The Southern Illinois Miners announce that outfielder Aaron Gates, pitcher Adam Lopez and infielder Alex De Leon have all decided to retire from professional baseball following all-star careers with the club.
Originally from Villa Park, California, Gates joined the Miners in 2014 after spending time in the New York Yankees organization, and would become a force in the Frontier League over the next three seasons. After hitting .284 with 10 home runs and 59 RBIs in his first year, Gates transitioned to the top of the order and became the team’s starting center fielder in 2015, batting .317 with seven home runs and 41 RBIs while ranking third in the league with 73 runs scored and eighth with 115 total hits. He made history in 2016, batting .288 with eight homers, 54 RBIs and a league-best 78 runs scored along with 111 total hits to set a new Miners franchise all-time hit record, breaking Joey Metropoulos’ mark that had stood for nearly six years on August 21st at Normal.
A two-time all-star, Gates also became the first Miner ever to hit three home runs in a single game on June 7th of that season at Gateway. He retires as the Miners’ all-time leader in hits (317), ranking second in runs scored (202), walks (145) and at-bats (1,069), third in games played (281) and fourth in triples (11) while also placing inside the franchise’s top-10 in career doubles, home runs, extra-base hits, RBIs and batting average.
“What an incredible three-year run Aaron had with us,” Miners manager Mike Pinto said. “Aaron had the unique ability to put the barrel on the baseball and produce results. A multiple-year all-star who ended up the all-time Miners hits leader, a record that will be awfully difficult to challenge. Aaron plans to go into law enforcement, joining a list of former Miners who have followed that path. We wish him safety and great success in his new profession.”
Lopez joined the Miners in 2015 from the Chicago White Sox organization and would go on to have one of the most-dominant careers on the mound in Miners history. As a starter in his first season, Lopez went 10-0 with a 1.86 ERA, 103 strikeouts and only 35 walks and 65 hits allowed in 96 2/3 innings, ranking fifth in the league in strikeouts, tying for second in wins and leading all active qualifying pitchers in ERA to become the second-straight Miner and third overall to be named Frontier League Pitcher of the Year. The Miners won all 16 games he started that season, with his ERA ranking as the best single-season mark among starters in team history.
After recovering from a shoulder impingement the following off-season, Lopez returned in 2016 as the Miners’ closer, going 3-0 with 13 saves, a miniscule 0.71 ERA, 29 strikeouts and just 10 hits allowed in 25 1/3 innings over 25 games while also going a perfect 13-for-13 in save opportunities. His 13 saves are the third-most in a single season in team history. For his career, Lopez’s 1.62 ERA is the best in team history among qualifying pitchers, while his 9.7 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate is the best among all Miners starters. He is the only Southern Illinois pitcher ever who ranks in the team’s top-10 in both wins and saves, with the Miners only losing one regular season game he appeared in across his two seasons.
“Adam was one of the great competitors to wear our uniform,” Pinto said. “His daily desire to win for the team was evident in everything he did. The leadership he showed and his work ethic will be greatly missed. We have had some exceptional players of character over the years, and Adam certainly goes right there in the team photo among the best of them. He will do great things in life beyond baseball, and I can’t wait to see whose lives he impacts next.
De Leon joined the Miners in 2016 from the St. Louis Cardinals organization, and in his lone season with the club was one of the top run-producing players in the Frontier League last year. A powerful right-handed hitter from Woodland Hills, California, he hit .256 with 21 doubles and 14 home runs while ranking fifth in the circuit with 72 RBIs, earning mid-season all-star honors while becoming one of only 10 players in Miners history to drive in 70 or more runs in a single season.
“Alex had a great all-star season for us last year and his power and production will be missed,” Pinto said. “I will miss his funny, outgoing personality which our fans saw on the field and we lived with off the field. He had a unique way to make me laugh every day. We wish Alex the best in life ahead.”
“We have had the great fortune to have wonderfully talented players and people wear the Miners uniform. As with all of them, playing for the Miners isn’t a one-time thing- they are always part of our Miners Family.”
Be sure to follow the Miners on Facebook, Twitter (@SIMiners) and Instagram as well as Snapchat this off-season as they prepare for 2017!
The Southern Illinois Miners are the 2016 Frontier League West Division Champions, the 2014 and 2015 Frontier League East Division Champions and the 2012 Frontier League Champions. They have been awarded the Frontier League Organization of the Year award three times since their inception, and also set a new Frontier League attendance record in 2007, their inaugural season. For ticket information, contact the Rent One Park box office at (618) 998-8499. For any additional information, visit our website at www.southernillinoisminers.com.