The Gwinnett Stripers’ partnership with Coolray Heating & Cooling to let the fans determine the “Gwinnett Player of the Decade” for the 2010s has reached its conclusion. Five rounds pitting 32 former G-Braves and Stripers players against each other in voting on the team’s official Twitter account (@GoStripers) wrapped up on April 8.
The fans have spoken, and first baseman Freddie Freeman (2010, 2013, 2015, 2017) has edged outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. (2017-18) for the title of Gwinnett’s best player from 2010-19. Freeman won in the Finals by a narrow 56.7% to 43.3% margin.
Freeman’s Path to the Finals
Freeman reaching the championship round was hardly a surprise, as he entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed thanks to his impressive stats with Gwinnett and perennial MVP-caliber play over a 10-year career with Atlanta.
As a 20-year-old in 2010, Freeman took Triple-A by storm, hitting .319 with 35 doubles (tied for the Gwinnett single-season record), two triples, 18 home runs, 73 runs scored, 87 RBIs, and an .898 OPS in 124 games to earn the International League Rookie of the Year award. That season stands as arguably the best overall offensive performance by a Gwinnett player – combining elite average, power, and run production – in the club’s 11-year history. Subsequent rehab assignments with the G-Braves in 2013, 2015, and 2017 have only bolstered his career numbers with the club, giving him a .326 average, 58 extra-base hits (38 doubles, two triples, 18 homers), 77 runs scored, 91 RBIs, and a .913 OPS in 131 total games.
Since having his contract selected by Atlanta from Gwinnett on September 1, 2010, Freeman has become the cornerstone of the Braves franchise, batting .293 with 227 homers, 805 RBIs, and an .883 OPS in 1,346 games over 10 seasons. Four National League All-Star selections (2013, 2014, 2018, 2019), a Rawlings Gold Glove (2018), a NL Silver Slugger Award (2019), and four top-10 finishes in NL Most Valuable Player voting (5th in 2013, 6th in 2016, 4th in 2018, 8th in 2019) have highlighted his highly-decorated MLB career.
Fan voting reflected Freeman’s star power throughout, as he easily bested all opponents on his half of the bracket. Even Ozzie Albies, a 2017 IL Postseason All-Star with Gwinnett, 2018 NL All-Star, and 2019 NL Silver Slugger, barely managed a quarter of the vote against Freeman in the semifinals.
(1) Freeman (97.8%) defeats (8) Cedric Hunter (2.2%)
(1) Freeman (90.2%) defeats (4) Alex Jackson (9.8%)
(1) Freeman (92.4%) defeats (2) Craig Kimbrel (7.6%)
(1) Freeman (74.5%) defeats (3) Ozzie Albies (25.5%)
Acuña Jr.’s Path to the Finals
On the other side of the bracket, the No. 5-seeded Acuña Jr. overpowered his competition the same way he’s dominated MLB pitching over the past two seasons with Atlanta.
In 77 games with Gwinnett from 2017-18, Acuña Jr. batted .305 with 16 doubles, two triples, 10 homers, 47 runs scored, 36 RBIs, 16 stolen bases, and an .831 OPS. That includes his amazing 54-game run as a 19-year-old Triple-A rookie in 2017 (.344, 14 doubles, two triples, nine homers, 38 runs scored, 33 RBIs, 11 stolen bases, .940 OPS). He didn’t spend enough time with the G-Braves to earn any season-ending IL accolades that year, but did go on to win MiLB Player of the Year awards from both Baseball America and USA Today for his overall numbers between Advanced-A Florida, Double-A Mississippi, and Gwinnett.
Two less-than-stellar stints with the Stripers in 2018 (.211, two doubles, one homer, three RBIs, five steals, .564 OPS in 23 games) dragged down Acuña Jr.’s career average with Gwinnett, but he atoned for that by winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award that season (.293, 26 doubles, four triples, 26 homers, 78 runs scored, 64 RBIs, 16 steals, .917 OPS in 111 games) and nearly becoming the fifth player in MLB history to post a 40-homer, 40-steal season in 2019 (.280, 22 doubles, two triples, 41 homers, 127 runs scored, 101 RBIs, 37 steals, .883 OPS in 156 games).
Acuña Jr., not only an emerging face of the Braves but also one of the most exciting young players in MLB, decisively beat all challengers to make it to the championship round.
(5) Acuna Jr. (97.3%) defeats (4) Jairo Asencio (2.7%)
(5) Acuna Jr. (95.9%) defeats (8) Cody Martin (4.1%)
(5) Acuna Jr. (97.0%) defeats (7) Christian Bethancourt (3.0%)
(5) Acuna Jr. (85.2%) defeats (4) Austin Riley (14.8%)
Freeman’s Decade Stats: .326, 38 2B, 2 3B, 18 HR, 77 R, 91 RBI, 6 SB, .913 OPS, 253 TB in 131 games
Acuña Jr.’s Decade Stats: .305, 16 2B, 2 3B, 10 HR, 47 R, 36 RBI, 16 SB, .831 OPS, 145 TB in 77 games
(1) Freeman (56.7%) defeats (5) Acuña Jr. (43.3%)
In the end, Freeman’s superior Triple-A legacy and longer tenure with Atlanta won out over the rising star that is Acuña Jr., though just barely. The close vote makes clear that both players are truly the centerpieces of the Braves franchise, and that each left lasting memories with fans in Gwinnett on their way to the big leagues. If they maintain their current trajectories, both could be bound for the Baseball Hall of Fame.
With Freeman officially crowned as “Gwinnett Player of the Decade” for the 2010s, we can now look forward to the 2020s with the hope that the second decade of Gwinnett baseball at Coolray Field yields as many legendary players and performances as the first.