Emergency Top 15 update: Keston Hiura is on fire

Forget everything we said about projected No. 13 pick Keston Hiura, second baseman for the Brewers, having an unimpressive season at the plate. Check out what he’s done in his last 10 games:

Can you read that? (Click on it to go to his page if you can’t.) His batting average has jumped 71 points and his OPS has skyrocketed 192 points! If the draft were held July 20, we’d bump him up to No. 6.

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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

40th draft just the icing on the cake for milestone convention

At Strat Central in Scottsdale, Ariz., eight of the league’s 15 managers gather around a cake marking the start of the I-75 League’s 40th season.

The I-75 League kicked off its fourth decade on March 2 with an annual convention that not only featured an action-packed player draft, but also commemorated the staying power of a league that is blasting into its fourth decade.

One of the oldest continuously operating Strat-O-Matic baseball netplay leagues in the country, the I-75 League begins its 40th season with five managers who were there on Day One back in 1980, and three more who are second-generation managers.

Eight managers convened at Draft Central in Scottsdale, Ariz., for this year’s festivities, which have included golf, spring training games and some incredibly good fortune at the gaming tables.

Seven more managers participated via the Internet for the six-hour draft, which was paused halfway through for a pizza break and was celebrated afterward with cake and accolades.

The level of scouting and analyzing and mock drafting has escalated to the point where the first round came off just about as predicted, with Destin manager Mark Gergel selecting Ronald Acuna Jr. with the first pick and many other predicted picks immediately following suit.

Gergel earlier in the day had played a winning hand at a local casino that netted four figures in payout, then kindly treated the group to our mid-draft pizza.

League officers and founding managers Dave Renbarger, Mike Renbarger and Gary Kicinski were on hand for the occasion, while fellow originals Steve Hart and Steve Bizek participated remotely.

Former manager Ken Crawford helped moderate the draft, keeping time, tracking time outs and helping Gergel’s Beach Bums make the more difficult choices after the Acuna no-brainer.

Divergent strategies quickly became apparent, with teams like defending World Series champion Margaritaville, rebuilding West Atlanta and newcomer Greendale snapping up prized prospects.

Meanwhile, the second generation of Renbarger managers — John, Ryan and Jason — as well as several other strong teams, went all-in on efforts to complete the puzzle pieces that they hope will lead to postseason glory right here, right now.

There won’t be room at the postseason party for all who hold those aspirations, however, but just about every manager is eager to get the 2019 season underway to see exactly who’s got what it takes to capture our treasured trophy in our milestone 40th season.

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OK, are we 40? Or 39?

cake.

So, we were born in 1980, this is 2019… are we 39, or 40?

From an age standpoint, we are 39. We are celebrating our 40th draft and start of our 40th season.

If you think about it, you don’t “turn” 1 year old until you’ve completed 1 year of life.

Strat Central West ready to host 40th draft!

We’re just hours away now from the I-75 League’s 40th draft.

Managers on site in Scottsdale, Ariz., already have taken in a couple of spring training games and have settled into comfortable accommodations that will serve as Strat Central for this year’s online draft.

Eight managers will be drafting from Scottsdale and seven will be participating online.

The draft will begin at 5 p.m. MT (7 p.m. ET) when Destin is expected to announce the selection on Ronald Acuna Jr. as the first choice of the draft. But the I-75 League draft is always full of surprises and last-minute trades, so nothing is guaranteed until the pick is entered on the grid.

Here’s a look at this year’s clean, spacious, modern accommodations at Strat Central:

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The Big 4-0: Arizona convention to kick off milestone season

Well, we’re about to officially turn 40.

On March 2 the I-75 League will conduct its annual convention and draft that will precede the start of our 40th season of Strat-O-Matic baseball. Thirty-nine years after we held our first draft over a telephone hookup between a kitchen in Detroit and a newspaper office in Tampa, I-75 League managers will convene in Scottsdale, Ariz., for a face-to-face draft among eight managers and via an internet connection to seven more. This time around, the stars being sought are Acuna, Soto and Ohtani, instead of Seaver, Ryan and Winfield.

Five of our current 15 managers weren’t even born yet back in 1980. Another five — Dave and Mike Renbarger, Steve Hart, Steve Bizek and Gary Kicinski — are still skippering squads as they were in 1980.

We’re no longer rolling dice in a box, no longer keeping score by hand, no longer using “stooge” managers, no longer enduring 10-game series and having to mail results back to our opponents.

Now we click a mouse to roll dice, a computer keeps score for us, all 1,200 of our games per season are played mano-a-mano over the internet, and we celebrate our ability to play a five-game series in the shortest time possible.

Managers assemble for 1981 draft at Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge in Knoxville, Tenn.

But the amazing thing is merely that we have persevered, through job changes and family raising and expansion and format shifts. As best we can assess, our little league is no worse than the seventh-longest-running active Strat Netplay baseball league in the country.

Oldest active Strat Netplay baseball leagues (year founded):

1. Greater United States Strat-O-Matic Organization (1971)
2. Fly-By-Night Baseball Association (1974)
3. Capital Baseball League (1975)
4. United States Baseball Association (1977)
5. Strat-O-Matic Baseball Ivy League League (1979)
6. Delcal Strat-O-Matic Baseball League (1979)
7. (tie) North American Strat-O-Matic Association (1980)
7. (tie) I-75 League (1980)
7. (tie) Ferndale (Mich.) Strat-O-Matic League (1980)

Source: Strat-O-Matic baseball league registry research

As we embark on our 40th season, we could be seeing a changing of the guard. After a season in which four of the league’s wily veterans advanced to the Final Four, this year the league’s younger crowd is jockeying for position among the league’s anticipated elite teams. With returning strong teams, high draft picks and a freewheeling front office, teams like Boulder, Tatooine, Dyersville and New New York could be setting stakes in the ground.

Destin dealt ace Chris Sale to move into the No. 1 pick, presumably to select Brave fave Ronald Acuna Jr. Juan Soto, two-way star Shohei Ohtani, and young pitching studs Walker Buehler, Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas are expected to soon follow.

The draft will likely then quickly descend into a free-for-all for relief aces, setup stars and lefty mashers. St. Louis pitchers and Tampa Bay hitters will be prized acquisitions.

It’s only our second visit ever to Arizona for this group of Florida lovers, but it presents a chance to check out some teams we don’t usually see, with so many camps bunched around the Phoenix area. The convention will also feature the drawing of teams for the divisional realignment that will take effect in the 2020 season.

Let’s draft!

Acuna, Soto, Ohtani, oh my! And 12 more first-rounders to salivate over

OK, it’s not the 2016 draft all over again, let’s get that out of the way. That draft had studs galore but a lot of them — Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Addison Russell, Corey Seager — were skilled fielders at up-the-middle infield positions. This year’s draft is stacked with great-hitting outfielders and corner infielders. We expect all six players who are among the Rookie of the Year finalists to go in the top 8 of the 2019 I-75 League draft that will kick off our 40th season. It’s not a mock draft because team drafting positions have yet to be assigned. It’s just a rundown of the best players available. Want to look back at our midseason 15? It’s here. Be sure to read all the way to the bottom as we need your help.

1. Ronald Acuna, OF, Atlanta (Bats Right, Throws Right, Age 20): Probably the game’s next great superstar, a five-tool player who turns 21 in December. Hit .293 with a .366 on-base percentage, a .552 slugging percentage and a .918 OPS. Smoked 26 doubles, four triples and 26 homers in 433 at-bats. Stole 16 bases. Projects as a 3(-1)e8 left fielder. Previous rank: 1.

2. Juan Soto, OF, Washington (L/L, 20): Soto has a ridiculous batting eye for a 20-year-old, walking 79 times in 414 at-bats for a .406 on-base percentage (among full-time players, only Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Joey Votto were better). He was hitting over .300 most of the year as well before finishing at .292 / .406 / .517 / .923 with 25 doubles, a triple and 22 homers. Made some boneheaded plays on the bases and isn’t the best fielder in the world, but he just turned 20! Projects as a 4(0)e3 left fielder. PR: 4.

3. Shohei Ohtani, P/DH, L.A. Angels (L/R, 24): Still can make a case for Ohtani to go No. 1 as he presents an unusual pitching/hitting combination that Strat will have to deal with. Elbow injury cut into his playing time and diminished his value somewhat, but he still gives you a hard-to-beat .285 / .361 / .564 / .925 offensive card with 21-2-22 extra-base numbers in 326 at-bats. He also stole 10 bases. On the mound, Ohtani offers 51 and two-thirds innings to the tune of a 1.16 WHIP and a .203 / .289 / .322 / .621 mark. Had Tommy John surgery on Oct. 1 and won’t pitch until 2020. PR: 3.

4. Walker Buehler, SP, L.A. Dodgers (R/R, 24): Slender rookie stud posted a 0.93 WHIP in 137 innings, limiting hitters to a .193 batting average. Has a Vanderbilt pedigree, is a former first-round pick (2015) and already has his Tommy John surgery out of the way. Will have a balanced card with overall numbers of .193 / .256 / .300 / .556. PR: 7.

5. Max Muncy, IF, L.A. Dodgers (L/R, 28): Crushed 35 homers in 395 at-bats. Say no more. But we will anyway. Plays three infield positions (best at first base) plus left field. Posted .263 / .391 / .582 / .973 numbers overall and is even more merciless against RHPs (.261 / .401 / .601 / 1.002). Projects as a 3e13 first baseman. PR: 15.

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