Gwinnett first baseman Ernesto Mejia had proven that he was one of the best power hitters in Class AAA, but that wasn’t good enough to get him a shot in Atlanta.
With Freddie Freeman at first base, there was no future with the Braves for Mejia.
Now the 28-year-old native of Venezuela will get a chance to show what he can do in Japan — the next best thing to the majors.
The Braves sold Mejia to the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Pacific League on Saturday and he will report to the team within the week.
The move is an opportunity for Mejia, but a blow to the G-Braves’ hopes to contend in the Southern Division of the Class AAA International League.
Mejia, who played his last game for Gwinnett on Thursday in Columbus, was hitting .354 this season with seven home runs and an IL-best 24 RBIs in 20 games.
The right-handed hitter set a Gwinnett record with 28 home runs last season, when he led the IL by driving in 83 runs, and is the career leader for the team with 59 homers and 199 RBIs. In 287 games over three seasons, he had a .279 average, 72 doubles and 143 runs scored.
Mejia batted .296 with 24 homers and a league-best 92 RBIs in 2012 and was named the IL rookie of the year — an honor won earlier by Freeman.
That season didn’t earn him a shot with Atlanta, though, and he again didn’t get a look last season although on the 40-man roster. This year he batted .314 with two homers in spring training, but wasn’t a real candidate to make the Braves roster.
The thought was that Mejia, who is limited defensively, might be of interest to an American League team as a designated hitter, but nothing developed for the Braves as a trade option.
Mejia played in both the 2012 and 2013 AAA All-Star Games and was off to his best start yet with the G-Braves this season.
The slugger was signed by the Braves in 2002 and played all except one of his minor league seasons in the Atlanta system. He re-signed with the Braves as a free agent after playing in the Kansas City organization in 2010.
Mejia appeared in 937 minor league games over parts of 12 seasons and had a batting average of .282 with 149 home runs and 598 RBIs.