The 2013 season marks the fifth in the brief history of the Gwinnett Braves Baseball Club. To honor that milestone, GwinnettBraves.com will feature some of the great players from the previous four seasons of G-Braves baseball on "5th Season Friday." The feature will run each Friday until Opening Night on April 4.
Friday, January 4: Barbaro Canizares
Before Stefan Gartrell and Ernesto Mejia teamed up in the middle of the Gwinnett Braves order, before Freddie Freeman or Mauro Gomez had ever swung for the Coolray Field fences, there was Barbaro Canizares. A member of the Gwinnett Braves in 2009 and 2010, Canizares will be remembered as the first premier slugger in G-Braves history, as well as one of the best all around hitters the club has featured to date.
The 6-foot-3, 240 pound Canizares arrived in Gwinnett already an established Triple-A masher, having played for the Richmond Braves in 2007 and 2008. In his first taste of the level in 2007, the Havana, Cuba native hit .344 with 13 doubles, three home runs and 34 RBI in just 49 games for the eventual Governor's Cup Champions. He returned to the R-Braves in 2008, hitting .300 with 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 67 RBI in 134 games.
Following manager Dave Brundage from Richmond to Lawrenceville, a 29-year-old Canizares was expected to be the face of the new Gwinnett offense. He didn't disappoint, immediately taking up the role as the most feared hitter in the lineup. On April 9, 2009, he powered the G-Braves to a 9-1 win in their inaugural game at Charlotte, going 3-for-5. The effort included the first hit in franchise history - a first-inning single off Knights' right-hander John Van Benschoten - as well as the first G-Braves' homer, a two-run blast on Van Benschoten's 0-1 pitch in the third inning.
Canizares continued to write team history all throughout 2009. He was one of four G-Braves elected to the Triple-A All-Star Game at midseason and was also the first from the franchise selected to play in the prestigious MLB All-Star Futures Game. He led Gwinnett to the International League Playoffs thanks to team highs in batting average (.294), hits (149), doubles (31), home runs (12), RBI (79) and total bases (220). At the conclusion of the year, Canizares was voted as the International League's All-Star at the Designated Hitter position, making him Gwinnett's first offensive postseason All-Star. Though a banner year for him at that point, 2009 would pale in comparison to what he'd accomplish a year later.
Canizares established more Gwinnett Braves history in 2010, hitting .341 to capture the International League Batting Title. The rest of his numbers, including 28 doubles, 13 home runs and 77 RBI, proved similar to 2009, but his impressive 145 hits in 425 at-bats led him to become the Braves' first Triple-A Batting Champion since Richmond's Tommy Gregg paced the circuit with a .332 average in 1997. His prolific average easily bested his nearest challengers, future G-Brave Jose Constanza, who hit .319 with Columbus, as well as teammate Freeman, who also hit .319. Once again in 2010, Canizares was named both a Triple-A All-Star as well as a postseason International League All-Star.
Signed as a free agent by Atlanta in 2006, Canizares reached the Major Leagues with the Braves for just five games in 2009. He moved on from the organization following his prodigious 2010 season, landing in the Triple-A Mexican League. In two seasons with the Guerreros de Oaxaca, the now 33-year-old has continued to hit for both average and power, hitting a collective .370 with 51 doubles, 48 home runs and 179 RBI in 190 games. Canizares added another Batting Title to his collection in 2011 with the Guerreros, hitting an astounding .396 to lead the Mexican League. He resurfaced in North America once again in late 2012, hitting .364 in 14 games for the Winnipeg Goldeyes of the independent American Association.
Though he never made a huge splash in Atlanta, Canizares will live on in Gwinnett Braves history. Two years removed from his last season at Coolray Field, he still holds the franchise record for batting average (.316, minimum 500 at-bats), hits (294), doubles (59), RBI (156), games (256) and at-bats (931). It's fitting that a look back at the first four seasons of G-Braves Baseball starts with the man who established so many franchise firsts, Barbaro Canizares.