MLB Spring Training: The Latest Odds for Heated MLB Rotation Battles

Chris SchadContributor IIIMarch 5, 2013

MLB Spring Training: The Latest Odds for Heated MLB Rotation Battles

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    Spring training is a time where fans acquire the optimism needed to accept the fact that a groundhog is not a meteorologist.

    Whether there are six more weeks of winter or not, spring training gives fans the crack of the bat, the pop of the glove and the contrasting colors of green grass and blue sky to let them know that not only is warm weather coming, but baseball is coming with it.

    It's a different feel for players as they use spring training to secure their spot on a major league roster.

    While it's true that spring training is not the most competitive brand of baseball, starting pitchers on the fringe would beg to differ.

    There are several rotation battles in Major League Baseball that are worth keeping an eye on. As we're a couple weeks into the 2013 edition of the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues, here is a look at how some of those battles are playing out.

Baltimore Orioles

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    Locked In

    RHP Jason Hammel (8-6, 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP in 2012)

    LHP Wei-Yin Chen (12-11, 4.02 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)

    RHP Chris Tillman (9-3, 2.93 ERA, 1.04 WHIP)

    RHP Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    RHP Steve Johnson (4-0, 2.11 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)

    LHP Brian Matusz (6-10, 4.87 ERA, 1.56 WHIP)

    RHP Jake Arrieta (3-9, 6.20 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)

    LHP Zach Britton (5-3, 5.07 ERA, 1.54 WHIP)

    LHP Jair Jurrjens (3-4, 6.89 ERA, 1.86 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    It used to be that the Orioles leaned heavily on Jeremy Guthrie and four no-name pitchers to build their starting rotation.

    However, after a breakout 2012 campaign for the staff, they are loaded with depth when it comes to the final spot for 2013.

    The leading candidate coming in was Johnson, and he's done nothing to lose the job this spring.

    Entering Tuesday, he had appeared in three games, giving up one hit while striking out three and walking two. That line can be knocked down, considering he's faced mostly minor league competition according to Baseball-Reference.com's new opponent quality scale for spring training.

    Outside of Johnson, the other candidates for the fifth starter have struggled.

    Brian Matusz was the fourth overall pick in 2008, but has struggled in the major leagues throughout his career until being converted to a left-handed specialist last year. With a 1.35 ERA and 0.60 WHIP as a reliever last year, he will probably return to the bullpen.

    Jake Arrieta was the team's opening day starter in 2012, but spent most of the year working on his mechanics. When he's on his game, he's the best strikeout pitcher the Orioles have. However, that doesn't happen too often.

    The Orioles had also picked up Jair Jurrjens on a minor-league deal last winter, but he hasn't shown the same talent that he had before several injuries derailed his career with the Atlanta Braves. 

    Zach Britton may be the only Oriole out of the group behind Johnson that's having a decent spring, but it seems like Johnson has been doing enough to fend him off.

     

    Current Odds:

    Johnson: 90%

    The Field: 10%

Cleveland Indians

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    Locked In

    RHP Justin Masterson (11-15, 4.93 ERA, 1.45 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (9-17, 5.40 ERA, 1.61 WHIP)

    RHP Brett Myers (3-8, 3.31 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

    RHP Zach McAllister (6-8, 4.24 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    RHP Carlos Carrasco (Did Not Pitch in 2012 - Tommy John Surgery)

    LHP Scott Kazmir (Did Not Pitch in 2012 - Out of MLB)

    RHP Trevor Bauer (1-2, 6.06 ERA, 1.65 WHIP)

    RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-7, 8.28 ERA, 1.70 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    The Indians' rotation features a lot of high ERAs and WHIPs for 2012, but the bounceback potential is there throughout as Masterson and Jimenez are capable of having solid season for a team that should be improved in 2013.

    The fifth spot seems like a mystery, as Carrasco is the current front runner.

    Carrasco missed the 2012 season with Tommy John surgery and has not pitched in a major league game since August of 2011.

    Carrasco is only 26 years old and should be able to regain the form that made him a coveted prospect that was acquired in the first Cliff Lee trade in 2009.

    Of course, the highest ceiling of this group belongs to Trevor Bauer. As another highly regarded prospect that was acquired in the deal that sent Shin-Soo Choo to the Cincinnati Reds, many believe his time in the major leagues will come sooner rather than later.

    However, Bauer didn't fare well in three starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, and the Indians could decide the fourteenth-ranked prospect by Baseball America needs some more time in Triple-A before slotting him into the rotation.

    Regardless, Bauer and Carrasco present more high-upside options over Matsuzaka, who is trying to find his wildly effective form pre-Tommy John surgery and Scott Kazmir, who spent the 2012 season trying to find his mechanics in an independent league in Houston.

    As of now, Carrasco would be the favorite, with Bauer lurking in the wings with Kazmir and Matsuzaka, heading to Triple-A to provide depth.

     

    Current Odds

    Carrasco: 60%

    Bauer: 20%

    Matsuzaka: 10%

    Kazmir: 10%

Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Locked In

    LHP Clayton Kershaw (14-9, 2.53 ERA, 1.02 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Zack Grienke (15-5, 3.48 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)

    RHP Chad Billingsley (10-9, 3.55 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)

    RHP Josh Beckett (7-14, 4.65 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (Pitched in Korea in 2012)

    RHP Aaron Harang (10-10, 3.61 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)

    LHP Chris Capuano (12-12, 3.72 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

    LHP Ted Lilly (5-1, 3.14 ERA, 1.13 ERA)

     

    The Race

    Where as the rotations of the other teams featured in this article will have one spot for several pitchers to fight over, the Dodgers could see some holes open up as we get deeper into the spring.

    The main concern in Dodger camp right now is the health of Chad Billingsley's elbow.

    Billingsley partially tore the right elbow ligament at the end of last season and opted to go with platelet-rich plasma injections rather than undergo Tommy John surgery.

    As of now, it appears that his elbow is holding up. However, it can be a ticking time bomb and allow another member into the rotation.

    Out of the four pitchers competing for the final spot, Ted Lilly seems like the front-runner regardless of his effectiveness. That's because the Dodgers are paying him $11 million this season and probably want to get the most out of the final year of their investment.

    The wild card is Hyun-Jin Ryu who signed a six-year, $36 million deal last winter. The left-handed prospect dominated the Korea Baseball organization for seven years, winning the strikeout title in five of them, and a MVP award in 2006.

    It's always interesting to see how international success translates to Major League Baseball, but if he can come close to those numbers the Dodgers may have another ace in waiting.

    If injuries and ineffectiveness get the best of this rotation, the Dodgers have reliable fall back options in Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. Both will probably start in the bullpen and provide more insurance in 2013.

     

    Current Odds

    Lilly: 60%

    Ryu: 35%

    Capuano or Harang: 5%

St. Louis Cardinals

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    Locked In

    RHP Adam Wainwright (14-13, 3.94 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Jake Westbrook (13-11, 3.97 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)

    RHP Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)

    LHP Jaime Garcia (7-7, 3.92 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    RHP Shelby Miller (1-1, 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP)

    RHP Joe Kelly (5-7, 3.53 ERA, 1.38 WHIP)

    RHP Trevor Rosenthal (0-2, 2.78 ERA, 0.92 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    The competition for the Cardinals' fifth starter could be known as the Miller watch. He is the Cardinals' top prospect and has been ranked sixth in this year's Baseball America top 100. After a cameo as a bullpen option late in 2012, his next step is for him to join the starting rotation.

    But the question is when?

    Miller finds himself competing against fellow top prospect Rosenthal (ranked 39th by Baseball America) and Kelly.

    Rosenthal and Kelly also made their major league debuts in 2012, but it remains to be seen if that can lead to earning the final rotation spot.

    What could play out is dependent on the status of Miller's shoulder. Soreness delayed a throwing session on February 20 and will be something to follow.

    Miller has thrown a round of batting practice since then, but if the issue persists, it will narrow the search to Kelly and Rosenthal.

    With Kelly being a vital cog in the Cardinals' bullpen (2.30 ERA, 9.2 K/9 as a reliever) and being a former closer in college, Rosenthal would get the look and fill the fifth starter spot until Miller becomes healthy.

    Overall, I believe the job is Miller's to lose if his shoulder can hold up.

     

    Current Odds

    Miller: 50%

    Rosenthal: 25%

    Kelly: 25%

Tampa Bay Rays

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    Locked In

    RHP David Price (20-5, 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

    LHP Matt Moore (11-11, 3.81 ERA, 1.34 WHIP)

    RHP Alex Cobb (11-9, 4.03 ERA, 1.24 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    RHP Jeff Niemann (2-3, 3.08 ERA, 1.10 WHIP)

    RHP Roberto Hernandez (0-3, 7.53 ERA, 1.39 WHIP)

    RHP Chris Archer (1-3, 4.60 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    When a team trades a major piece of their rotation, it can sometimes seem like a crippling blow (see the Minnesota Twins' trade of Johan Santana prior to the 2008 season for evidence of that).

    For the Rays, it's next man up.

    The Rays have plenty of talent after dealing James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kansas City Royals last winter, and that battle is creating a heated competition for the fifth spot.

    Jake Odorizzi is Baseball America's 92nd ranked prospect heading into this season, but it's likely he will be headed to Triple-A Durham to start the season.

    The same goes for fellow prospect Chris Archer, who is ranked 36th and made his major league debut late in 2012.

    The real battle will come down to the veterans Jeff Niemann and Roberto Hernandez.

    Niemann has been in this position before, and figures to be the favorite. He beat out Jason Hammel prior to the 2009 season and then beat out Davis in 2012 for the final spot.

    Meanwhile, Hernandez is still looking for consistency and his game which seemed to be left behind with his outed alias Fausto Carmona.

    Both Niemann and Hernandez are out of options and each are being paid over $3 million by the Rays this year, so it's like searching for The Highlander: There can only be one.

    I like Niemann because he has the higher ceiling and his experience in these situations, but don't be surprised if Archer out duels both of them and winds up on the Opening Day roster.

     

    Current Odds:

    Niemann: 60%

    Hernandez: 35%

    Archer: 5%

Kansas City Royals

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    Locked In

    RHP James Shields (15-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Jeremy Guthrie (8-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.40 WHIP)

    RHP Ervin Santana (9-13, 5.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

    RHP Wade Davis (3-0, 2.43 ERA, 1.09 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    RHP Luke Hochevar (8-16, 5.73 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

    LHP Bruce Chen (11-14, 5.07 ERA, 1.36 WHIP)

    RHP Luis Mendoza (8-10, 4.23 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    With the additions of James Shields and Ervin Santana, the back end of the Royals' rotation gets a little more crowded.

    The battle will primarily feature Chen against Hochevar with a bit of Mendoza sprinkled in.

    While Mendoza will be given a starting opportunity, it's more between Chen and Hochevar, as the Royals will use the two losers in the bullpen.

    Hochevar is the current front runner for the fifth starter, but he was shelled in his first spring training appearance against a Milwaukee Brewers lineup that did not have Ryan Braun or Aramis Ramirez.

    Meanwhile, Chen threw two perfect innings against the Brewers and made things look much easier in the process.

    The Royals want Hochevar to win this job and have been spitting out superlatives to explain his performances which probably deserve profanities instead.

    It's understandable because Hochevar was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, and it's hard to admit that you fanned on a top selection.

    But it comes down to having your fifth starter being an effective pitcher that can log some innings and give you a chance to win.

    When you think of it that way, Chen should be the choice for manager Ned Yost and send Hochevar into a bullpen role unless management forces his hand.

     

    Current Odds:

    Chen: 55%

    Hochevar: 40%

    Mendoza: 5%

Atlanta Braves

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    Locked In

    RHP Tim Hudson (16-7, 3.62 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA, 0.91 WHIP)

    LHP Mike Minor (11-10, 4.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP)

    LHP Paul Maholm (13-11, 3.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    RHP Julio Teheran (0-0, 5.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP)

    LHP Sean Gilmartin (1-2, 4.78 ERA, 1.43 WHIP at Triple-A Gwinnett)

     

    The Race

    The Braves need a fill-in for Brandon Beachy, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. As a result, it creates a battle for the fifth spot between Teheran and Gilmartin.

    Teheran is regarded as a top prospect, and the Braves would like to see him rebound from an awful, awful season at Triple-A Gwinnett going 7-9 with a 5.08 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.

    The bright side is that Teheran is only 22 years old and should be able to fend off Gilmartin, who has yet to make his major league debut.

    This could be a close race, but I think the Braves want to see what they can get out of Teheran, and that will lead to his debut at the end of the rotation.

     

    Current Odds

    Teheran: 55%

    Gilmartin: 45%

Detroit Tigers

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    Locked In

    RHP Justin Verlander (17-8, 2.64 ERA, 1.05 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Doug Fister (10-10, 3.45 ERA, 1.19 WHIP)

    RHP Anibal Sanchez (9-13, 3.86 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)

    RHP Max Scherzer (16-7, 3.74 ERA, 1.27 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    LHP Drew Smyly (4-3, 3.99 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)

    RHP Rick Porcello (10-12, 4.59 ERA, 1.53 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    The battle for the Tigers' fifth starter is one that many teams would love to have.

    Both starters are young. Porcello turned 24 last December and Smyly will turn 24 in June.

    Both pitchers seem to have promising futures in the Tigers' rotation. Smyly had a solid rookie season in 2012 and Porcello has been shaky, but still can develop at the major league level.

    The biggest reason why teams should be envious is that the Tigers can pick either pitcher and have them slip into the five-spot of one of the best rotations in baseball without major risk.

    The pressure to rack up wins will be off, and the main goal is to rack up innings so that the rest of the staff can do their job.

    Meanwhile, the loser provides excellent insurance in case of an injury or ineffectiveness.

    As to who will play each role, that gets a little more confusing with each player being similar.

    Porcello has the higher ceiling as he was ranked 21st by Baseball America prior to the 2009 season and backed it up by winning 14 games that season. However, his performance has regressed over the past several seasons and may be a preview of a future Luke Hochevar.

    That being said, the Tigers will want to see what they can get out of Porcello before giving up on him at age 24.

     

    Odds:

    Porcello: 55%

    Smyly: 45%

Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Locked In

    RHP Ian Kennedy (15-12, 4.02 ERA, 1.30 WHIP in 2012)

    RHP Brandon McCarthy (8-6, 3.24 ERA, 1.25 WHIP)

    RHP Trevor Cahill (13-12, 3.78 ERA, 1.29 WHIP)

    LHP Wade Miley (16-11, 3.33 ERA, 1.18 WHIP)

     

    Competing For A Spot

    LHP Patrick Corbin (6-8, 4.54 ERA, 1.32 WHIP)

    RHP Randall Delgado (4-9, 4.37 ERA, 1.41 WHIP)

    RHP Tyler Skaggs (1-3, 5.83 ERA, 1.46 WHIP)

     

    The Race

    The Diamondbacks may have lost Trevor Bauer to the Cleveland Indians over the offseason, but they still have plenty of young pitching prospects that can help fill their major league rotation.

    Of the three names competing for the final spot in the Diamondbacks rotation, Delgado and Skaggs are the two that stand out.

    Both are ranked as elite prospects by Baseball America (Skaggs ranked 12th in this year's edition and Delgado was ranked 46th prior to last season) and have promising futures as Arizona tries to cash in on their risky gamble to trade Justin Upton.

    But the front runner for this job is Corbin, as he logged the most innings out of the three candidates and has had the better spring training performance overall.

    Manager Kirk Gibson may decide to give the super prospects time to develop in the minors and have them on call in case something goes awry for the top five.

     

    Current Odds

    Corbin: 80%

    Skaggs: 10%

    Delgado: 10%

     

    Chris Schad is a featured columnist covering the Minnesota Twins and Major League Baseball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.