Joey Votto thinks Billy Hamilton could be an MVP candidate if he learns to draw walks

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Billy Hamilton is already dealing with pressure, as he is taking over as the Reds’ center fielder and lead-off man at the age of 23. Many expect him to become the fourth player since the turn of the millennium to steal 70-plus bases, joining Jacoby Ellsbury (2009), Jose Reyes (2007), and Scott Podsednik (2004). He was the pre-season National League Rookie of the Year pick for six of 36 Baseball Prospectus writers, garnering more support than players like Travis d’Arnaud and Javier Baez.

Joey Votto is among those with high expectations for the rookie. Votto joined Cincinnati’s 700 WLW Friday evening to talk some baseball. Via Lance McAlister, Votto said that if Hamilton learns how to draw walks, he could be an NL MVP candidate:

Votto added that Hamilton is a “living, breathing run” and also went on to praise his defense.

PECOTA, from Baseball Prospectus, projects Hamilton to hit .244 with an on-base percentage right around .300 and 71 stolen bases in close to 90 attempts. Obviously, getting on base more means more opportunities to steal bases and score more runs. PECOTA also projects Hamilton to be roughly 15 runs above average defensively, making him about a full win better than an average player. Not quite MVP-caliber, but maybe some day down the road.

Brandon McCarthy wins final spot in Dodgers’ rotation

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We learned on Monday that Hyun-Jin Ryu won one of the final two spots in the Dodgers’ starting rotation. Brandon McCarthy has won the other, Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register reports. Alex Wood was McCarthy’s competitor for the spot.

McCarthy, 33, posted a 4.85 ERA across four appearances spanning 13 innings this spring, yielding seven earned runs on 14 hits and a walk with seven strikeouts. Wood, a southpaw, gave up five earned runs in six innings against the Reds on Tuesday, which might have factored into the decision.

Last season, McCarthy made nine starts and one relief appearance, posting a 4.95 ERA with a 44/26 K/BB ratio in 40 innings. In the event McCarthy falters, the club has Wood as well as Julio Urias and the injured Scott Kazmir as potential replacements.

Yankees re-sign Jon Niese to a minor league deal

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The Yankees have re-signed pitcher Jon Niese to a minor league contract, George A. King III of the New York Post reports. Niese was released on Sunday, but he’ll stick around and provide rotation depth for the Yankees.

Niese had knee surgery last August and got a late start to spring training as a result. In six spring appearances lasting an inning each, the lefty gave up three earned runs on five hits and a walk with five strikeouts.

Niese, a veteran of nine seasons, put up an aggregate 5.50 ERA with an 88/47 K/BB ratio in 121 innings last season between the Pirates and Mets.