Steven Souza Jr. named IL MVP and Rookie of the Year; Billy Gardner Jr. named Manager of the Year

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by Amanda Comak

The finest season in recent memory for the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate Syracuse Chiefs produced several accolades on Tuesday as the International League announced its year-end award winners and post-season All-Star team.

Steven Souza Jr., who led the International League in almost every statistical offensive category, was named the league’s Most Valuable Player as well as its Rookie of the Year, and Chiefs manager Billy Gardner Jr. was honored as the International League’s Manager of the Year. Additionally, infielders Emmanuel Burriss and Brandon Laird were named to the International League’s post-season All-Star team, along with Souza Jr.

Washington Nationals vs Houston AstrosSouza Jr. was called up to the Major Leagues three times this season, including most recently on Aug. 4. But in 91 games at Triple-A, Souza Jr. hit .354 with a .435 on-base percentage and a .601 slugging percentage — all of which lead the International League. The 25-year-old is on track to take home the International League batting title at year’s end.

While clubbing a team-high 18 home runs, Souza Jr. stole 24 bases and was selected as a starting outfielder at the Triple-A All-Star Game in Durham, North Carolina.

Souza Jr. is the sixth league MVP in Syracuse history, and the first since Chad Mottola in 2000. He’s also the franchise’s seventh International League Rookie of the Year, and first since Shawn Green in 1994.

Souza Jr. was also the first Syracuse outfielder selected to the International League’s post-season All-Star Team since Corey Brown in 2012.

This is the second consecutive season in which a player won the league’s MVP and Rookie of the Year awards, following Rochester’s Chris Colabello in 2013. Souza Jr. is the first Syracuse player ever to win both honors in the same season.

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In his first season in the Nationals organization, Gardner Jr. has the Chiefs on the verge of the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 1998, bringing the Chiefs back to contention after a lengthy postseason drought.

Syracuse struggled early and was in last place in the North Division as late as May 21, but the Chiefs played the best baseball in the league in May and June, surging to the top of a tight IL North Division race. The Chiefs have scored the second-most runs in the league and allowed the second-fewest. Their pitching staff also leads the IL with 15 shutouts this season.

Gardner, who is in his 20th season managing in the Minor Leagues, becomes the fifth IL Manager of the Year from Syracuse, following Frank Verdi (1970), Vern Benson (1979), Doug Ault (1985), and Bob Bailor (1989). Gardner is the son of Billy Gardner Sr., who managed the Minnesota Twins from 1981-1985 and the Kansas City Royals for part of the 1987 campaign.

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Emmanuel Burriss: While being among the International League leaders in batting average (.307), on-base percentage (.383), runs scored (79), and triples (7), Burriss has struck out fewer times per plate appearance than any hitter in the league. The 29-year-old, who played in 282 Major League games with the San Francisco Giants from 2008-2012, signed with the Nationals as a free agent this past December. Burriss follows Zach Walters to give the Chiefs two straight seasons claiming IL post-season All-Star shortstop honors.

 

Brandon Laird: Laird, 26, is one of just two players in the International League to tally 80 or more RBI this season. He is also among the league leaders in slugging percentage (.486), batting average (.303), and OPS (.839). Laird is in his first season with the Nationals after coming over in a March trade. The infielder has played 53 games in the Major Leagues since 2011, with the Yankees and Astros and his older brother, Gerald, is a catcher for the Atlanta Braves. The last Syracuse third baseman on the IL post-season All-Star Team was Carlos Rivero in 2012.

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