MLB Futures: Shohei Ohtani and 5 AL Cy Young Sleeper Bets

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It’s almost March, which means spring training is about to kick into high gear. If everything goes better than it did last March, the 2021 Major League Baseball season will get underway on April 1. We’re set for a full 162-game marathon this time around, which sure beats the 60-game sprint we saw last summer.

The truncated 2020 schedule may have led to plenty of wonkiness, but we can expect things to look much more normal this season. While we are still unlikely to see jam-packed stadiums full of fans, at least most teams around the league will allow for fans in some capacity in 2021. That alone should make the viewing experience more enjoyable.

MLB betting sites are already taking bets on what the ’21 season may bring. You can wager on the Cy Young Award winner in each league, for example. Shane Bieber of the Indians will be looking to claim the award for the second straight season on the American League side, while Trevor Bauer will look to accomplish the rare feat of winning the NL version in consecutive seasons for two different teams.

Of course, any MLB futures bet will take a while to pay out. The season won’t come to an end until late-October, and awards will not be handed out until after the World Series. So, if you have to wait that long, you might as well get some value for your trouble. Baseball is an inherently unpredictable sport, which means there is always an edge to be gained if you’re smart about the bets you make.

Here are a few Cy Young sleeper bets we like heading into the new campaign.

Kenta Maeda (+2000)

Kenta Maeda was a fairly unheralded member of the Dodger teams that went to back-to-back World Series in 2017 and 2018, but he seems to have found a home in Minnesota. In his first season with the Twins, the right-hander went 6-1 across 11 starts with a 2.70 ERA. Maeda set a career-high with a 32.3 percent strikeout rate while allowing opposing hitters to hit just .168.

The Twins have lacked a true ace since the Johan Santana days, but Maeda might be the guy moving forward. He showed flashes of brilliance during his early days with the Dodgers, but Los Angeles’ pitching depth often led to Dave Roberts to jettison Maeda to the bullpen come playoff time. In his first year in a Twins uniform, Maeda was able to shed that short leash and help the team to another AL Central title.

It’s hard to call Maeda a sleeper considering he’s on everybody’s radars by now. He did just finish second behind Bieber in the 2020 AL Cy Young voting, too. Maeda picked up 18 first-place votes and totaled 92 points. Bieber (210) won the award going away, but it was still an impressive showing from a pitcher that entered the season without much fanfare.

If he’s able to build on the success he found in 2020, there is no reason to believe Maeda won’t be in the Cy Young hunt again this season. You can do a lot worse than taking a flier on last year’s runner-up at the current +2000 odds.

Framber Valdez (+2500)

The Astros were the black sheep of baseball last season, but they still came to within a game of yet another World Series appearance. This despite the offseason departure of Gerrit Cole and the midseason injury to Justin Verlander. Zack Greinke’s days as an ace seem to be in the rearview mirror. The pitcher that wound up becoming Houston’s most reliable starter in 2020 was one of the team’s most volatile starters in 2019: Framber Valdez.

Valdez wasn’t a prospect with much pedigree, but he sure does look like the real deal. The 27-year-old lefty improved his numbers in just about every way last season. Valdez finished the season 5-3 in 11 appearances with a 3.57 ERA. His 3.23 SIERA shows that the ERA was even a bit unlucky. Valdez struck out better than 26 percent of the hitters he faced while yielding a ground ball rate of 60 percent.

Ground balls and strikeouts are exactly what you want out of your pitchers these days. The Astros are still expected to be among the best teams in the AL in 2021 despite losing a few more key pieces, and Valdez will have a lot to do with it. There seems to be a pretty good chance that Dusty Baker will lean on Valdez to be his No. 1 starter once the regular season gets underway.

Valdez was nowhere close to the Astros’ roster during their controversial 2017 title run, so I’d imagine Cy Young voters wouldn’t feel the need to punish Valdez for the old misdeeds of some of his teammates. If he can continue to improve upon the ability he showed late last season, Valdez is certainly worth a shot given the +2500 AL Cy Young odds here.

Jesus Luzardo (+2500)

The A’s have risen to the top of the AL West thanks to a cavalcade of promising youngsters. One one the kids the team is most excited about is young left-hander Jesus Luzardo, who debuted for Oakland back in 2019. He pitched out of the bullpen toward the end of that year before entering the rotation to begin 2020. However, his ’20 campaign was delayed due to health protocols, so he got off to a bit of a rocky start.

Luzardo was rather hit-or-miss last season, but the shortened schedule means we shouldn’t overreact. Luzardo went 3-2 across 12 regular-season appearances, including nine starts. The southpaw posted a 4.12 ERA alongside a strikeout rate of 23.8 percent. He wasn’t nearly as dominant as he looked during his cup of coffee with the team in 2019, but he’s also just 23.

A full spring training without the weirdness of 2020 should only help the development of Luzardo. He was inconsistent last season, but should be primed to take a big step forward in his first full year as a big-leaguer. Luzardo will still have to win a rotation spot this spring, but I like his chances.

The talent is undeniable. He posted a K-rate nearing 35 percent in his first tour of duty at this level. The A’s have lofty expectations again this season, and Luzardo taking the next step in his development would certainly help Oakland reach their ultimate goal.

Bieber won the AL Cy Young last season in just his third major league campaign. Luzardo is clearly capable of doing the very same, which makes him worth a chance at the +2500 odds.

Shohei Ohtani (+4000)

Shohei Ohtani has made a lot more noise with his bat than he has with his arm as a major leaguer. Ohtani was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery after a promising start to his 2018 season, which left him off the pitching rubber for the entirety of 2019. He returned to the mound last season, but he wound up starting just two games after struggling mightily.

We know what Ohtani is capable of doing as a pitcher. Before going down in 2018, Ohtani went 4-2 across 10 starts with a 3.31 ERA and a strikeout rate of 29.9 percent. He came to the US as the most heralded Japanese prospect in history thanks to his two-way ability. Unfortunately, injuries have gotten in the way.

Ohtani was absolutely awful on the mound last season, but we can’t glean too much from a small two-outing sample. The right-hander was knocked around to the tune of seven earned runs in just 1.2 innings of work. Rather than forcing him to fight through it and risk further injury, the Angels decided to make him a full-time DH for the rest of the shortened season.

Ohtani will be back in the Halos’ rotation this year. He has reportedly overhauled his offseason training regimen, which included a trip to Driveline Baseball, an academy that has helped a number of other pitchers develop their careers. Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Bauer, and Yusei Kikuchi have made trips to Driveline in the past. Joe Maddon has said Ohtani will be a “full go” as both a hitter and a pitcher.

If he can look at all like the pitcher we saw baffling hitters routinely back in 2018, Ohtani will quickly see his Cy Young odds improve considerably. For a player of his ability, having baseball betting odds set at +4000 is awfully enticing. If he can stay healthy and consistent, Ohtani has the potential to become the ace of this staff. If he does, he’ll be in the Cy convo.

Triston McKenzie (+5000)

The Indians have been churning out quality young pitchers for years now. Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Bieber are just a few of the quality arms that have been developed in Cleveland’s system over the last handful of years.

Who’s to say Triston McKenzie isn’t the next great young right-hander?

The 6’5″, 165-pound McKenzie may be built like a flagpole, but he showed what he’s capable of in a brief big-league stint in 2020. The 23-year-old went 2-1 across eight appearances with the Tribe and finished with a 3.24 ERA. McKenzie struck out over 33 percent of hitters he faced, including a phenomenal 10-strikeout performance against the Tigers in his major league debut.

McKenzie is one of the top prospects in the Indians’ system, and he’ll get his chance to contribute to the rotation right away. Cleveland was fine with parting ways with the likes of Kluber, Carrasco, and Clevinger over the past year because they’re confident in the ability of their young arms. McKenzie is obviously a huge part of the franchise’s plans moving forward.

Given Cleveland’s history of developing pitchers, it’s fair to expect big things for McKenzie. His strikeout numbers in the minors have been gargantuan, and early indications are good that he’ll be able to keep that up at the big league level. Cleveland is a team that will likely take a step back this season, which could hurt their chances come awards season. That said, you can still take a low-dollar stab at McKenzie’s +5000 AL Cy Young odds.

Taylor Smith

Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...

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