0-scoreless innings over three starts, quickly earning a promotion to Double-A Mississippi. Nothing changed one level higher, as he fired 7.0-shutout innings in two starts with the M-Braves.
By May 19, Smith-Shawver was in a Stripers uniform, making his first Triple-A start at Memphis. At 20 years, 5 months, and 29 days, he was the second-youngest starting pitcher in Gwinnett history behind only Julio Teheran (20 years, 2 months, 12 days in 2011).
Almost incomprehensibly, Smith-Shawver had his contract selected by Atlanta on May 30 after just 28 career MiLB starts, opening his MLB career with a scoreless relief outing against Arizona on June 4. On June 15, he pitched 5.2 innings against Colorado at Truist Park for his first MLB win.
After a remarkable run of player development over the past six seasons for the Braves that has fueled plenty of success since 2018, Smith-Shawver represented a new wave of prospects looking to make an impact for the big-league club.
The Stripers’ Opening Night roster featured only Shewmake (No. 15) on the Braves’ Top 30 list. Shuster and Dodd would make swift returns from their MLB debuts to rejoin Gwinnett in April.
Other Pipeline Promise
After Shuster graduated from the prospect pool, Smith-Shawver assumed the top spot in late June. Darius Vines (No. 10) would play for Gwinnett and make his MLB debut with Atlanta in 2023.
Smith-Shawver’s ascension was meteoric, but perhaps the most exciting debut for Gwinnett came on the penultimate day of the season. Braves’ 2023 first-round selection Hurston Waldrep (No. 2) worked 4.1-scoreless innings at Coolray Field against Durham, showing a glimpse of even more promise in the pipeline.
On August 8, Smith-Shawver delivered 6.0 innings of three-run ball against Charlotte for his second win and second quality start with Gwinnett. It was part of an eight-game winning streak for the Stripers that tied the longest in club history (May 10-18, 2019). The Stripers would go 14-12 in August and begin September at 26-26 in the second half.
Smith-Shawver finished his debut season in Triple-A going 2-2 with a 4.17 ERA in 10 starts.
One of the best pitchers in the IL was also one of the best stories in all of professional baseball during the 2023 season.
Winans, the Stripers’ Pitcher of the Year, learned he was joining the Braves’ organization while substitute teaching freshman algebra class at Bakersfield High School in California.
Less than two years later, the 28-year-old won the International League ERA title with a dominant 2.85 ERA in 23 appearances (17 starts) for Gwinnett, becoming the first Stripers’ pitcher since Wright (3.02 in 2021) to lock up the ERA title.
The right-hander started his season in total command with 4.0-hitless innings with nine strikeouts against Norfolk on April 4, collecting his first career Triple-A save in the process.
By May, Winans had jumped from a dependable bullpen arm to an elite starter. Beginning in early June, he hit a stretch of peak performance that went unrivaled in the IL.
From June 2-August 26, Winans went 5-0 with a 2.35 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, .186 BAA and six quality starts over 10 games (8 starts).
In the middle of that sensational stretch, he threw the first 9.0-inning complete game of his career on June 8 against Charlotte, won IL Pitcher of the Week (July 3-9), and tied his career high with 10 strikeouts on August 5 against Indianapolis.
The complete game was the first for a Gwinnett pitcher since Wright did so on September 19, 2021 vs. Nashville.
The breakout season put him in a position to finally break through into the Major Leagues, and Winans did so with Atlanta on July 22 against Milwaukee. Over the course of the Triple-A season, he would rejoin the Braves for three more starts.
On August 12, Winans picked up his first career MLB win and quality with 7.0-scoreless innings and nine strikeouts against the New York Mets, the team that essentially let him go in the 2021 Rule of 5 Draft where Atlanta acquired his services.
Winans finished the season ranking first in ERA (2.85), WHIP (1.08), and BAA (.218), tied for third in Wins (9), and seventh in both strikeouts (113) and innings (126.1).
For the season with the Stripers, Winans went 9-4 with a 2.85 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and .218 BAA in 23 games (17 starts). He was an IL All-Star after the season.
In the final series of the season against Durham at Coolray Field, the Stripers dropped the first four contests before a 2-0 shutout victory on Saturday and a 7-6 win in the finale powered by an eighth inning three-run homer by Dean.
On to 2024
The Gwinnett Stripers’ 2024 season will begin on March 29, 2024, at 121 Financial Ballpark in Jacksonville, Florida. For a full season schedule and updates on the 2024 season, visit GoStripers.com.