Dark-Horse Contenders for Key Rotation Battles in Spring Training

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIFebruary 23, 2014

Dark-Horse Contenders for Key Rotation Battles in Spring Training

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Spring training is all about competition.

    Oftentimes, one of the fiercest competitions of all is the battle for the No. 5 spot in the rotation. MLB teams find rotation candidates in all sorts of places. As a result, the following list includes top minor leaguers with limited big league experience, international free agents with no MLB track record at all and former aces looking for one last opportunity. 

    So, here's a look around the league at all the dark-horse contenders for key rotation battles in spring training. 


    Note: All stats and salary information courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Suk-min Yoon, Baltimore Orioles

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    After inking a three-year, $5.575 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles, Suk-min Yoon explained his plan for the upcoming season at the club's spring training camp, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com): "I want to work hard, look good in front of the manager and pitch well so I have an opportunity to start."

    However, Yoon might have to wait for that opportunity now that the Orioles have also added Ubaldo Jimenez on a four-year, $50 million deal. Baltimore's depth chart of starting pitchers now includes Jimenez, Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris, which leaves little room for Yoon. 

    A trip to the minor leagues to start the season in the Triple-A rotation is a possibility for Yoon, according to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun. There's also a chance that the right-hander could end up working out of Baltimore's bullpen after spending much of his final season in Korea pitching in relief.

    This spring, though, Yoon will be looking to prove that he's ready for the opportunity to pitch in the big league rotation.


    Note: Video courtesy of MyKBO.net.

Erik Bedard, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    With Jeremy Hellickson sidelined as he recovers from offseason elbow surgery, the Tampa Bay Rays are on the lookout for a fifth starter. 

    Jake Odorizzi is the "favorite" to earn the job, according to Bill Chastain of MLB.com. Alex Colome and Nate Karns are both part of the equation, and there's also 10-year veteran Erik Bedard to consider. The left-hander signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training with the Rays after going 4-12 with a 4.59 ERA for the Houston Astros in 2013.

    Executive vice president of baseball operation Andrew Friedman explained that Bedard will have the opportunity to claim a spot in the rotation, per Chastain: "He'll come in to compete for the fifth starter job. I don't know how that will transpire, but he's also a candidate to pitch out of the 'pen."

    Based on his extensive struggles in recent seasons, a bullpen job appears the most likely outcome for Bedard.

Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals

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    In 2013, Yordano Ventura threw the fastest pitch in the big leagues when he hit 102.8 mph on the radar gun, according to Vahe Gregorian of the Kansas City Star

    This spring, the right-hander has a real shot to win a job in the Kansas City Royals' starting rotation, as general manager Dayton Moore explained, via Gregorian: "We're going to give him a chance to win a spot right out of spring training, and of our young pitchers we feel like he's most capable at this point in time to give us 190-200 innings."

    The 22-year-old will face plenty of competition for that final spot, as Luke Hochevar, Wade Davis, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer will also be part of the mix. Of course, none of those other candidates offers anywhere near the same upside as Ventura.

    Last year, Ventura reeled off 155 strikeouts in 134.2 innings of work while splitting time between the Royals' Double-A and Triple-A affiliates. He also made three starts for Kansas City at the end of the season, posting a 3.52 ERA. 


    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.

Freddy Garcia, Atlanta Braves

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    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    After signing a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training, Freddy Garcia will have the chance to earn a spot in an otherwise inexperienced Atlanta Braves starting rotation. 

    The 15-year veteran will be competing with Alex Wood to join Mike Minor, Julio Teheran, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy on the Braves' starting staff. 

    Garcia's "preference" is to start, but he has no problem pitching out of the bullpen, as the right-hander explained, via Mark Bowman of MLB.com: "I don't mind. If I make the team, it's good. If I can help the team out of the bullpen, I'll be in the bullpen. I just want to pitch. I just feel like I'm not ready to go home yet."

Miguel Gonzalez, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

    The initial reports on Miguel Gonzalez out of the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training camp have been less than promising. 

    Manager Ryne Sandberg told Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly that the Cuban pitcher is "still a little bit of a mystery." Sandberg added that the team will use "a lot of patience" with Gonzalez since he is working his way back from injury. Gonzalez was also suspended from the Cuban national team for much of the past two seasons for trying to defect from the island, according to Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com.

    The 27-year-old will need to turn in an impressive run of Grapefruit League outings if he's going to claim a spot in the Phillies' top-heavy rotation. While the odds are against him for now, there's no sense in counting him out of the competition before the games have even started.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, New York Mets

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    In 2013, Daisuke Matsuzaka's career with the New York Mets got off to a rough start, as the right-hander served up 15 runs in his first three outings with the club. 

    However, in his final four starts with the team, Matsuzaka went 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA, as Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News notes. The veteran starter will look to carry that momentum into the 2014 season, as he battles with Jenrry Mejia, John Lannan and Jacob deGrom for the final spot in the rotation.

    As Matsuzaka explained to Ackert via his interpreter, 2014 will be the first time that he has entered a season 100 percent healthy in quite a while. That's sure to be a big help for Matsuzaka, who has struggled with a slew of injuries in recent years, including Tommy John surgery in 2011. 

    With a clean bill of health and an impressive showing at the end of 2013, Matsuzaka will certainly be a name to watch out for this spring.

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Last fall, Carlos Martinez was a key piece in the St. Louis Cardinals bullpen as the team made its run to the World Series.

    This spring, the talented right-hander will have the opportunity to crack the Cardinals' loaded rotation. That makes perfect sense considering Martinez's excellent track record as a starter in the minor leagues. In 68 career minor leagues games (of which 67 were starts), Martinez posted a 21-15 record with a 2.69 ERA and a 9.3 K/9 ratio. 

    When asked by Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the odds of Martinez making the rotation out of spring, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist commented: "Crazier things have happened."

    According to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com, Jamie Garcia is out of the competition for the No. 5 spot due to an issue with his left shoulder. That means the idea of Martinez making the rotation just got a little less crazy.


    Note: Video courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.


    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.