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MLB's Best Spring Training Battles

Posted by Javier Morales on 2/21/2017 6:51:16 AM

One of the best parts of spring training for general and managers is when a team has legitimate competition for starting jobs. This puts the players in a position to use their spring training performances to help determine who wins.

There are several scenarios in both leagues that fit this description.

MLB betting handicappers

The MLB betting handicappers at SportsBetting.agtake into account spring training battles when determining futures odds.

This article deals with some of the highlighted spring training camp competitions with analysis from ESPN.

1. Right field, Los Angeles Dodgers: Yasiel Puig vs. Andre Ethier

MLB betting handicappers odds for Dodgers to win the World Series: +900

Puig burst onto the scene by hitting .319 with 19 home runs in just 382 at-bats in 2013, and he was an All-Star the next season, finishing in the top 20 in NL MVP voting. However, the past two years he regressed significantly on and off the field, which eventually led to his being optioned to the minors in August. He worked hard last year trying to stay out of trouble, become a better teammate and attempting to get his hitting mechanics back to where they were during his rookie year. This is a crucial season for Puig: Either he regains his rookie form and breaks out, or he could find himself dealt by the July trade deadline.

Ethier will give him competition this spring training. Ethier, 34, is in the final guaranteed year of a five-year, $85 million contract after missing most of last season due to injury. He’s still capable of hitting .285 with 15 home runs and is real threat to Puig, either for the everyday job or to force some type of platoon of job-share.

2. Right field, New York Yankees: Aaron Hicks vs. Aaron Judge

MLB betting handicappers odds for Yankees to win the World Series: +2500

The Yankees have made it clear that both Hicks and Judge will compete this spring for their everyday job in right. This might seem like a small surprise, because Judge has gotten plenty of hype. He was the Yankees’ first-round pick in the 2013 amateur draft and was the 32nd pick taken overall that year. The 6-foot-7, 276-pound power hitter has put up impressive minor league numbers, including a .373 OBP with 56 home runs over three seasons. However, he did not fare well in his first cup of coffee in the big leagues last year when he hit just .179 in 95 plate appearances and looked like he had huge holes to plug.

This is where Hicks comes in. He was the Twins’ first-round pick in the 2008 amateur draft and the 14th player taken overall. He was acquired by GM Brian Cashman in November 2015 in a deal for catcher John Ryan Murphy. He has tremendous above-average tools: running, fielding, throwing and power. However, he’s yet to prove he has the most important one -- the “hit” tool. In his first 1289 plate appearances at the major league level he has slashed just .223/.299/.346 and did even worse last year with the Yankees in his 361 plate appearances. However, the Yankees believe that as he reaches the prime age of 27, his hit tool will kick in this year.

3. Third base, Boston Red Sox: Pablo Sandoval vs. Brock Holt vs. Josh Rutledge

MLB betting handicappers odds for Red Sox to win the World Series: +500

Sandoval, the Red Sox’s $95 million man, lost this competition last year to Travis Shaw and a month later had season-ending shoulder surgery. He’s finally healthy, has lost a lot of weight and now is ready to win his old job back. However, he’ll have competition as former All-Star Brock Holt brings better defense, more speed and can provide a similar OBP. He’s also more adept at playing small ball than Sandoval. Manager John Farrell has also said that Josh Rutledge will also compete for the job, but he profiles much better as a utility player than a starting third baseman.

4. Third base, St. Louis Cardinals: Jhonny Peralta vs. Jedd Gyorko

MLB betting handicappers odds for Red Sox to win the World Series: +2500

Gyorko is coming off the best year of his career, slashing .243/.306/.495 with a career-high 30 home runs and a 2.9 WAR. Third base is probably his best position and with the Cardinals in need of power, that will be a key advantage. On the other hand, Peralta lost the shortstop job to Aledmys Diaz last year and was shifted to play third for that reason. He doesn’t have a lot of range but makes the routine plays and when they matter most. At 34 years old Peralta appears to be in decline, but he still has the ability to hit .260 with 12-15 home runs.

5. Left field, Los Angeles Dodgers: Andrew Toles vs. Trayce Thompson vs. Scott Van Slyke vs. Cody Bellinger

MLB betting handicappers odds for Dodgers to win the World Series: +900

The competition goes more than four deep, because the loser of the Dodgers’ right-field competition will certainly become a factor for the left-field job as well. But among these four, team president Andrew Friedman loves Toles, having history with him in the Rays organization and then raising him quickly through the Dodgers’ farm system last year from A to Double-A to Triple-A to the majors. Friedman loves his athleticism and hit tool.

Thompson was acquired from the White Sox in the three-team deal with the Reds in December of 2015. As with Toles, the Dodgers love his athleticism, although they view him more as a platoon or extra player. Van Slyke is solid against left-handed pitching and can play both corners as well as first base, but he may also have to compete with Franklin Gutierrez for a roster spot as an outfield reserve. (Gutierrez is similarly useful against lefties.) Bellinger is the sleeper of the group. He has the best bat and power, but his primary position is first base and the Dodgers would prefer their top prospect start the year in Triple-A.

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