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 Syndergaard, which 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 Godley, Dallas 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 Martinez, and David Price, as 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.
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.
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 Buehler, and 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 Estrada, Joe Musgrove, and Andrew Triggs. I 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.