With the season nearly here, we've all been researching and drafting for over a month. Name the player or players about whom your opinion has changed the most since we kicked into high gear for baseball coverage in mid-February, and why?
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Eric Karabell: It is critical for anyone in this statistical analysis business to be willing to change their mind at any point either when new information or trends become available or even if it is simply their gut telling them to. It is a bit like the debate of new-fangled analytics versus old-time scouting. Each has their place. As I became more comfortable with this season's drafting trends -- it can be different each year, really -- so did my willingness to reach a bit for perhaps underrated potential five-category producers with greater upside than I thought like Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, Manuel Margot, Yoan Moncada and Ronald Acuna. Similarly, I do not think it is outrageous for older fellows that have already done it to do it again, like Jonathan Villar, Carlos Gomez and Ian Desmond. These players have moved up quite a bit in my rankings since December because it still is not much fun drafting one-category stolen base options. Another reminder: Do not forget the players we liked a year prior, because there might be valid reasons why they disappointed and we shouldn't assume they'll never succeed based on a season of disappointment.
Tristan H. Cockcroft: It's rare that I change significantly my opinion of a player due only to his spring training exploits, but Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery was, I suppose, the rare exception to the rule. By unexpectedly signing a six-year contract extension plus three option years that renders the service-time question moot, Kingery is a lock to make the Phillies' Opening Day roster, and I'd think he won't be there to sit on the bench more than half the time. He tore up Grapefruit League pitching after becoming the only player in professional baseball last season to bat at least .300 with 25 apiece of home runs and stolen bases, and shouldn't have much trouble providing at least middle-infield value in standard mixed leagues this year.
Among the other players whose strong springs caused me to move them up a fair amount (though not as much as Kingery): Marco Gonzales, who looks much like the quality pitching prospect he was pre-surgery during his St. Louis Cardinals days; Aaron Sanchez, who has pitched well this spring and might finally be beyond his chronic blister issues; and Kyle Schwarber, whose conditioning as well as strong play at the plate makes him look a lot stronger a middle-round pick.
AJ Mass: Typically, there are only three reasons I'll make any major changes in opinion over the course of spring training, as stats -- both good and bad -- don't really matter, so there's no reason to give them too much weight.
First and foremost is a free agent finally landing a contract, such as Eric Hosmer or Jake Arrieta, or -- in the case of a Greg Holland or Jose Bautista -- not signing anywhere prior to the final week of the spring. The second reason for a value overhaul is the unexpected injury. Sadly, 2018's run-up to Opening Day began with Yuli Gurriel's hand surgery and culminated in Madison Bumgarner's fractured finger. After that, the final case of opinion changing comes in the form of closer competitions coming to a close, either win an obvious victor (Ken Giles), the lack of a trade (Shane Greene) or a declaration of committee work to begin April (Texas, White Sox, Angels).
However, if there's a newly-acquired player like Corey Dickerson (traded to Pittsburgh in February), who has impressed his new manager Clint Hurdle so much that he not only will start for the Pirates, but may even bat lead-off? Consider that stock risen.
On the flip side, Tommy Pham -- who I was touting as a sleeper pick, and of whom I'm still optimistic overall -- has to drop a bit in my esteem, given his 19 Ks in 55 spring at-bats ... but it's not just the stats. Pham says he thinks he may need to have his vision checked -- and it's worth noting that he has struggled with his vision in the past. While that is a fixable problem (assuming it's the cause of his troubles), there's bound to be an adjustment period.
Kyle Soppe: For me, it's less about changing an opinion and more about making my opinion a more well-informed one. In that sense, the lower end first baseman have popped a bit in my eyes with Josh Bell being my favorite of the bunch (Logan Morrison and Jose Martinez also included). His ISO jumped by 58.6 percent from his rookie season as he became more of a pull hitter, an approach that I think has him a phenomenal value for his current draft day price.
The Bucco's were criticized this offseason for getting rid of both Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole, but let's not sleep on the surrounding pieces that can help support a true breakout from Bell. Josh Harrison is a fine hitter, Dickerson was a nice add, and the Starling Marte/Gregory Polanco combination figure to rebound (both in the health and production departments) ... it's not an elite lineup, but it's not one that I think holds Bell back. I'm not sure Hosmer is a considerably better option this season, so when you factor in 8-9 round difference in ADP, it's not all that close.