If the season ended today and the draft were tomorrow…

(Edit: Steve Hart correctly pointed out that Howie Kendrick is on Satellite Beach’s roster… I have updated the rankings to remove Kendrick at 14, bump Jay Bruce to 14, and insert Hunter Pence at 15. We apologize for the oversight.)

…here are the top 15 players on my list who’d go in the first round of the 2020 I-75 League draft. And why.

Retreads

15. Hunter Pence, OF/DH, Texas. Because even though he’s 36, he’s raking like it’s 2013, hitting .294 with a .353 on-base percentage, a .608 slugging percentage and a .961 OPS. One of only three draft-eligible players with enough qualified at-bats who has a slugging percentage over .600. The other two rank 1-2 on this list.

14. Jay Bruce, OF/1B, Philadelphia. Because he’s got 24 homers in 268 at-bats and nearly identical slugging and OPS splits vs. lefties and righties (overall, .575 and .867).

Because they’re prospects

13. Keston Hiura, 2B, Milwaukee. Because the league has a love affair with prospects even if they haven’t done much yet. Hiura has just 101 ABs so far and unremarkable hitting stats (one double? five walks?) but his range factor of 4.65 would be second-best in baseball (behind Kolten Wong) at second base if he had enough qualifying at-bats, so maybe he’ll be a 1? Who knows, I’ve given up projecting fielding ratings. Scouting report says high average, medium power, medium fielder, pretty much opposite of what he’s displayed.

NIck Senzel

Senzel

12. Nick Senzel, CF, Cincinnati. Because the league has a love affair with prospects even if they haven’t done much yet. Senzel is looking good against lefties (.973 OPS), struggling against righties (.703). Former No. 2 overall pick who has moved to the OF from 3B/2B. Scouting reports says his best quality is ability to hit for average; at .263 in 213 at-bats he has room to grow. As a center fielder, fielding rating may bump him up or drop him down from 12.

11. Eloy Jimenez, LF, Chicago White Sox. Because the league has a love affair with prospects even if they haven’t done much yet. This one though is only 22, with prodigious power yet not much of a fielder, scouts say. So far he’s clubbed 16 homers in 228 at-bats, but is hitting just .241 and his on-base percent is just .303. With 72 whiffs, he’s your prototypical all-or-nothing slugger. Continue reading

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Are your stars aligning for 2020?

2019 All-Star Game starters, reserves and pitchers have been announced, giving us a chance for an early peek at who might hold the upper hand in the 2020 Strat season. And the answer is: West Atlanta, with seven of the 64 representatives. The Crush’s strategy of punting on the 2019 season and drafting for the future looks to be paying early dividends, with five pitchers highlighting West Atlanta’s representation in Cleveland on July 9.

Bushwood checks in next with six representatives, three hitters and three pitchers. Three clubs — Margaritaville, Boulder and Dyersville — boast five representatives at this point.

There are seven all-stars who currently are not on any teams, either because they weren’t drafted or don’t yet have a card.

In the reshuffled divisional alignment, the new South and new North divisions have nearly identical aggregate All-Stars (22 and 21), while the new West can claim just 14. Here’s a look at the team-by-team totals:

NORTH (21) SOUTH (22) WEST (14)
Bushwood (6) West Atlanta (7) Dyersville (5)
Margaritaville (5) Boulder (5) Tatooine (3)
Satellite Beach (4) S. Grand Prairie (4) Applegate (3)
Destin (3) Savannah (4) Bismarck (2)
New New York (3) Greendale (2) Superior (1)

Free agents: 7

Here’s the complete rundown of all-star starters, reserves and pitchers as originally announced (before changes): Continue reading

Lava Flow for May

In “The Opposite” episode of Seinfeld, Jerry discovers a peculiar balance in his universe:

Jerry: Played cards last night.

Elaine: Oh yeah? How’d you do?

Jerry: Broke even.

Elaine: You always break even.

Jerry: Yeah, I know; like yesterday I lost a job, and then I got another one, and then I missed a TV show, and later on they re-ran it. And then today I missed a train, went outside and caught a bus. It never fails! I always even out!

In May the Volcanoes won 10 games, and lost 10 games.  After 60 games, the Volcanoes have a record of 29 wins and 31 losses.  In their 12 series, the Volcanoes have gone 3-2 in six series, 2-3 in five series, and took a 1-4 thumping at the hands of the Hypnotoads.  They have just enough offense to win 29 games (Lindor hitting .324 with 17 HRs and 42 RBI) and enough bad starting pitching to lose 31 (six pitchers have started for Margaritaville in 2019, each has an ERA of over 5.00).  Kenley Jansen has 11 saves, but has given up five home runs in 28 IP and blown three saves.

A somewhat quirky – but ultimately useless – fact:  The Volcanoes have not played any extra-innings games in 2019.  Such is the journey to a .500 season.

Three Up

Shane Bieber 

April’s “Three Up” featured two starting pitchers – Luis Castillo and Domingo German – and May’s “Three up” features three more starting pitchers.  Through Memorial Day, Volcano pitchers rank No. 3 (Castillo), No. 14 (German), No. 16 (Brandon Woodruff), No. 18 (Mike Minor), and No. 21 (Shane Bieber) in MLB for lowest OPS allowed.  The potential to throw five of the top 21 (and with Jake Arrieta and Jose Quintana “lurking” at No. 50 and No. 54) starting cards in 2020’s rotation is a big turnaround from the end of the 2018 season, when the returning Volcano starters were Ervin Santana, Andrew Cashner, Michael Fulmer, Dinelson Lamet, Cole Hamels and Brandon McCarthy (we still haven’t given up on Lamet – who is expected back for the Padres soon).  A big part of the turnaround was pick No. 20 in the March draft – Bieber.  While BP was somewhat “down” on Bieber, stating, “The plus-plus command gives him a pretty high floor of capable innings eater, but the lack of advanced stuff or any true out-pitch is what keeps him from topping out as anything more than that,” Shandler was more optimistic, noting, “Still some Dom uncertainty, but otherwise this is a skilled young SP looking at a potential breakout year.”  Through 10 starts / 63.2 IP for the Indians, Bieber has resolved the “Dom uncertainty,” increasing his K/9 rate from 9.26 (in 2018) to 11.17.  Perhaps he does have a true out-pitch after all!  We might be looking back at this start against the Orioles on May 19 as the game where Bieber “announced his presence with authority.” Bieber pitched a complete-game shutout, allowing five hits (all singles), no walks and striking out 15. Bieber also appears to have resolved his split issues (he is rated a 6R pitcher in his 2018 card), allowing an OPS of .665 vs lefties and .639 vs righties so far for the Indians.

Mike Minor Continue reading

Lava Flow for April

Through the season’s first quarter the Volcanoes emphasized that 2019 is likely to be a rebuilding year for the defending champions.  The Volcanos can score – their 207 runs scored rank fourth in the league — but cannot prevent their opponents from scoring. Their 228 runs allowed rank 14th in the league.  Most alarming is the 75 home runs allowed by Volcano pitchers, worst in the league and on a season pace for 300 homers allowed.  ERA stats for Volcano starters read like the midterm grades for Delta House:  Michael Fulmer – 5.85 (congratulations Mr. Fulmer, you’re at the top of the Delta House pledge class); Jake Arrieta – 6.07; Jose Quintana – 6.75; Luis Castillo – 7.17; Mike Minor – 9.56.

Somehow in April play the Volcanoes managed to patch together a winning record, winning series against South Grand Prairie, West Atlanta and Bushwood to post an 11-9 record on the month and 19-21 record on the season.  Key to this over-achievement were victories against pitching aces Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Trevor Bauer.  Even more impressive was winning a series against the Bushwood Gophers – a feat that the 2018 championship team could not achieve in three attempts (the Volcanoes posted a 4-11 record against the Gophers in 2018).

Three Up: Continue reading

Gopher Holes for April

When Kike Hernandez was still on the board at pick No. 25 at the big March draft in Scottsdale, the Gophers were delighted. Judged by some predraft analysts as a first-round talent, the Dodgers handyman looked like a perfect fit for Bushwood. With 422 at-bats, outstanding power, tremendous versatility and a nicely balanced card, Kike was a no-brainer pick for a team that desperately needed help at second base and in the outfield. Forty games into the season, however, the Gophers are still waiting for the real Kike to show up. With a .174 average and a .591 OPS, the underachieving Hernandez ranks as one of the many reasons that the Gophers are just 16-24 at the 40-game mark.

Speaking of underachievers, don’t forget about ace pitchers Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander and slugging outfielders Joey Gallo and George Springer. DeGrom (2-4, 6.12 ERA) and Verlander (3-4, 5.75 ERA) have been roughed up so often it is almost criminal. And we figured that Gallo couldn’t hit any worse than he did last year (.174 with 32 homers), but we were wrong (.143 with 7 homers — on pace for 28). Springer is building on his career-long underachieving rep with the Gophers, hitting just .203 with only three homers. Even veteran catcher Buster Posey, a traditional overachiever, has slipped below the Mendoza line at .196, perhaps due to exhaustion. Posey has started all 40 games behind the dish this season for the Gophers.

Continue reading

Gopher Holes for March

With three genuine aces in the rotation for the first time in 40 years, the Gophers, a team traditionally built around offense, has a different look for 2019.  Sadly, the results fell well short of the expectations for two of the three aces in March.  Jacob deGrom went 1-2 with a 4.76 ERA over five starts, and Justin Verlander was hit even harder, going 2-1 with a 6.99 ERA in his five outings.  Thankfully, Trevor Bauer held up his end, going 3-1 with a 1.61 ERA in four starts.  The Gophers, however, went only 6-8 in their aces’ 14 starts for the month, which ain’t gonna cut it.

The bullpen, which features solid arms but lacks a true closer, had a nightmarish opening month.  The pen routinely blew leads and completely imploded at least once per series.  Relievers with inflated ERAs include Ryan Pressley (11.05), Jordan Hicks (9.00), TJ McFarland (6.75) and Steve Cishek (5.25).  Long reliever Mike Montgomery bucked that trend, however, posting a 1.56 ERA over 17.1 innings and notching four saves (all of the nine-out variety).  Overall, however, the Gophers went 0-3 in extra inning games.

Offensively, the under-achievers outnumbered the overachievers.  There was George Springer at .167, second-round draft pick Kike Hernandez at .158, Joey Gallo at .143 and Isiah Kiner-Falefa at ,087.  SS Paul DeJong earned hitter of the month honors, with 7 homers and 15 RBIs, hitting .357 with a .905 slugging and a 1.254 OPS.  Ryan Zimmerman’s stats were even better in part-time duty:  hitting .393 and slugging .893 with an OPS of 1.326.  First-round pick Jesus Aguilar led the squad with 17 RBIs but hit just .200.

The Gophers finished in a dead heat on the monthly run-differential column, scoring and allowing 96 runs.

Lava Flow for March

After back-to-back 106 win seasons and I-75 World Series Championships, the Volcanoes entered 2019 with high hopes. Reality for 2019 is perhaps best summed up in this comparison: in 2018 Kris Bryant had 6 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties, and Kenley Jansen had 0 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties – in 2019 Kris Bryant has 1 diamond on his card vs righties, and Kenley Jansen has 8 ballpark diamonds on his card vs righties. Offensive home runs down, home runs allowed up is never a good recipe for winning baseball. That recipe played out in March. While the Volcano offense scored 107 runs (good for 4th in the league), Volcano pitchers allowed a league-high 125 runs and 42 home runs. Highlights in March play included Francisco Lindor breaking out of his season-long 2018 slump to bat .354 with 8 HR’s and a 3rd in the league 20 RBI’s and Freddy Peralta’s 1.80 era and 2-0 w/l record across 9 relief appearances.

With the Volcano pitchers determined to play “home run derby” through the 2019 I-75 season, perhaps more interesting for Volcano fans is following their potential talent for the 2020 I-75 season. With “Three Up / Three Down” we can report on three Volcanoes who are performing well in their 2019 MLB stats, and three Volcanoes who are lagging behind expectations in their 2019 MLB performance.

Three Up:
Julio Urias – The Volcano’s second round draft pick in the 2017 draft had his future put on hold with shoulder surgery in the 2017 MLB season. Urias pitched 4 regular season innings in the 2018 MLB season (earning him the coveted “double void” card), and 7 postseason innings for the Dodgers. Facing an innings limitation entering his age-22 season in 2019, Urias appeared destined to begin the season in the Dodgers’ bullpen. With Urias pitching as perhaps the Dodgers best starter in spring training, and with injuries to Hill and Kershaw, Urias found himself in the Dodgers April starting rotation. Urias responded with a gem in his first start, shutting the Giants out on 3 hits (in 5 innings) with no walks and 7 strikeouts. Perhaps most encouraging of all, Urias’ velocity hit 98 mph – higher than his velocity pre-2017 injury. The ace-level ceiling for Urias is back “on.”

Continue reading