Hot Cards of 2014 (Replay Zone – March 2015)

By Jeff Polman
March ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict.
My preview of Strat’s most desirable 2014 baseball cards will be done a little differently. The yearly draft for the East Coast Baseball Association I’m a part of took place back on March 1st, and I barely had enough time to break up the card sheets and sort them into their respective 12 teams. It only took 90 minutes to complete the draft via nationwide conference call, which is pretty good considering we were having major audio difficulties that day, and every announced selection sounded like it was coming from a river raft in the Grand Canyon.
My Culver City Skanks reached the World Series last autumn in my fifth year in the league, and as was the case the only other time I reached a draft league World Series, I got eliminated in four games, this time by Mark Gratkowski’s Maryland Mayhem. Less power and very deep and amazing relief pitching were the themes of the new 2014 set, and if there was anything I needed, it was reliable relief pitching. Here then, are the results of our first two rounds, as an entry point into my analysis of the “rookie” cards and ECBA teams:
1–Jose Abreu, White Sox, to the Poster Boys
Kind of a no-brainer, Abreu clearly has the most powerful and promising rookie card in the set, and Ultimate Strat Fan Brett Carow, who brought up the rear with the Poster Boys in his debut ECBA season, needed him badly. His super advanced side is riddled with negative clutch, but because we opt for the basic side with the super advanced fielding, this made him even more desirable. The Poster Boys have collected a lot of good young talent, like Gerrit Cole, Zach Wheeler, Joe Panik, Brock Holt, Yasiel Puig and both Wade Davis and Andrew Miller coming out of the bullpen, and has already racked up some early wins against good clubs.
2—George Springer, Astros, to the Sickies
Lots of raw power and lots of whiffs, the kind of card I tend to stay away from, but the Sickies have always been big on prospects, and Springer is one of the best. Elder league statesman Al Ringland has Stephen Strasburg, Jake Arrieta and David Price to anchor his pitching staff, but once again is a bit underwhelming in the offense department, with only Anthony Rizzo, Todd Frazier and Buster Posey providing ample slug.
3—Corey Dickerson, Rockies, to the Fisher Cats
Kevin Fisher’s Cats went for a guy with a killer card, a .931 OPS beauty that helps your forget his 4-ratings and plus arm in both left field and center. The Cats offense seems to be a little de-clawed otherwise, but he does have Craig Kimbrel saving games and Andrew Cashner and Michael Wacha to start them.
4—Rusney Castillo, Red Sox, to the Sickies
The Sickies traded for the Bootleggers’ fourth pick, and cashed in with another prospect. Castillo has an amazing card with a .928 OPS, but also batted just 36 times and will be mostly limited to pinch-hitting duty.
5—Corey Kluber, Indians, to the Jerseys
The A.L. Cy Young winner goes to Warren Ringland’s team. A nice pickup, to go along with Doug Fister, Cole Hamels, and Zack Greinke in the rotation, and a pen that includes Santiago Casilla and virtually unhittable Greg Holland. The Jerseys also feature killer power cards like Devin Mesoraco, Giancarlo Stanton Matt Kemp, and Steve Pearce, and having to face him 20 times in the Western Division won’t exactly be my cup of tea.
6—Jorge Soler, Cubs, to the Woodstock Sabres
Co-commissioner, Ultimate Strat Fan runner-up, and exquisite handcrafted Strat ballparks architect Larry Fryer chose Cubs phenom Soler as his first of an incredible 19 picks in the draft. Soler only has 89 at bats but a ton of pop in that 3-column, and the Sabres, already with speed merchants Billy Hamilton, Jose Altuve, and Andrew McCutchen after a blockbuster trade that sent Mike Trout to the Surf, was about to load up for the new year…
7—Mookie Betts, Red Sox, to the Fisher Cats
Another Boston rook went early, but the Cats have since traded him to the Mass Maniacs for a future pick, which is beyond my comprehension. The guy is going to be a beast (admitted Boston fan talking).
8—Josh Harrison, Pirates, to the Woodstock Sabres
One of my favorite cards in the new set, Harrison plays many positions, delivers some great offense and speed (and in the advanced game, super clutch), and certainly might have been my first pick if he had dropped that far.
9—Jacob deGrom, Mets, to the Woodstock Sabres
One of my favorite young pitcher cards in the new set, a 2.69 ERA, very little homer damage, and certainly also might have been my first pick if he had dropped that far.
10—Dellin Betances, Yankees, to the Surf
Co-commish Jim Sebastian, who has a history of drafting the card I’m drooling over right before my pick (see McCutchen, Andrew), took the guy with the 1.40 ERA, 24 BB and 135 whiffs in 90 innings, basically adding to a roster that I think could win 120 games this year. Are you ready? The Surf have a rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez and Sonny Gray. A bullpen crew of Betances, Joaquin Benoit (1.49), Fernando Abad (1.57), Kelvin Herrera (1.41), Tyler Clippard (2.18) and Jonathan Papelbon (39 saves). A lineup featuring Paul Goldschmidt, Brian Dozier, Alexei Ramirez, Kyle Seager, Mike Trout, Jason Heyward and Russell Martin—every one of them sporting a 1-rating. The Mayhem went all the way last season largely due to their incomparable fielding, and this outfit makes them look like the Buffalo Butterfingers.
11–Collin McHugh, Astros, to the Culver City Skanks
Finally, my first pick at second from the bottom of the first round, which is what I get for making the 2013 Series. McHugh is a fine young starter I needed to join Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez and Hisashi Iwakuma in my semi-formidable rotation.
12—Dalton Pompey, Blue Jays, to the Maryland Mayhem
The Champ gets one of the more promising names around, though at .231 in only 39 at bats, he isn’t showing much yet. The Mayhem, with a little less good fielding than they had last year, but still with a bullpen of Kenley Jansen, Mark Melancon and Sean Doolittle, should be in the Eastern pennant race hunt.
And briefly, here’s how the second round went:
13—Joe Panik, Giants, to the Poster Boys
14—Carlos Carrasco, Indians, to the Sickies
15—Joc Pederson, Dodgers, to the Fisher Cats
16—Dallas Keuchel, Astros, to the Sickies
17—Danny Santana, Twins, to the Jerseys
18—Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays, to the Sabres
19—Javier Baez, Cubs, to the Mass Maniacs
20—Mashiro Tanaka, Yankees, to the Sabres
21—J.D. Martinez, Astros, to the Sabres
22—Steve Pearce, Orioles, to the Jerseys
23—Hector Rendon, Cubs, to the Skanks
24—Phil Hughes, Twins, to the Mayhem
I ended up going hog wild with pitchers, picking up Aaron Sanchez, A.J. Ramos, Zach Duke, Jesse Hahn, and Matt Shoemaker in subsequent rounds, reserve catcher slugger Michael McKenry and Chris Coughlan being my only batter picks. With David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, Michael Brantley, Jayson Werth, Mike Napoli, Victor Martinez and Dustin Pedroia already in my lineup, I feel sort of confident. Maybe down the road here, I’ll even have some good results to report!
Also, I just want to share my excitement about my new “fictional replay novel”. Mystery Ball ’58 is a fun, pulp-style murder mystery with a baseball backdrop, set mostly in San Francisco the first year the Giants and Dodgers played on the West Coast. As with my previous book Ball Nuts, I used a Strat-O replay of an old season to help fuel the blog that the story was adapted from, and enlisted the help of sixteen “absentee mangers” to provide me with rotations and lineups. Anyway, advance word has been great, with Joe Sheehan of Sports Illustrated already calling it a “must read” in his newsletter, so if you like baseball and mysteries, pick up a copy!