2018’s Unconventional Convention a Hit Nonetheless

Mike Renbarger (red shirt) and Sons during the 2018 draft.

Mike Renbarger (red shirt) and Sons during the 2018 draft.

The new, (Joel) young blood that has been added to the league in recent years had its first significant impact on the outcome of a draft as we conducted the 2018 I-75 League convention, marking the start of our 39th season.

The Joel reference may be lost on the young whippersnappers, who are seemingly feeling their oats now that they have a couple of years of Strat play under their belts.

Incessant wheeling and dealing of draft picks continued right up to the moment before the first selection was called out, and even continued throughout the draft, primarily orchestrated by millennial managers like John Renbarger, Jason Renbarger, Ryan Renbarger and Nick Calderon, all of whom have joined the league in the last few years.

A total of 68 draft picks changed hands this year, leaving swaths of yellow splashed across the draft board, including 10 of the first 13 picks, keeping “mock draft” predictions a constantly moving target.

2018 Draft Grid

And John and Jason Renbarger in particular weren’t making those deals to put themselves in better position to select great players. They were putting themselves in better position to select great unproven players, leading to a major run on prospects among the very earliest picks.

Tatooine’s Nick Calderon gave away present-day talent for prospective superstars, acquiring Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies with the second pick and Cincinnati pitcher Luis Castillo with the seventh pick. John Renbarger’s Boulder team maneuvered its way into the fourth and fifth picks, selecting prospects Rafael Devers and Yoan Moncada. And New New York’s Jason Renbarger jumped up to the sixth spot to take all 24 at-bats offered by Washington outfielder Victor Robles.

Steve Hart, left, dealt the No. 1 pick to Steve Nieroda, right, who selected Cody Bellinger

Steve Hart, left, dealt the No. 1 pick to Steve Nieroda, right, who selected Cody Bellinger.

The No. 1 “prospect” though went as expected to Satellite Beach, where Manager Steve Nieroda snagged slugger Cody Bellinger (following a trade with Savannah) as expected to kick off the six-hour festivities, which began in the 3 o’clock hour, as there were no spring training games locally to attend that normally would have had us starting in early evening.

Twelve of the league’s 15 managers made their way to Florida for the league’s 39th draft, although three made their selections unconventionally from a Draft Central annex five miles away, connected to Draft Central via cell phone and Google doc draft grid. Three other managers drafted remotely from their home locations.

The 15-round affair was at times tense, at other times jovial. There were the usual faux pas of a couple of picks being spent on players already drafted or who had been retained. But there seemingly was something for everyone, as an abundance of attractive cards seemed to be available whether you were looking for offense, or relief pitching, and there were even a handful of starting pitchers worthy of first-round selection for a change.

Commissioner Dave Renbarger, left, makes award presentation to 2017 World Series winner John McMillan.

Commissioner Dave Renbarger, left, makes award presentation to 2017 World Series winner John McMillan.

We made our usual outings to spring training games in Lakeland, with bonus ballgames in Tampa and West Palm Beach for early arrivers or late stayers. We endured Kissimmee’s penchant for traffic backups and poor restaurant service. And we honored our 2017 champions during a pre-draft presentation of hardware (watch on our league Facebook page if you’re a member of the group).

Some wise guy suggested the B in Joe's Crab Shack be replaced with a P after it took more than an hour to get our food.

Some wise guy suggested the B in Joe’s Crab Shack be replaced with a P after it took more than an hour to get our food. We found ways to keep ourselves entertained however.

When it was over we also conducted video interviews with each of the nine managers who participated from Draft Central, and you can enjoy their thoughts on how things went either from this YouTube playlist, or by watching individual clips below.

 

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Meet new manager Kevin Gergel

We may think of ourselves as the foremost Strat-O-Matic brains in the country, but none of us had actually played ball as a professional. None of us had walked the walk. None of us can say we had our own page on baseball-reference.com.

Well now we have someone who has.

As we start our 39th season, we welcome Kevin Gergel to the fold — son of Mark Gergel, sure to be confused with Keith Gergel, and a former draft pick of the Seattle Mariners.

Kevin Gergel and wife Teil

Kevin Gergel and wife Teil

Kevin will be skippering the East Cobb Juice, the team that will replace Dave LaMont’s Springfield Isotopes for the upcoming season. Kevin, 36,  is a business development manager for ITA Group, and lives in Marietta, Ga., with his wife Teil, daughter Maris (10) and son Kellan (7).

Growing up in Livonia, Mich., Kevin played Little League baseball on teams coached by his dad. He went on to play baseball at Georgia Tech and then Kennesaw State in Georgia, earning status as an all-American catcher, leading to being selected by the Mariners in the 24th round of the 2005 amateur draft. Batting left and throwing right, playing catcher and first base, he hit a combined .307 / .365 / .503 / .869 in rookie ball and in a brief stint with Class A Inland Empire of the California League.

Other notable picks in 2005: 1. Justin Upton. 2. Alex Gordon. 4. Ryan Zimmerman. 5. Ryan Braun. 7. Troy Tulowitzki. 10. Cameron Maybin. 11. Andrew McCutcheon. 12. Jay Bruce.

In 2006 he played for an Independent League team, the Traverse City (Mich.) Beach Bums, from whom the Destin Beach Bums draw their name.

His I-75 League team name is pulled from two elements of his past: East Cobb is a reference to the Georgia travel ball program Kevin played on that won the AAU Junior Olympics; and Juice is a reference to three years of playing in the Orlando area for a youth travel program, Chet Lemon’s Juice,  coached by the former Tigers outfielder.

“Thank you for accepting me in the league, it’s a privilege to take over a world class organization in the Springfield Isotopes,” Kevin wrote in December 2017 following his selection. “Though we are relocating and renaming the team to the East Cobb Juice, we will look to build on the foundation of success that Dave LaMont leaves behind and honor Homer’s legacy.”

We welcome Kevin to the league, and if we ever manage to have another league softball game at our annual draft, there’s a new favorite as to who the No. 1 pick is likely to be.

Lava Flow for September

September play saw the Volcanoes post their highest total for victories in a month with 16.  Roster rotation continued, with Ervin Santana and Colby Lewis returning from their August furlough, and Aroldis Chapman taking a September furlough.  … Jon Lester has pitched well since his trade deadline pick-up (49 IP, 45 hits, 13 bb’s, 47 K’s, 3.49 ERA), but a lack of run support (5.75 runs per start, but most of those coming in the 20-2 romp over Bismarck) has lead to a disappointing 2 wins and 4 losses in Lester’s 8 starts. … Matt Moore has pitched well also since his trade deadline pick-up (49 IP, 51 hits, 21 bb’s, 49 K’s, 4.38 ERA), but phenomenal run support (9.00 runs per start) has lead to 6 wins and 1 loss.  … Pitching was the key to the Volcanoes’ September surge, with the team posting a 2.60 ERA across its 20 games.  Lester went 1-3 in September (with a 2.70 era), while the rest of the team went 15-1. … Ervin Santana was almost unhittable in September, pitching 25.1 innings while yielding only 4 hits, 2 walks and 21 strikeouts (and 0 runs!).  The pitching surge helped compensate for a lackluster month from David Ortiz, who was held to a .237 average and 3 HRs. … Picking up the offensive slack for Ortiz, Wilson Ramos batted .357 in September with 5 HRs and 14 RBIs, raising his season totals to a .329 average with 29 HRs and 85 RBIs.  While Ramos’ totals are impressive, adding in Gary Sanchez’s 16 HRs and 49 RBIs, and the Volcanoes have gotten 45 HRs and 134 RBIs out of their catcher slot. … Looking towards possible October playoff matchups, the Volcanoes have a winning season record against every team – except the West Atlanta Crush (4 wins and 6 losses).  Margaritaville will keep an eye on the Southbound race – rooting for an SGP, Dyersville or Savannah win!

37th season kicks off with best convention ever

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A record managerial turnout for our annual retention draft in Kissimmee, Fla., launched the 37th season for the I-75 Strat League, with three new managers at the helm.

With 11 of the 15 managers drafting in person at Draft Central and four more participating remotely, the exciting first round stacked with big-time prospects had both predictability and surprises.

But logistically everything went smooth as silk, with the 14-round draft being completed in less than five hours, including a 30-minute break for some excellent pizza from Flippers.

The rest of the convention featured the usual traditions: ballgames in Kissimmee (last year for the Astros here), Lakeland, Melbourne and more. Dinners at Joe’s and Sonny’s. Steve Hart brought his own folding table. But surprisingly, Steve Bizek did not draft from a standing position in the kitchen.

With a slew of highly regarded prospects available, the first round was rich with young talent. Destin and Margaritaville started the proceedings by selecting Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Kris Bryant (the last two to the Volcanoes) with the top three picks.

Superior had sandwich selections at 4 and 6, taking Mets phenom Noah Syndergaard and Dodgers infielder Cory Seager around South Grand Prairie’s choice of Cubs phenom Addison Russell.

Boulder went for pitching at 7 with the Astros’ young star Lance McCullers, followed by Dyersville rookie manager Ryan Renbarger’s selection of the first of many prospects in Kyle Schwarber. West Atlanta manager Jeff Richards marked his debut with the selection of Yankees pitcher Luis Severino, the first mild surprise of the round based on mock drafts.

At 10, Satellite Beach opted for Twins young slugger Miguel Sano. Finally, at 11, a veteran was selected when Bismarck grabbed Curtis Granderson for his high on-base count vs. righties and unlimited availability. Continue reading

2016 divisional alignments selected

Per the league constitution, our divisions were redrawn on March 6, prior to the start of our 36th season. The alignment takes effect for the 2016 season. Teams were randomly pulled from a hat. The results are:

North Division
Margaritaville
Springfield
Bismarck
Bushwood
Michigan

South Division
South Grand Prairie
Chatfield
Wisconsin
Savannah
Hickory

West Division
Superior
Satellite Beach
Destin
Applegate
Boulder* (formerly known as Iowa)

Iowa has decided to rename its club the Boulder Tree-huggers, effective immediately.

Expansion teams chase hitters in first round

Expansion teams largely eschewed pitching talent and went for offense Tuesday night in the first round of the I-75 League Expansion Draft.

Beginning with Iowa’s selection of first baseman Mark Teixeira of Springfield, the expansion teams showed a clear preference for offense over pitching… or, looking at some of the batting averages involved, maybe it was defense over pitching. Only two pitchers, Jair Jurrjens and Sergio Romo, were taken among the 12 picks.

Here are the picks in the order they were taken:

1. Iowa: Mark Teixeira, 1B, from Springfield, age 31, hit .248.
2. English: Nick Markakis, RF, from Savannah, 27, hit .284.
3. Michigan: Chris Young, CF, from Detroit, 28, hit .236.
4. Satellite Beach: Danny Espinosa, 2B, from Applegate, 24, hit .236.
5. Satellite Beach: Cameron Maybin, CF, from Chatfield, 24, hit .264.
6. Michigan: Jair Jurrjens, SP, from Superior, 25, 1.22 WHIP.
7. English: Emilio Bonifacio, UT, from Bushwood, 26, hit .296.
8. Iowa: Alexei Ramirez, SS, from Wisconsin, 30, hit  .269.
9. Iowa: Colby Rasmus, OF, from Margaritaville, 25, hit .225.
10. English: John Jay, CF, from Bismarck, 26, hit .297.
11. Michigan: Stephen Drew, SS, from South Grand Prairie, 28, hit .252.
12. Satellite Beach: Sergio Romo, RP, from Hickory, 28, 0.71 WHIP.

The next step in the expansion process is for existing team managers to declare the two additional players they’d like to protect; they must do so by 8 p.m. ET Wednesday. The draft resumes Thursday at 8 p.m. ET with Round Two.  Managers can e-mail their selections or enter them in on the appropriate lines on the Draft Board.

Who, when, where and what’s missing

Time for a little photo trivia! In the comments section below, see if you can A) identify all of the people in the photos, B) tell me when and where the photo was taken, and C) identify what’s different about the two shots.

Group photo from a past convention

Look closely! Where’s Waldo?

Group photo from a past convention. Name those managers!