This offseason, MiLB.com will be honoring the players -- regardless of age or prospect status -- who had the best seasons in their organizations. We're taking a look at each team to determine the outstanding seasons in Minor League baseball. Select a team from the dropdown below.
Player development has long been a strength of the Atlanta Braves. In 2010, outfielder Jason Heyward was a contender for the National League Rookie of the Year award, and in 2011, first baseman Freddie Freeman and reliever Craig Kimbrel had outstanding rookie campaigns.
Though the Braves ranked 27th out of 30 clubs in their system's overall winning percentage this year and only Rookie-level Danville reached its league's playoffs, the Minor League organization features several top prospects who are poised to make an impact at the big league level. Chief among them is 20-year-old right-hander Julio Teheran, who finished second in the Minor Leagues with 15 wins. Shortstops Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons were impressive at lower levels, as was first baseman Joe Terdoslavich, who broke the Carolina League record with 52 doubles.
Braves Organization All-Stars
Catcher -- Evan Gattis, Rome (88 games): A 6-foot-4 backstop from Texas, Gattis was heavily recruited out of high school but never played at Texas A&M despite signing a letter of intent to do so. After taking time off to travel, he played at Seminole (Fla.) Junior College and Texas-Permian Basin before the Braves made him their 23rd-round pick in the 2010 Draft.
Gattis joined Rome in early May and put up strong offensive numbers despite appearing in just 88 games. He batted .322/.386/.601 and ranked fourth in the Braves system with 22 home runs and fifth with 71 RBIs.
Rome was just 25-45 in the first half of the season, worst in the Sally League. They finished 35-35 in the second half behind Gattis' 17 homers and 60 RBIs in 62 games.
Despite the late start to his pro career, the 25-year-old Gattis is excited to be on the field. "I'm at ease with myself and thoroughly appreciate every day I'm given to play this game," he said in August. "I know I'm fortunate to be here, and now I want to make the most of the opportunity I've been given."
First base -- Ernesto Mejia, Mississippi (137 games): The Braves had a glut of big-hitting first basemen in their system this season, but Ernesto Mejia is the choice as he smashed the Mississippi club record with 26 homers, which was also the most in the Braves system. (The previous M-Braves mark was 19, set by Matt Esquivel in 2007.) Mejia's longballs ranked third in the Southern League, and he led both that circuit and the Braves organization with 99 RBIs. On the down side, he also led both groups with 156 strikeouts.
One level down, Lynchburg's Joe Terdoslavich broke a 65-year-old Carolina League record by collecting 52 doubles. The 23-year-old switch-hitter hit .286 with 20 homers and was named the Braves' Minor League Player of the Year.
Honorable mention: Joe Terdoslavich
Second base -- Tommy La Stella, Rome (63 games): A sixth-round pick in this June's Draft, La Stella signed quickly and made his pro debut with Class A Rome on June 19. Despite clubbing two solo homers in his third game with the R-Braves, La Stella batted just .129 in eight games through the end of June.
The 22-year-old Coastal Carolina product shrugged off his slow start to hit .358 the rest of the way, finishing with a .328 mark, nine homers and 40 RBIs in 63 total games. La Stella fanned just 28 times and drew 26 walks for a .401 on-base percentage. The left-handed hitter showed poise against southpaw pitchers as well, batting .327 against them. Along with Gattis, he helped turn Rome's season around in the second half.
Third base -- Brandon Drury, Danville (63 games): The Braves' 13th-round pick in 2010, Drury struggled to a .198 batting average in 52 games in the Gulf Coast League last year. There were no struggles this season, however, as the Oregon native, who turned 19 in August, batted .347 -- second in the Appy League by a few ten-thousandths -- with eight homers and 54 RBIs in 63 games.
The Oregon native led the Braves system with his .347 average. Playing for Danville, Drury led the Appy League with 92 hits, ranked second with 23 doubles and fourth with his 54 RBIs. He was named the league's co-Player of the Year, sharing the honor with Elizabethton's Eddie Rosario.
Shortstop -- Tyler Pastornicky, Mississippi (90 games), Gwinnett (27 games): It was a breakout season for Pastornicky, who was acquired by the Braves, along with Alex Gonzalez, from the Blue Jays in July 2010. The 21-year-old ranked third in the Atlanta farm system with a .314 batting average, became the first Mississippi Brave to hit for the cycle and was named the M-Braves' Player of the Year. His 27 stolen bases were second-most in the organization.
After batting .299 (10th best in the Southern League) in 90 games for Mississippi, Pastornicky was even better in 27 games with Triple-A Gwinnett, where he posted a .365/.407/.413 line. An ankle injury forced the Braves' No. 8 prospect to miss the final weeks of the Minor League season and, possibly, a callup to Atlanta when the rosters expanded Sept. 1.
"I'm just trying to get better," he said in mid September. "When it's my time, it's my time. If not, I've just got to wait. Just trying to get better, and whenever they call my name, I'm going to be ready."
Honorable mention: Andrelton Simmons
Designated hitter -- Mauro Gomez, Gwinnett (135 games): Another of the Braves' slugging first basemen, the veteran Gomez was an attractive designated hitter this season as well, hitting .304/.356/.522 for Triple-A Gwinnett. He ranked among the International League leaders in a host of offensive categories: 10th in batting, fifth in doubles (34), fourth in slugging, third in home runs (24) and RBIs (90), second in hits (154) and first in total bases (264).
The highlight of Gomez's season came on July 25 -- and Aug. 31. At Norfolk on July 25, he flew out in the first inning and blasted a leadoff homer in the fourth. After rain forced the game's suspension, Gomez returned with the G-Braves on Aug. 31 to deliver a single, bases-clearing triple and grand slam in Gwinnett's 11-2 win. He set a Gwinnett record with eight RBIs in the game.
"I like hitting in this ballpark [Harbor Park] because I can hit the ball the other way," Gomez said through a translator after the game. "Tonight, I was just lucky to find people on base."
Stefan Gartrell, Gwinnett (116 games): The White Sox's 31st-round pick in the 2006 Draft, Gartrell was beginning his sixth season in the Chicago organization before the Braves acquired him for cash considerations in mid April. It turned out to be a key move for the G-Braves, as the 27-year-old smacked 25 homers and drove in 91 runs to rank second in the Atlanta system in both categories.
The San Francisco native earned mid- and postseason All-Star honors in the International League, won the Home Run Derby at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Salt Lake City in July and was named Gwinnett's Player of the Year after setting career marks in doubles and RBIs.
Adam Milligan, Lynchburg (64 games): Milligan put up gaudy numbers in his pro debut in 2009 but has been beset by injuries the last two seasons. A shoulder injury limited him to just 21 games in 2010 and his 2011 campaign was cut short in mid July by a knee injury.
Nevertheless, the 23-year-old left-handed hitter flashed impressive power in his 64 games with the Hillcats this year. More than half of Milligan's 69 hits went for extra bases, with 12 leaving the yard. If he can tame his strikeout numbers -- he fanned 76 times while drawing just 16 walks -- Milligan's sheer power will make him an attractive prospect.
Antoan Richardson, Mississippi (91 games), Gwinnett (two games), Atlanta (nine games): At the other end of the scale is Antoan Richardson, a 5-foot-8 switch-hitter who hit one homer and nine doubles for a .327 slugging percentage in 93 Minor League games this season. The Vanderbilt product's game is getting on base, which he did to the tune of a .431 on-base percentage -- better than anyone in the Braves system who played more than 20 games.
Apart from providing stellar defense, the 27-year-old Richardson ranked second on the M-Braves with 64 runs scored and 17 stolen bases in just 91 games. He made his Major League debut with Atlanta as a pinch hitter Sept. 4 and singled on the first big league pitch he saw.
Right-handed starting pitcher -- Julio Teheran, Gwinnett (25 games), Atlanta (five games): Not only was the 20-year-old Teheran the Braves organization's top hurler, he was one of the very best in the Minor Leagues. The Colombian-born right-hander tied for second in the Minors with 15 victories, was narrowly second in the International League with a 2.55 ERA and ranked fourth in the Braves organization with 122 strikeouts over a career-high 144 2/3 Minor League frames.
Teheran, who tossed 23 consecutive scoreless innings in June, was the recipient of a host of awards throughout the season. MLB.com's top right-handed pitching prospect was the International League's top pitcher and rookie, the Braves' Pitcher of the Year, a Futures Game selection and two-time IL Pitcher of the Week.
Though Teheran did not have the same success at the Major League level -- he allowed four homers and posted a 5.03 ERA in 19 2/3 innings for Atlanta -- the youngster is poised to make an impact in the big leagues.
"I think mostly with Julio it's about his maturity and his ability and willingness to learn. He wants to get better," Gwinnett pitching coach Marty Reed said in June. "He takes constructive criticism very well and his work ethic is outstanding."
Honorable mention: Zeke Spruill
Left-handed starting pitcher -- Chris Masters, Lynchburg (28 games), Mississippi (1 games): An 11th-round pick out of Western Carolina in the 2009 Draft, Masters followed up a rough full-season debut in 2010 with an outstanding campaign at Class A Advanced Lynchburg this year. He tied for second in the Braves organization with 10 wins, was third among full-season hurlers with a 3.19 ERA and third in strikeouts with 126 in 155 1/3 innings. Masters' 122 strikeouts with Lynchburg were third-most in the Carolina League.
Though Masters' Carolina League season ended with an ejection on Aug. 30, he made his Double-A debut with Mississippi on the final day of the Southern League's regular season and tossed seven scoreless frames in the M-Braves' 4-0 win over the Carolina Mudcats.
Honorable mention: Mike Minor
Relief pitcher -- Cody Martin, Danville (eight games), Rome (14 games): Martin's 2001 began as a senior closer for Gonzaga, where he posted a 0.86 ERA with 63 strikeouts over 52 1/3 innings. After the Braves made him their seventh-round pick in the June Draft, he did not miss a beat in his pro debut with Danville in the Appalachian League. In eight games with the D-Braves, the California native allowed two hits while fanning 14 over nine scoreless frames.
After a promotion to full-season Rome, Martin did ultimately allow a handful of runs, recording a 1.48 ERA with six saves in 24 1/3 innings. Overall, Martin was 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA and 49 strikeouts and five walks in 33 1/3 innings. The right-hander held his opponents to a .175 batting average while posting a phenomenal 0.75 WHIP.
Honorable mention: Jairo Asencio, Gus Schlosser