The Springfield Odyssey ends for Homer

Dave LaMont, circa 2011

Springfield brought its mascot to the 2011 draft (on the left, to clarify.)

Dave LaMont has announced he is stepping down as manager of the I-75 League’s Springfield Isotopes after 15 seasons.

Dave’s Strat tenure ran parallel to a time of many personal and professional changes, having joined the league in 2003 when we first expanded from nine to 12 teams. Over those 15 years he and his wife Jennifer have raised two young boys to Division I college athletes, and Dave has climbed the broadcasting ranks from local radio to national television broadcaster in multiple sports.

In the I-75 League, he’ll forever be known as “Homer” for his affinity for Homer Simpson. But his clubs will always be remembered as sporting a tough-as-nails pitching staff.

Here’s where the Isotopes have ranked in team pitching in the last eight seasons:

First. Second. Second. Fourth. Third. Second. Second. First.

Clayton Kershaw

The common thread over that period has been lefty ace Clayton Kershaw, who threw two no-hitters for the Isotopes under Dave (Bushwood in April 2012; Dyersville in April 2016). Second baseman Ian Kinsler has also been a longtime mainstay, anchoring a club that became known for its defensive excellence as well.

In the six years since the league expanded to 15 teams, the Isotopes won three division titles (2012, 2015, 2016), made four playoff appearances (wild-card entry in 2017) and had five seasons with winning records. They advanced to the World Series in 2016 before succumbing to the Superior Titans. Their best season was 2012 when they finished with a 102-58 mark, a year that saw three clubs break the 100-win mark in our first year of expansion.

They leave behind a club positioned to remain very competitive in 2018, still featuring the dazzling Kershaw but now becoming an offensive power force to match, led by four sluggers with 30-plus homers (J.D. Martinez, Jonathan Schoop, Adam Duvall and Steven Souza Jr.), plus 20-homer seasons from infielders Chris Davis, Kinsler and shortstop Zack Cozart. Ender Inciarte adds a .300 bat with speed and excellent defense.

So the Isotopes will live on, and likely successfully, in another form and bearing Dave’s imprint, for several years to come. We wish Dave and his family well and thank him for his participation in the league for the last 15 years.

“I cannot thank everyone enough for the fellowship, friendship and fun over the years,” Dave wrote in his farewell email to the league. “I never thought I would play as long as I did and I have no regrets.”

Dave LaMont with sons Drew (left) and Drake (right)

Dave LaMont with sons Drew (left) and Drake (right)

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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

Clip Files for June

Chatwood

The Clips’ second 5-0 sweep of Bismarck this year catapulted Applegate to a 13-7 record and a 47-33 mark after 80 games, good for a two-game lead over the Boulder Tree Huggers, who won 13 games themselves. Applegate outscored Bismarck 27-8 in the series after earlier outscoring them 26-4, for a combined 53-12 edge. … At one point during the month the Clips had an 11-game “as-rolled” winning streak, winning the last four games of a series at Dyersville, then sweeping Bismarck, then winning the first two games vs. Tatooine. … In a head-to-head clash with best-record-in-the-league Margaritaville, the clubs split the first four games and dueled into the 12th inning of Game Five, with Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller burning mano-a-mano innings, before a walkoff homer ended it in favor of the Volcanoes. … The Clips have endured 13 extra-inning games, going 5-8. Only West Atlanta (12-6 in 18 games) has played more. … The Clips have climbed to second in the league in ERA, behind just Springfield, at 3.45, as they have held opponents to a .237 batting average and just 70 homers (second-lowest in the league). … No. 5 starter Tyler Chatwood has been the surprise of the pitching staff with a 9-4, 3.28 mark, tying him for second in the league in wins. Ace Kyle Hendricks is 8-2 with a 2.97 ERA, which ranks third-best in ERA. … Bullpen ace Andrew Miller is second in the league in saves at 16. … Josh Donaldson continues to carry the Clips offensively, with 20 homers (tied for fifth in the league), 64 RBIs (third) and 56 runs scored (tied for seventh). … You might say Billy Hamilton’s contributions are “off the charts” as he leads the league in sacrifice hits (36) and stolen bases (27).

Got notes like these on your team and want to see them on the league webpage? E-mail them to me by the 4th of the following month…

Halfway Home: Not What We Expected

Apart from Margaritaville’s league-leading 49-31 mark that tops the Northbound Division, is there anything about the I-75 League’s 2017 season that we really expected?

This year’s midpoint division leaders are Margaritaville, Applegate (47-33 to lead the West) and West Atlanta (44-36 to lead the South).

Last year they were Margaritaville, Boulder and New New York. All three of those teams made the playoffs, but Superior overtook Boulder with a 45-15 flourish in the final 60 games to win the division. Will that happen again this year? The Titans may be playing possum at 40-40.

The 80-game standings will also come as a major surprise to the deadly-accurate Breath-Alyzer rankings, which, while they correctly pegged the Volcanoes to rule the North, based on a survey of brain surgeons and rocket scientists, they have misfired to this point on the Crush (picked for third in the South) and the Paperclips (picked for last in the West).

But… it’s still early. The Paperclips may be 47-33, but they’re only two wins better than they were last year, when the schedule toughened and they collapsed in the second half (39-41), failing to make the playoffs.

With a 324 “current” rating in March, the Crush ranked 13th of 15 teams entering the season, but instead it leads its division and at 44 wins has the league’s fourth-best record.

And with a 12-win June, Bushwood (ranked fourth in the North by the deadly accurate) has thrown its hat into the playoff contender ring at 44-36, just three games back of the Volcanoes.

And clubs are already beginning to jockey for playoff position following a flurry of trades, mostly of the Renbarger-on-Renbarger variety, some kinky kind of Strat porn apparently.

Intriguing head-to-head matchups await in July as we creep toward the trading deadline. Will the surprise teams continue to surprise?

The Trade That Changed Everything spices up 2017 draft

Years from now, if Andrew Benintendi and Dansby Swanson have become superstars, teams like New New York, West Atlanta, Tatooine, Applegate, Savannah and Dyersville will look back at The Trade That Changed Everything the day before the draft. And either thank their lucky stars or wonder what might have been.

Andrew Benintendi

West Atlanta manager Jeff Richards and Tatooine manager Nick Calderon, early arrivals to the 38th annual I-75 League convention, were enjoying an Atlanta-Boston exhibition game where hotshot Red Sox prospect Benintendi was in the midst of a 4-for-4 day that featured two doubles, an RBI single and a solo homer that prompted a standing ovation in the Braves’ home park.

At that point, Tatooine owned the second overall pick, and was thought to be interested in Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer as its choice, with New New York counting on taking Braves shortstop Swanson with the third pick, and Applegate playing its cards close to the vest, but secretly intending to take Benintendi.

Dansby Swanson

But Tatooine was hurting for pitching. West Atlanta was enamored with Swanson. The sun was blazing down on the seats on the third-base side of the field, and West Atlanta had a hot idea: White Sox lefty ace Chris Sale for Tatooine’s No. 2 pick overall. Calderon pondered, then pounced, knowing there were no established starting pitchers the likes of Sale available in the draft.

The reverberations began almost immediately, as text messages flew fast and furious across the country. Most impacted: New New York’s Jason Renbarger, who was devoid of shortstops and had traded up to the No. 3 pick in the hope of landing Swanson, believing catcher Gary Sanchez would go No. 1 to Margaritaville and a starting pitcher No. 2 to Tatooine.

But the Trade Changed Everything. Now after Sanchez and Swanson, a lot of unknowns. What would New New York do? It still had a hole at shortstop, and Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story was an option, as well as Fulmer, and Benintendi. Benintendi was secretly coveted by Applegate at No. 4 and openly by Savannah at No. 5, and the Scorpions cooked up a contingency deal with Dyersville that had originally seemed like a sure thing — it would go through as long as Benintendi and Fulmer were taken or about to be taken, and Contreras was available — and suddenly was up in the air.  Continue reading

This Just In

Keep your pants on.

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Dispersal Draft ushers in new era for league

Our 2015-16 Dispersal Draft will be held this Saturday, Jan. 2, beginning at 4 p.m. ET, officially marking the debut of three new managers in the I-75 League as we zero in on the start of our 37th season.

Jason and Ryan Renbarger, sons of Mike, brothers to John and nephews to Dave, join the league as the fourth and fifth Renbargers on our managerial roster; and Jeff Richards, a veteran Strat player going back to the 1970s, comes aboard as well. They replace the departing managerial trio of Phil Roselli, Mike Wilson and Dan Wilson.

Their first order of business is to build an 18-man roster from a pool of players comprised of former Chatfield, Hickory and Wisconsin players. A serpentine draft will be conducted, with each manager having one minute per pick. A random draw for the order was held on Dec. 29, with Ryan’s Dyersville Treblemakers getting the first pick, Jason’s New New York Hypnotoads getting the second pick, and Jeff’s West Atlanta Crush getting the third pick.

For the second round, the order will reverse: West Atlanta, New New York and Dyersville.

At some point in the draft, each manager also much select his March draft position from among the three draft positions Chatfield, Hickory and Wisconsin would have had. This makes for a 19-round draft.

You can watch the draft live as we are using a shared Google doc for making draft selections. Here is the link.

A reminder to the rest of the league that your 17- or 18-man retention rosters are due by 10 p.m. ET on Sunday, Jan. 3.

Our new managers are already well into their strategy sessions as they scope out the considerable talent in the dispersal pool.

Here’s a quick look at some of the aspects of the dispersal draft that will be interesting to see how they play out:

Rookies vs. the vet: This is the first league action for Jason and Ryan, while Jeff has considerable experience playing the game. Will that affect the kind of teams they draft, or their drafting strategy? Continue reading