10 Pitchers Who Have Changed My Opinion During Spring Training

(Photo by Nick Wosika/Icon Sportswire)

The plan is to begin the Monday tradition of updating the Top 100 starters on March 26th (and every week thereafter through the end of the season), but I’ve heard plenty wanting an update sooner as their drafts approach. After all, the rankings on the sidebar were made before spring training began.

Instead of releasing the entire list a week early, I’ll make a compromise and talk about 10 pitchers (or so) that will see their ranking shift on Monday. It won’t only be these pitchers moving, but these shifts are the ones that carry more weight on draft day. Let’s get to it.

Luis Severino at #5

I’ve talked about this one plenty and I heavily debated even making this swap for the initial rankings, and now I’m ready to make the move. Those doubting Severino’s breakout 2017 season only have the argument of “he hasn’t done it before” as opposed to denying the skill set at hand. He wasn’t lucky, he doesn’t carry warts of poor walks rates (6.5%!) or a weak pitch to suggest he’ll fall back down. Severino pitched 193.1 IP last season, has no worry cloud of injuries and could produce a 200 IP season of studliness.

Meanwhile, I’ve begun to question the ceiling of Noah Syndergaardwhich sounds preposterous – Have you seen him pitch? How is his ceiling not the #1 SP? – but the more I study him, the more I question his .334 BABIP in 2016 and if he can ever turn from a thrower to a pitcher, utilizing the entirety of the strikezone with his fastball instead of sitting thigh-high all the time. I’ll have a piece written up about it on Friday that dives more into it, moral of the story is I question Thor’s ultimate upside and paired with a heightened injury risk, it makes me slightly more confident to favor Severino.

Chris Archer at #20

This might change slightly come Monday – I’m even tempted placing him behind Zack GodleyDallas Keuchel, and even Jose Quintana! – but at the very least found myself waiting longer and longer for Archer in drafts, and he will be falling in the first update. Even though he’s been working on his changeup, I’m concerned he’ll never be more than a two-pitch pitcher, with one of those pitches (his heater) taking a significant step back in 2017. He’s still the strikeout fiend he’s always been and that should warrant a spot on your team if he falls to the 7th/8th rounds, but it’s no lock that Archer will recover his 4.00+ ERA back to sub 3.75 levels, and that WHIP could still be above 1.20.

Robbie Ray at #17

This is far from a major swing and doesn’t really deserve its own bit, but I felt it was necessary to feature him as I’ve fielded the most questions about him. With the humidor coming in, it does make me more comfortable owning Ray, but I still prefer the likes of Aaron Nola, Carlos Martinezand David Priceas their floors are plenty more stable. I don’t buy Ray as a true #1 SP – his strikeouts are elite, but his walk rate rose to a ghastly 10.7% in 2017 and he featured one of the luckier seasons on the book – his 3.72 FIP was nearly identical to his 2016 iteration, with a 16 point swing in LOB rate and 85 point drop in BABIP. The luck should fade a bit and you’re left with a pitcher that will help week-to-week, but not someone who can carry a team. This sounds negative, but you raised him! Again, the humidor will help. Just not enough to erase all his flaws.

Jose Berrios at #32

Nothing has changed from my pre-season assessment…but I’m finding myself not trusting the huge step forward like I did back in February. Maybe it’s rooted in my own enthusiasm about the pitchers in front of him, or maybe it’s how inconsistent his repertoire can be. His curveball – the most gratifying pitch to watch in Minnesota by a longshot – registered just a 13.5% whiff rate last season, with a sub 40% zone rate. That’s not nearly the impact we expected with such vicious looking offering. His changeup isn’t the dependable third offering quite yet, and unless he can develop it further, his problems against LHB will stay. I’m not saying it can’t happen – he’s still just 23 years old! – I just need to wait a little longer before going after it.

Jordan Montgomery at #37 & Mike Clevinger at #38

I had ranked Jordan Montgomery and Mike Clevinger a little higher than most prior to spring training as I was confident each would earn a spot in the rotation…but I still had to bake in the possibility they would miss out on the opportunity. Now with confirmed spots in the staff, The Bear and Clevinger are prime choices as your fourth starters. JorMont’s deceptive delivery allows him to mask his breaking pitches well – resulting in a 12.2% overall whiff rate in 2017 – while Clevinger has the secondary pitches of a stud, holding a 19%+ whiff rate across his slider, changeup, and curveball. JorMont gets the bump as his walk rate isn’t in question as much as Clevinger’s (here’s my deep dive into Clevinger’s repertoire), but I would love to own both on all squads for 2018.

Jon Lester at #41

I thought I would be more eager to grab Lester who’s only one year removed from a sparkling sub 2.50 ERA campaign, but I simply don’t trust him as a sturdy SP #3. His velocity dropped 1.5 ticks last season, his HR/9 soared to 1.30, and his 8.92 H/9 was its highest since 2013. Sure, there is some anticipated regression, but when he also lost nearly two inches off his curveball’s drop, I’m beginning to think he’s going to go the way of Cole Hamels instead of rebounding like Zack Greinke.

Lucas Giolito at #50 & Patrick Corbin at #51

I was encouraged by Lucas Giolito’s 2017 September as he took strides with his mechanics and mixed in a solid slider to help with his questionable fastball command and curveball that couldn’t find the plate. During the spring, his arm-angle has shifted, bumping up his velocity and allowing him to throw his curveball for strikes. This is huge. Giolito was an exciting arm heading into 2018 before the tweaks, now I get the feeling he could be hinting Top 40 – if not 30! – by the end of the season. There are a number of questionable arms surrounding Giolito and I’d rather take the dive.

I was already wondering if my Patrick Corbin ranking was slightly too low, then the humidor news broke and it’s hard not to bring Corbin down a few more slots. Don’t forget, he held a 3.21 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23.4% K rate, and 7.7% BB rate and 6.2 IPS in his final 19 starts, and it’s hard not to expect a sizeable volume in Arizona this year. His slider gets a 40%+ whiff rate that will keep the strikeouts afloat and with fewer HRs to worry about, I like his chances of helping through the year.

Mike Minor at #65

This exact number might change slightly come Monday, but I want to make it clear that I’m targeting Minor at the end of my drafts and so should you. His velocity was near 95mph as a reliever last season and even with the expected drop off, it’s safe to expect a higher mark than the 90-91 range from his 2013 heyday. Minor looks to be set for a rotation spot in April and with a focus of fastball/changeup to go with a slider that he works in for strikes, I think Minor can be a valuable asset in 12-teamers out of the gate. It’s a flier, don’t take this the wrong way, but considering that the names around him are J.A. Happ and Lance Lynn aren’t so far away from waiver wire starters in 12-teamers, I want to roll the dice with Minor as we head to opening day.

Plenty of pitchers after #60 falling off

I want to give fair warning that around the mid-60s is where I threw out upside lottery tickets – 12-teamers after all! – that haven’t ideally progressed in the spring, or have been officially demoted turning them into less favorable late-round stashes. These players include Joe Biagini, Anthony DeSclafani, Brent Honeywell, Luiz Gohara, Josh Hader, Walker Buehlerand plenty more.

Upside pitchers getting added and rising

There are a good amount of arms that I’m considering more often at the end of drafts that will be rising out of the gate, including Reynaldo Lopez, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi, Marco EstradaJoe Musgroveand Andrew TriggsI think each one has the chance of making an impact early and staying on your team for good while…and you can quickly drop them if they don’t pan out. There will be a few players being added as well, including Matt Harvey and Tyler Mahle.

Nick Pollack

Founder of PitcherList.com. Rotographs and Washington Post contributor and has worked with CBS Sports, Grantland, and SB Nation. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum.

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Comments


Erik

Nick continues to drop nuggets at exactly the perfect time. Now I’m set going into my draft on Saturday. Thanks brother, much appreciated!

Erik

So I have a dilemma Mr. Nick. Need to pick 10 pitchers in an auction. 2 SPs, 2 RPs, 3 Ps, and 2 on the bench. Would you approve Sale, price, Castillo,clev, JMont, Corbin, giolito, minor, ReyLo, Richards and fulmer in a 12 team mixed weekly? Who would you leave out or swap? Can basically get anyone since it’s auction. Thank you sir

Aaron

I’m pretty big on Price this season. It seems entirely possible that he ends up pitching like a low-end SP1. Keep up the good work, Nick.

Nick Pollack

I think he will be.

I’m still debating if it’s helpful to stick minor league stashes on The List once the season starts, but I get the feeling Kopech won’t be an early one (as opposed to someone like Gohara), which makes it an easier choice for me.

Blake

Cool, is your pitching prospect list essentially the order in which you’d stash them? (Kopech then Gohara?)

theKraken

I think this could end up looking silly, but I don’t think this is a good year for SP prospect stashes. I don’t love any of them in 2018. I think 2019 will look a lot better – maybe see if you can position yourself for that.

Nick Pollack

We do a weekly article through the year on Saturdays & Sundays ranking the Top 10 Prospect Hitters and Pitchers to stash, and I defer to our prospect writers to nail down who we should be stashing.

That is a little dated at this point though and should have a better ranking once the season starts.

For now, I prefer Gohara over Kopech.

Also, I agree with Kraken that this isn’t the best year for SP stashes

Nick Pollack

And when he was successful last year, it was working well.

Consistency is the problem here for Berrios. I hope I’m wrong, though!

theKraken

You know what I like about Berrios? He always looks like he is working on something. I have seen quite different arsenals from him on a given day. Most young guys are just doing what they can to get outs, but I think Berrios is trying to hone his craft. Its also kind of weird, because it is not like he doesn’t need to just work on consistency. Long story short, I like his chances to join some elite ranks in the future as much as anyone. I have seen him work a really effective two-seamer with a bunch of cut before as well, but he typically doesn’t use/have it. Maybe he is just a crazy tinkerer which will work against him, but I get the feeling he is going about things the right way.

Randy

I drafted him in a saves plus holds roto league and hope he becomes something like a Devenski.

BTW, great site, just found it a few weeks back on Reddit.

P

I’m pretty content with my SPs but my RPs are Colome/Betances/Hader/Bedrosian/N. Jones… thinking I might be better off using Hader’s slot for another upside SP though considering Knebel has more of a hold on his job… though the Angels and White Sox situations are also dicey. Any suggestions?

Nick Pollack

I’d prefer Hader over Betances as I trust Hader to help more week-to-week and I don’t think Betances is stable enough to steal the role.

Sean Murphy

In a 10-team points league, do you prefer Drew Pomeranz or Eduardo Rodriguez as an SP8 or 9 (low risk) to take a chance on in 2018? I just took Garrett Richards in the 16th round, so I’m in favor of investing in talent over risk.

Sean Murphy

One more question for you. With Michael Conforto looking good, and likely to be activated sometime in April, in a points league redraft, would you look to draft Conforto or Gregory Polanco first as an upside 5th OF (we only start 3 – Mazara is my 4th)?

Sticki

And every day too. Nick, the content you and your team write and the interaction to go along with it are the best.

Erik

So I have a dilemma Mr. Nick. Need to pick 10 pitchers in an auction. 2 SPs, 2 RPs, 3 Ps, and 2 on the bench. Would you approve Sale, price, Castillo,clev, JMont, Corbin, giolito, minor, ReyLo, Richards and fulmer in a 12 team mixed weekly? Who would you leave out or swap? Can basically get anyone since it’s auction. Thank you sir

Nick Pollack

So sorry I didn’t see this before!

That staff looks great to me! Slightly overkill and I may suggest pulling back on one guy like Richards if it means you get a better lineup.

Bateserade

Nick!

Great piece of content here!

Very excited to see Giolito moving up. That new arm slot has been looking mighty nice this spring.

I need to ask about Kevin Gausman. I saw an article posted on here by Ben Palmer about believing in in Gausman again this year and how he’s positioning himself differently on the mound (and release point), allowing him to throw more strikes. I know you had him ranked in the 50’s during your initial list. Has your opinion on him changed, or do you still believe we will see the same old Gausman?

Nick Pollack

The reason I ranked Gausman in the 50s in February was because he had a fantastic run to end the year. Ben Palmer dove into that run and displayed how a shift on the rubber correlated with his success.

I want to buy into it, though I think Ben and I both understand the tumultuous nature of Gausman. He’s someone to consider as my #6/7 SP, but he’s not a target for my draft.

Turp

Great stuff Nick! I would love to know your thoughts on Aaron Sanchez. My goal going into a keeper draft on Sunday will be to aggressively nab Sanchez and Giolito around pick 170 (12 teamer, 6×6 with QS). Any thoughts on Sanchez this year? I have read a lot of analysis about him being a steal at his current ADP. I do hate his division, but I love the QS upside. I’m planning on taking 4 SP late – targeting Giolito, Fulmer, Sanchez, Clevinger. And one ace early, which may end up being Castillo or Godley (so…almost aces).

Nick Pollack

Even though Sanchez has been healthy so far during Spring Training, it hasn’t eradicated my fears blisters will still show up quickly during the season, making me hesitant to target him in drafts.

Also, I was high on him in 2017 since I expected a step forward in his development – assuming a smooth workload n all. I’m not confident Sanchez will get that in 2018, making me question what a realistic ceiling is.

He still has to figure out how to get strikeouts and grounders aren’t the best course of action with that home infield + defense.

Turp

Well that does pop my bubble a bit :). Thanks for bringing me back to reality – I will probably approach my draft a little differently. Thank you sir!

abel

Great stuff, as always!

What are you seeing in Odorizzi that ups his rank? And how far up?

Also, any concerns with Samardzija’s spring?

Ernie

Nick,
What are your thoughts on Drew Pomeranz this year? I can keep him for $3. We start 6 (SP’s) and 3 (RP’s) only and I also could have Cam Bedrosian at $6 if you think he will be possible closer?

Great site!!

Mike

Any further insight on Mahle coming our way? He’s really intriguing to me as he’s kind of a throwback, softish-tossing control arm in an age of overpowering fastballs and wipeout sliders.

The home park scares the bejeezus out of me though!

Kyle

Thoughts on Marco Gonzales for the Mariners? He had an excellent spring and aside from great stats in ST, he LOOKED great. Maybe not top 100 but do you see him being a good late fantasy draft pick?

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