Gwinnett 2010-19 All-Decade Team (Catcher, Infielders)

Part one of a three-part series highlighting Gwinnett's best players from the last decade

Austin Riley homered 27 times in 119 games with Gwinnett from 2018-19, playing 101 games as a third baseman. (Josh Conner)

By Dave Lezotte / Gwinnett Stripers | January 13, 2020 10:26 AM

The first full decade in Gwinnett Baseball history included numerous team and individual achievements, including two International League South Division titles, one Governors' Cup Championship Series appearance, 23 IL Midseason All-Stars, nine IL Postseason All-Stars, three IL Rookies of the Year, one IL Most Valuable Pitcher, two IL Batting Champions, one IL ERA Champion, and one IL Manager of the Year, just to name a few.

Over 400 players combined efforts to lead Gwinnett to a 700-723 record (.492) during the 2010's. With the calendar now turned to 2020, I took on the arduous task of naming a top player (or sometimes players) for each individual position covering the past 10 seasons. Please note, the players were selected based on stats from 2010-19 and do not include stats from Gwinnett's inaugural 2009 season.

Below is Part 1 of my Gwinnett 2010-19 All-Decade Team, focusing on catcher and infielders. Part 2 (outfielders, utility, and DH) and Part 3 (starting pitchers and relievers) will be out in the coming weeks. 

Catcher:

Video: Stripers' Jackson smacks homer to left-center

Alex Jackson (2018-19)

Decade Stats: .222, 20 2B, 2 3B, 31 HR, 67 R, 82 RBI, 1 SB, .813 OPS, 209 TB in 120 games

After struggling during an injury-shortened Triple-A debut with the Stripers in 2018 (.204, three home runs in 35 games), Jackson turned in the most prodigious season by a Gwinnett catcher in history in 2019. Playing in just 85 games, he set career bests in homers (28), slugging percentage (.533), and OPS (.846), and tied his career high for RBIs (65). His 28 clouts, nine more than his previous single-season best, were tied for fifth-most in the International League and matched Ernesto Mejia (28 in 2012) for second-most by a Gwinnett hitter all-time. In addition to his knack for going deep in bunches (he had a team-high five multi-homer games), Jackson was also solid behind the plate, posting a .983 fielding percentage and a .500 caught stealing percentage (25-for-50) in his 76 starts at catcher.

 

Honorable Mention: Christian Bethancourt (2014-15)

Decade Stats: .299, 36 2B, 1 3B, 12 HR, 58 R, 79 RBI, 12 SB, .762 OPS, 237 TB in 143 games

Bethancourt batted .283 with eight homers and 48 RBIs in 91 games during his Triple-A debut in 2014, a season in which he represented Panama in the MLB All-Star Futures Game. He returned to Gwinnett in 2015, hitting .327 with four homers, 31 RBIs, and an .840 OPS in 52 games before a call-up to Atlanta.

 

First Base (Tie):

Freddie Freeman (2010, 2013, 2015, 2017)

Decade Stats: .326, 38 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 77 R, 91 RBI, 6 SB, .913 OPS, 253 TB in 131 games

Ernesto Mejia (2012-14)

Decade Stats: .279, 72 2B, 2 3B, 59 HR, 143 R, 199 RBI, 18 SB, .854 OPS, 555 TB in 287 games

Freeman and Mejia are forever linked as Gwinnett's only position players to win International League Rookie of the Year.

Freeman won as a 20-year-old in 2010, also earning Postseason All-Star accolades after batting .319 with a club-record 35 doubles, 18 homers, 87 RBIs, and an .898 OPS in 124 games. He ranked among IL leaders in total bases (1st, 240), hits (1st, 147), batting (3rd), RBIs (3rd), slugging percentage (4th, .521), and OPS (4th). Freeman's brief returns to Gwinnett in 2013, 2015, and 2017 have all been on rehab assignments for the Atlanta Braves.

Two years after Freeman, a 26-year-old Mejia also slugged his way to Rookie of the Year and Postseason All-Star nods, batting .296 with 32 doubles, 24 homers, a then-Gwinnett record 92 RBIs, and an .849 OPS in 133 games. That season saw the Venezuela native lead the league in RBIs, hits (152), total bases (258), and at-bats (514), while also ranking in the top five in slugging percentage (3rd, .502), extra-base hits (3rd, 57), home runs (T-3rd), games (T-3rd), and runs (5th, 73). Mejia returned to feast on Triple-A pitching again in 2013, matching Freeman's single-season doubles record (35), setting a then-Gwinnett record with 28 homers, and once again leading the circuit with 83 RBIs. A brief 20-game stint with Gwinnett in 2014 preceded Mejia's move to play in Japan.

 

Honorable Mention: Mauro Gomez (2011)

Decade Stats: .304, 34 2B, 2 3B, 24 HR, 76 R, 90 RBI, 6 SB, .878 OPS, 264 TB in 135 games

Gomez's one season with Gwinnett was memorable, as he batted .304 with 34 doubles, two triples, 24 homers, 90 RBIs, and an .878 OPS in 135 games. The 2011 International League Midseason All-Star and Gwinnett "Most Competitive Player" set club single-season records for hits (154, 2nd in IL) and total bases (264, 1st in IL) that still stand through 2019. His eight-RBI effort on July 25, 2011 at Norfolk set a Gwinnett single-game record that has been matched only once since (Austin Riley on May 13, 2018 vs. Norfolk).

 

Second Base:

Ozzie Albies (2016-17)

Decade Stats: .272, 32 2B, 11 3B, 11 HR, 94 R, 61 RBI, 30 SB, .731 OPS, 259 TB in 153 games

Albies reached Gwinnett in only his third professional season in 2016 but hit just .248 in 56 games as a 19-year-old. A mid-summer demotion to Double-A Mississippi primed him for vastly improved Triple-A results in 2017. The Curacao native batted .285 with 21 doubles, a club-record eight triples, nine homers, 67 runs scored, 41 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases over 97 games, earning selection to both the International League Midseason and Postseason All-Star teams. Despite being called up by Atlanta for his Major League debut on August 1, he ranked among IL leaders in triples (T-1st), batting (7th), and steals (T-7th). Albies was named Gwinnett's 2017 Player of the Year by the Braves, his final season with the club.

 

Honorable Mention: Andres Blanco (2019)

Decade Stats: .262, 23 2B, 1 3B, 19 HR, 78 R, 61 RBI, 2 SB, .807 OPS, 201 TB in 118 games

Blanco became the first Gwinnett infielder to tally 200 total bases in one season (201), just the ninth instance of 200 total bases by a player in club history. The 35-year-old's career-high 19 homers in 2019 were nine more than his previous single-season best, and his 78 runs scored were sixth-most in the International League.

 

Third Base:

Video: Riley goes deep for Stripers

Austin Riley (2018-19)

Decade Stats: .286, 30 2B, 0 3B, 27 HR, 80 R, 88 RBI, 1 SB, .878 OPS, 244 TB in 119 games

Before a position change to the outfield that facilitated his call-up to Atlanta last May, Riley served as Gwinnett's regular third baseman for 101 games from 2018-19. He joined the Stripers as a 21-year-old Triple-A rookie in 2018, batting .282 with 17 doubles, 12 homers, 47 RBIs, and an .810 OPS in 75 total games. On May 13, 2018, he produced arguably the most impressive offensive performance in Gwinnett franchise history, tying club single-game records in homers (3) and RBIs (8) as he went 4-for-5 in a 10-0 rout of Norfolk. Riley returned to Gwinnett as a member of the Opening Night roster in 2019 and opened the season on a tear, batting .299 with 10 doubles, 15 homers, 39 RBIs, and a 1.057 OPS in his first 37 games. He tied Gwinnett's single-month home run record with 10 in May despite playing in just 13 games, becoming one of only four players in club history with a 10-homer month. At the time of his Major League promotion on May 15, he was leading the International League in homers (15), extra-base hits (25), total bases (98), runs (32), and RBIs (39). Following mixed offensive results with the Braves, he returned to the Stripers in August and finished the year with a .293 average, .626 slugging percentage, and .992 OPS in 44 total games.

 

Honorable Mention: Rio Ruiz (2016-18)

Decade Stats: .264, 74 2B, 9 3B, 35 HR, 172 R, 190 RBI, 4 SB, 553 TB in 366 games

Ruiz was one of Gwinnett's top run producers for three consecutive seasons, leading the club in RBIs in 2016 (62) and 2017 (56), and ranking second in RBIs in 2018 (72). He led the team with a career-high 16 home runs in 2017, but 2018 proved to be his most complete year as he hit .269 with 25 doubles, four triples, nine homers, 72 RBIs, and a .711 OPS to earn Gwinnett's Most Valuable Player award. Ruiz was also named Gwinnett's "Fan Favorite Player" in 2016 and "Most Competitive Player" in 2017.

 

Shortstop:

Sean Kazmar Jr. (2013-19)

Decade Stats: .268, 127 2B, 12 3B, 37 HR, 279 R, 270 RBI, 23 SB, .693 OPS, 882 TB in 667 games

Kazmar has played all over the infield in each of his seven seasons with Gwinnett, filling whatever role is necessary. A natural shortstop, he has logged 287 games at the position, including 79 games in 2013, 69 games in 2017, and 63 games in 2018. In addition to his versatility and hard-nosed approach on defense, Kazmar has been a steady producer at the plate, working his way to the top of Gwinnett career leaderboards in hits (620), total bases (882), doubles (127), runs (279), RBIs (270), games (667), and at-bats (2,310). The 2017 season was his best overall as he batted .284 with 15 doubles, 11 homers, 45 RBIs, and a .726 OPS to earn Gwinnett's co-Most Valuable Player award. After a down year in 2018 (.254, just one homer in 99 games), the 35-year-old experienced a resurgence in 2019, hitting .270 with 21 doubles, 12 homers, 61 RBIs, and .763 OPS in 108 games. Kazmar has won a team award in each of his last six seasons, including "Most Competitive Player" from 2014-16, the 2017 MVP award, and "Fan Favorite Player" from 2018-19. He has also come up big in the postseason, combining to bat .348 with three homers and nine RBIs in 12 Governors' Cup Playoff games (2016 and 2019).

 

Honorable Mention: Tyler Pastornicky (2011-14)

Decade Stats: .297, 35 2B, 4 3B, 7 HR, 85 R, 74 RBI, 26 SB, .734 OPS, 278 TB in 186 games

Pastornicky played 64 games at shortstop with Gwinnett before eventually transitioning to second base and the outfield. He flashed offensive talent in each of his four seasons, batting over .290 in 2011 (.365 in 27 games), 2013 (.292 in 74 games), and 2014 (.290 in 47 games). His longest stint with the club was 2013, when he hit .292 with 13 doubles, two triples, four homers, 28 RBIs, and a .747 OPS in 74 games. Pastornicky owns the Gwinnett record for most consecutive multi-hit games, a seven-game streak from April 10-16, 2013.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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