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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Top 15 for 2019

There will be a stunning lack of big bats and big arms available in the 2019 draft at this rate. Our top 15 players available list includes 11 guys who will be carded for the first time. With the 2018 trade deadline looming, here’s a look at the potential top 15 players available in next year’s draft:

1. Ronald Acuna Jr., LF, Atlanta, R/R, 20: Amazing five-tool player whose power is still developing (nine homers in 193 ABs). Regarded as game’s best outfield prospect, has great range, but has yet to record an assist. Doesn’t walk much, so pedestrian OBP holds down his OPS: (.264/.325/.477/.802).  Projects as a 3(-1)e11.

2. Gleyber Torres, 2B, N.Y. Yankees, R/R, 21: Hit 15 homers in his first 225 at-bats, sports a .289 average and an .889 OPS. Mashing extra hard against lefties (1.043) and acceptable against righties (.826). Probable AL Rookie of the Year. Projects as a 2e26.

3. Shohei Otani, P-DH, L.A. Angels, L/R, 24: Strat’s first two-way player will let some lucky team save a roster spot as a limited starter and part-time DH for 2019 with the potential to make an even bigger contribution in future years. Owns a 1.14 WHIP on the mound in 49 innings but is recovering from an injured pitching elbow. At the plate, in 163 ABs, the lefty hitter struggles mightily against southpaws, but is crushing righties (.314/.386/.636/1.032), against whom he has hit all nine of his homers.

4. Juan Soto, OF, Washington, L/L, 19: Sweet swinger who can hit to all fields, hit for average, hit for power, is sporting a 1.000 OPS number. Hits lefties (.385) and righties (.291). Great batting eye, has 38 walks in his first 203 ABs. Not a great defensive player. Frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year. Projects as a 4(0)e6.

5. Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Milwaukee, R/R, 28: Has burst onto the scene with 25 homers in 291 at-bats while also hitting for average (.289/.367/.605/.972). Well-balanced against both LHPs and RHPs. Projects as a 3e7.

Eduardo Escobar

Escobar

6. Eduardo Escobar, 3B, Arizona, S/R, 29: Former Bomber is a doubles machine (37 in 368 at-bats) for Twins, just acquired by D-backs. Splits favor him vs. righties: .282/.338/.576/.915. Can play short and second, has just four total errors in 97 games. Projects as a 3e8 at third base; also eligible at 2b, ss and LF.

7. Walker Buehler, RHP, L.A. Dodgers, R/R, 24: Let the Ferris Buehler jokes commence if you like, but Buehler has posted a 1.10 WHIP in his first 12 games (11 starts). Teams are hitting just .231 off in 62 innings. First-round draft pick in 2015 (24th overall) out of Vanderbilt.

8. Miguel Andujar, 3B, N.Y. Yankees, R/R, 23: Leads AL rookies in hits and total bases (44 in 343 ABs, including 30 doubles). Only 16 walks to go with .294/.328/.499/.826. Splits show power vs. lefties, high average vs. righties. Projects as a 4e14.

9. Brian Anderson, RF/3B, Miami, R/R, 25: Likely to achieve full-time status with 400 ABs already. Hits for average equally well vs. lefties and righties and gets on base: (.285/.364/.418/.782). Former third-round pick from University of Arkansas.  Projects as a 4(+1)e2 right fielder and a 3e19 third sacker.

10. Austin Meadows, OF, Pittsburgh, L/L, 23: Not a great arm but has all of the other tools. Former first-round pick, ninth overall, out of high school. Showing more power against lefties in limited sample but hitting for average against both. Overall hitting .298/.333/.477/.810. Projects at 3(+1)e10 and as a star stealer.

Nick Markakis

Markakis

11. Nick Markakis, OF, Atlanta, L/L, 34: Enjoying a career renaissance, hitting over .300 and plus-.380 on-base against both lefties and righties. On pace for his most homers since 2009.

12. Kyle Gibson, RHP, Minnesota, R/R, 30: Nothing spectacular here but with slim pickings for starting pitchers, the former Paperclip offers innings and solid numbers, a 1.21 WHIP (21 starts, 129 innings) and balanced splits (.653 OPS vs. LHBs, .655 vs. RHBs).

13. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 2B, Toronto, R/R, 24: Hitting .308 in 133 at-bats with an .832 OPS and splits that favor him against RHPs: .330 average and .883 OPS. Seven homers. Projects as a 2e18.

14. Miles Mikolas, RHP, St. Louis, R/R, 29: Nice WHIP (1.07) in 124 innings, the problem is he could be one of those 9R guys as his splits are pronounced: Lefties hit .271 off him with a .693 OPS; righties hit .194 with a .495 OPS.

15. Max Muncy, UT, L.A. Dodgers, L/L, 27: Has 24 homers in 255 ABs, but is hurt by low average vs. RHPs (.249).  Has very nice on-base numbers both ways though: .438/.385. Projects at first base as his best position, 3e10; also plays 2b, 3b and OF.

2018 Non-Mock Draft: It’ll be the Year of the First Baseman

Justin Smoak is hitting .298, has 26 homers and a .960 on-base-plus-slugging average.

Logan Morrison has 26 homers and a .936 OPS. Eric Thames has 23 homers and a .371 on-base average. Even Yonder Alonso is getting on base at a .373 clip and has 21 homers.

All of those first basemen will become hot commodities in the 2018 I-75 League draft.

In the second round. Or maybe even the third.

The problem is, a plethora of relatively comparable available players at an already stacked position, most of whom are not going to be great fielders, affords drafting teams time to lay in the weeds and focus on other needs, biding their time until the talent pool thins and then snagging a still-big bat.

Which begs the question — so who will go in the first round?

Well sadly, this upcoming draft doesn’t shape up to have much more young talent than the grim 2017 draft, unless a whole lot of studs come up in the next two months. (Thank you Chicago White Sox; Yoan Moncada won’t make this list now but certainly will be a high pick come March.)

Drumroll, please. In reverse order, here are the current top 15 available players for the 2018 draft:

15. Aaron Hicks, OF, Yankees, 27, S/R: Has been on the DL since June 25 with an oblique injury, but he already has 200 ABs, during which the switch-hitter hit .290 and posted a .398 on-base number plus a .513 slugging number. Always a good fielder, plenty of speed, Hicks’ biggest problem competing for playing time is a crowded Yankees outfield. Still, he’ll make an awesome fourth outfielder for a team drafting 15th.

14. Trey Mancini, OF, Orioles, 25, R/R: As reported by Orioles fan site Eutaw Street Report, Mancini “would lead AL rookies in wOBA, wRC+ and slugging percentage, and rank third in fWAR” if it weren’t for a guy named Aaron Judge. Mancini is hitting .305 with an .881 OPS, which looks even better when you check out his splits vs. RHPs: .330/.381/.570/.951. Continue reading