Gophers emerge as team to beat, says power rankings

There wasn’t a lot of offseason buzz surrounding the Bushwood Gophers, who failed to make the playoffs in 2010. But with some shrewd trading and the selection of catcher Buster Posey in the 2011 draft, the Gophers are the team to beat in the 32nd season of the I-75 Strat-O-Matic League.

So says our statistical analysis, which calculated the OPS numbers for key hitters and key pitchers on each club to devise our preseason power rankings.

The Gophers came out with the best offense in the league according to the rankings, and with the second-best starting pitching in their division, we’re declaring Bushwood the odds-on favorite to win the North.

Here’s our predictions. Numbers in parentheses reflect hitting rank +pitching rank =overall rating within the division:

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A look back at last year’s predicted finish

It’s time to trot out that annual favorite, our preseason power rankings, in which we analyze the talent on our 12 teams post-draft and predict how they’re going to finish.

But first let’s take a look back at last year’s predictions and see how they turned out.

One year ago we said:

Wisconsin is going to kick our butts this year. Applegate’s evaluation shows the Warhawks have far and away the best offense in the league. Combine that with the third-best pitching and you’ve got a tandem that looks unbeatable, particularly in the South Division.

Wisconsin did indeed have a strong year with 90 wins but it was Savannah that dominated the division with 96. (Final standings)

Coming in at No. 2 in the overall rankings is the expected North Division powerhouse, the Springfield Isotopes.

You’ll recall that Springfield was part of that frantic final-month finish involving Tropical and Hickory, with the Heat pulling away for a three-game margin (90-87) over the Isotopes. Still, the Isotopes did make the playoffs.

In fact, the six teams that made the playoffs were in the top eight of our preseason ranking. The misfires:

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Trading frenzy highlights 2011 draft

The start to our 32nd season will be as memorable for the deals flying about the room during the draft as it will be for the picks themselves. (See photo gallery.)

Ken Crawford, left, reviews his moderator duties with commissioner Dave Renbarger.

A total of six deals were swung during the 5-hour, 20-minute draft, including Ike Davis being traded not once but twice. (Trade recap.)

The exciting first round highlight was the trade of Chatfield’s No. 5 pick to Margaritaville, which snapped up Jose Bautista for its power-laden lineup and shipped off former first-round pick Jay Bruce. (Full round-by-round draft board.)

The first round got off to a predictable start with Bismarck taking Jason Heyward and Bushwood taking Buster Posey.  Chatfield followed with its first of many future star selections in catcher Carlos Santana.

South Grand Prairie’s intentions were finally revealed with the selection of Marlins slugger Mike Stanton, followed by Margaritaville’s choice of Jose Bautista.

Dan Wilson, left, and Ken Kuzdak map out first-round strategy.

Applegate went after Stephen Strasburg to the surprise of few, but Detroit’s selection of Starlin Castro at pick No. 7 did raise some eyebrows.

Hickory added a big stick in Aubrey Huff and Springfield added the lefty speedster it needed in Brett Gardner. Dazed to find Trevor Cahill still available, the Clips grabbed the A’s righty, forgetting all about their plans to draft Pedro Alvarez in this spot. Wisconsin then resorted to lefty reliever Hong-Chi Kuo and Margartaville closed the round with workhorse Brett Myers.

The second round saw Savannah select Ike Davis with the 24th pick, its first of the draft, only to immediately ship him off to Margaritaville along with pick No. 60 in exchange for Billy Wagner — whom the Volcanoes had taken with the 23rd pick — and pick No. 73.

"We like Ike?" Who didn't? Davis started with Steve Hart, wound up in Chatfield.

Ike Davis never even shopped for a plane ticket to Margaritaville though, as the Volcanoes flipped him to Chatfield along with pick No. 157 for pick Nos. 28 and 37.

Ken Crawford deftly managed the timekeeping, pick-keeping and Internet chat room, from which managers John McMillan, Steve Bizek and Garth Lewis/Rick Lackey made their selections.

At the conclusion of the draft, divisions were drawn to take effect with the 2012 season. They are:

Division A:  Springfield, Savannah, South Grand Prairie, Hickory and one expansion team TBA.

Division B: Margaritaville, Bushwood, Wisconsin, Applegate and one expansoin team TBA.

Division C: Superior, Bismarck, Chatfield, Detroit and one expansion team TBA.

Springfield brought its mascot to the draft (on the left, to clarify.)

Prior to the draft, awards were presented for 2011 accomplishments, including divisional championship plaques to Steve Hart’s Savannah Scorpions and Jamie Turner’s Tropical Heat (accepted by Dave LaMont); and to Steve Hart for his World Series championship.

Three recent rule proposals (balks/wild pitches/passed balls; endurance and uncarded players) failed, but the proposal to eliminated a team’s ability to pinch-run or pinch-hit after failing to get a lead was approved 9-3.

Titans, Dogs swing late deal

The Demo Dogs and Titans swung a deal late Friday night, less than 24 hours before the draft, that saw a swap of players and picks.

Moving to Superior is closer Francisco Rodriguez and pick 30. Moving back to Detroit is pick 90 along with infielder Omar Infante.

I’m ready. Let’s draft.

2011 final mock draft

It’s a flash mock draft, just days before the real deal in Kissimmee, Fla. I didn’t put a lot of thought into these, so your “I wouldn’t draft that guy if he were the last available player on earth” retorts will not bother me.

1. Bismarck: RF Jason Heyward. Even though they should take Buster Posey.
2. Bushwood: C Buster Posey.
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