The calendar has flipped from May to June as the baseball season has reached a quarter of it's life. Over the course of the past 50-plus games several young studs have lead their squads toward contention, while a handful of All-Star veterans are needed to step up to keep their teams in the hunt.
Joc Pederson, Dodgers
Part of the Hollywood drama that was the Dodgers' 2014 season was the constant rumblings about the overcrowded outfield, and who would be the first to go to make room for Pederson, the rookie from Palo Alto, Calif., in 2015. Matt Kemp was the odd man out as he was traded away to San Diego this past winter. It has taken just 52 games, but Dodgers fans are salivating at the future of their new stud center fielder.
Pederson has been better than advertised. After hitting 33 long balls last season in Triple-A Albuquerque, Pederson has already hit 16 home runs, including three in the past three games, two of which were hit on both ends of a double header in Colorado, traveling a combined 950 feet. Pederson’s average distance of home runs is the best in baseball, at 426 feet per long ball (Yes, longer than Giancarlo Stanton’s). The rest of the 23-year-old lefty’s numbers are exceptional as well. Thus far Pederson has knocked in 31 runs to go along with a .383 on-base percentage, a .971 OPS and an OPS+ of 167.
Pederson not only gets it done at the plate, but in the field as well, having only committed one error in center field in over 423 innings of work. The only knock on Pederson’s game is his 29.3 percent strikeout rate — but that is to be expected from a rookie. If the first-place Dodgers are going to hold off the Giants throughout the month of June without the inured Yasiel Puig, Pederson is going to be a big reason why. The kid is an All-Star — right now.
Adam Jones, Orioles
In a division full of disappointing teams, the Baltimore Orioles might be the most discouraging. The Orioles, who won 96 games in 2014, are currently sitting five games below .500, and boast one of the more mundane offenses in the American League. Part of that struggle has been the fall-off of Chris Davis and the prolonged absence of slugging catcher Matt Wieters from Tommy John surgery. While the finger of blame can be pointed at several candidates, a key reason for the O’s' early-season struggles could be the ongoing struggles of Jones, Baltimore's All-Star center fielder and all-around Mr. Nice Guy.
After starting the 2015 campaign on fire, Jones hit skid row once the calendar flipped to May. Last month Jones hit just .239/.272/.284 with just one home run, two doubles, and seven RBIs. Thanks to his hot start in April, Jones is still hitting .293 on the year, 13 points above his career average, but his recent slide has been baffling. Make no mistake, the O’s' lackluster play is not all on Jones’ woes at the plate — far from it. But if Buck Showalter’s squad has postseason aspirations, Jones is going to have to be his old self in June.
David Ortiz, Red Sox
Big Papi has molded into the senior spokesman for this generation of baseball players, but his performance at the plate has been no better than senior citizen. Ortiz is currently hitting at a .224 clip, 60 points below his .284 career average, and his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is a measly .236, the lowest of his career by far. While last year’s below-average slash line of .263/.355/.517 could have been an indication for things to come for the now 39-year-old Ortiz, in he did hit 35 home runs, 27 doubles, and knocked in 104 runs just last season. Entering Wednesday's action, Ortiz has hit just six homers with 18 RBIs. Nothing s going right for Big Papi, nor the Red Sox for that matter, this season.
The good news is that historically Ortiz turns it on after May with a career slash line of .292/.389/.572 and OPS of .921 in the month of June. The person wishing the most for an Ortiz turnaround (other than Big Papi, himself) has to be Red Sox skipper John Farrell, whose team sits in last place in the AL East for the second straight summer.
Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
$175 million doesn't seem to go as far as it used to. The Yankees’ massive investment in Tanaka two winters ago has yet to pay any dividends. Last season the Yanks’ ace missed 10 weeks with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow, an injury that he opted to not have Tommy John surgery to repair. This season, Tanaka has missed five straight weeks due to a right forearm strain and tendinitis in his right wrist.
When healthy, there is no question that Tanaka is the ace of a Yankees rotation that has been unreliable at best. Tanaka has made just four starts in 2015, but in those starts he struck out 24 batters over 22.1 innings of work, surrendering just 14 hits and 10 runs with an ERA of 3.22 and a WHIP of .940.
Currently the Yankees sit atop the grisly AL East, one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (Yes, really, the Rays are contending). If Tanaka can come back and be his old self on the mound, the Yanks have a great shot at building upon their lead throughout the month of June.
Joey Gallo, Rangers
Bryce Harper’s former Little League teammate made his MLB debut last night for the Texas Rangers in Arlington. A single, double, two-run home run, four RBIs, seven total bases, and a curtain call later, everyone knows Gallo’s name. Athlon Sports' No. 5 prospect entering the season, Gallo will be filling in at third for Adrian Beltre, who will be sidelined the next couple of weeks with an injured thumb. Once Beltre returns from the DL, the 6-5, 230-pound Gallo could find himself playing in left field, giving the prodigal son and oft-injured Josh Hamilton much needed days off.
While Gallo, just 21 years old, has a lot of work to do to cut back on his high strikeout rate (33.6 percent in Double-A), his raw power is something to behold. Last season Gallo smacked 42 long balls in the minors, one shy of Cubs uber-prospect Kris Bryant.
With the resurgence of Prince Fielder and the return of Hamilton, Gallo could be the piece the already-surprising Rangers need in their lineup to allow them to contend in the AL West.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. He can be reached on Twitter @JakeRose24.