It was an incredible four days at the Baseball HQ First Pitch conference in Mesa, Arizona! For those who haven’t been before, it could accurately be summed up as fantasy baseball player’s paradise. Each morning there are two main panel discussions/presentations on various topics pertaining to prospects and fantasy baseball strategy (Friday morning’s was a scouting report of the AFL). Panelists included, but not limited to:
- Alex Chamberlain (Fangraphs)
- Tristan Cockcroft (ESPN)
- Jason Collette (RotoWire)
- Jeff Erickson (RotoWire, Sirius XM)
- Nick Pollack (PitcherList)
- Eno Sarris (The Athletic)
- Adam McInturff (2080 Baseball)
- Rob Silver (Baseball Prospectus)
- Justin Mason (Friends With Fantasy Benefits, TGFBI)
- Todd Zola (Mastersball.com)
- Eric Longenhagen (Fangraphs, ESPN)
The main morning sessions were followed by lunch break, an early afternoon fall league game, then various breakout sessions from which to choose from (a few topics covered were: advances in pitching analysis, injury issues, how to scout hitting prospects, and factors in daily lineup leagues). Dinner break follows the breakout sessions before the evening fall league game gets underway (the games we attended were the AFL Fall Stars game and Salt River Rafters vs. Mesa Solar Sox). Quick aside for Reds fans: Tyler Stephenson did the catching for the Western League and smashed a towering home run to center field!
But wait, there’s more! For those who didn’t mind staying up a little late after the evening games, there were live podcasts that folks could sit in on, which included Baseball HQ, RotoWire, Sleeper and the Bust (Fangraphs), and Rates and Barrels (The Athletic). And this conference wasn’t just TALKING about draft strategy, everyone had the opportunity to put those strategies into practice via mock drafts; for several hours on Saturday afternoon, several draft rooms were set up, one for NFBC Draft and Hold, one for mixed auction, and one for scoresheet. Always interesting to see how different people value players differently!
One of the last panel discussions before the end of the conference was Scout Talk, featuring scouts from the Padres, Marlins and Rays. For obvious reasons they couldn’t go into too much detail on their opinions of players but they did touch on a few, and shared their stories of how they got into scouting and offered advice for those interested in scouting.
One of the bigger highlights for me personally was all great people I met for the first time, many of whom I had been following on Twitter but now had the chance to talk to and pick their brains. After the Saturday morning sessions, Shelly and I went out to lunch with the awesome guys at PitcherList.com (whom Shelly writes for). All of these guys are super gracious and down to earth and willing (dare I say, eager) to share their knowledge. It was pretty cool finally putting faces to Twitter handles and podcast voices! Being an introvert, introducing myself to people isn’t always easy but after this experience I would tell others who are thinking of going to First Pitch, don’t hesitate whatsoever from introducing yourself to any of these guys, they are just as glad to meet new folks and talk baseball as we are.
While most conference attendees left on Sunday, we had a little more time before leaving (only flight options were 11pm Sunday…ick!…and 2pm Monday) so we decided to do some sightseeing, and found an excellent hike at Wind Cave, a 1.5 mile gradual hike up a small mountain about 30 minutes northeast of Phoenix. The views from these hills around Phoenix are just breathtaking and well worth the cardio workout! There are also numerous museums and historical sites around the area for those less inclined to hiking, and no shortage of excellent places to eat in and around Phoenix (pretty diverse mix ranging from Mexican to Asian, Middle Eastern, American, Greek, Indian, etc.).
To wrap up, I would say First Pitch is well worth the time and money. And if Arizona is a bit too far out of your way, Ron Shandler made the exciting announcement that starting next year there will be a First Pitch conference in St. Petersburg, Florida (February 28-March 1) to coincide with Spring Training games! Registration has just opened for First Pitch Florida and you can do that at: https://www.baseballhq.com/first-pitch-florida.
Rudie Verougstraete is the Cincinnati Reds correspondent at Prospects1500. He lives in Richmond, Virginia with his wife Shelly who is the Washington Nationals correspondent. He has been an avid baseball fan since 2015, participates in multiple fantasy baseball leagues, and attends Richmond Flying Squirrels (Giants AA affiliate) and Washington Nationals games whenever he can! His favorite baseball function is First Pitch Arizona, a fantasy baseball conference hosted by Baseball HQ every year just outside Phoenix.