Fantasy Baseball: 8 Breakout Hitting Candidates for the Month of June

Gerard MartinCorrespondent IJune 7, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: 8 Breakout Hitting Candidates for the Month of June

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    Justin Upton, Adrian Gonzalez and Dee Gordon lead the list of fantasy baseball breakout hitters for the month of June.

    For one reason or another, the players on this list have underperformed so far, but now that the calendar has flipped to June, they're primed to excel.

    If these players are on the waiver wire in your league, pick 'em up. If they're not, now is an excellent time to make their owner an offer.

Justin Upton, Arizona Diamondbacks OF

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    There are two major factors working in favor of a rebound for Justin Upton. The first is his health.

    Upton has battled a thumb injury all season long. His position as the face of the Arizona franchise doesn't afford him the luxury of a couple of weeks off to heal; he's been forced to battle through the pain. It's a subtle ailment, but it's robbed him of his power, driving his ground-ball rate to its highest level in three seasons.

    Eventually, his thumb is going to get better. When it does, there'll be another factor waiting to further boost his production: heat.

    When the calendar flips from May to June, the average high temperature in Phoenix jumps from an already sizzling 92 degrees to an even 100.

    Chase Field isn't always mentioned alongside the launching pads in Colorado and Texas, but when the roof opens up and lets in that dry Arizona air, Upton's home park might as well be called Cape Canaveral.

    So far, the combination of injuries and (relatively) cooler weather has limited Upton to just a .684 OPS at home. His career average at Chase Field is .923. Last season, his home OPS was 1.033.

    Expect a return to normalcy for Upton this month.

Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays 2B/OF

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    Ben Zobrist has to be wondering what more he can do.

    His batted ball rates are almost identical to his career norms. His plate discipline, which has always been excellent, has actually gotten better. He's on pace to set a career high in walk rate and boasts his lowest strikeout rate in two years.

    Yet Zobrist has unquestionably underperformed this season. According to ESPN's Player Rater, he's been the 19th-best second baseman and 78th-best outfielder in fantasy baseball this season.

    There is one clear culprit, his .221 BABIP.

    Zobrist's career average on balls in play is .281, and he's never logged a BABIP lower than .273 over a full MLB season.

    It's hard to say exactly when Zobrist's impending regression will kick in, but it's going to happen. Given the fact that there has been no noticeable hole in his game outside of bad luck, I expect his numbers to improve sooner rather than later.

Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles C

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    As Matt Wieters goes, so go the Baltimore Orioles.

    It's an effortlessly simple bit of logic, and one that seems to have held true this season.

    After cranking six home runs in his first 68 at-bats and leading a charging Orioles team to the top of the standings, the Orioles' lead in the AL East has evaporated as Wieters hit just .188 in the month of May.

    Unfortunately for the Orioles, I don't expect that logic to hold much longer.

    No matter what the circumstances, I can't argue that Baltimore will once again distance itself from the likes of the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox, but with a friendly slate coming up, things will certainly turn around for Wieters.

    For his career, Wieters' weighted on-base average is 20 points higher at home. His home splits outpace his road numbers in every fantasy category, and 14 of the Orioles' remaining 21 games in the month of June will be played in the cozy confines of Camden Yards.

Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers SS

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    Only two hitters in MLB have hit line drives more often that Jhonny Peralta's 30.9 percent. One of those hitters is Joey Votto.

    So far this season, Votto has registered a .409 BABIP and a .348 batting average. Peralta currently sports a .295 BABIP and a .259 average.

    Something isn't right here.

    Obviously, I'm not saying that Peralta will suddenly begin to provide Votto-esque production, but given the relative similarity in their batted ball tendencies, that gap in batting average is sure to close soon.

    When more of Peralta's line drives begin to drop in for hits, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, both of whom have on-base percentages of .375 or better, will be ready to lumber on home.

    Peralta had just 15 RBI in April and May combined. He may well match that number in the month of June alone.

Desmond Jennings, Tampa Bay Rays OF

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    After missing the last three weeks of May, Desmond Jennings is already off to a hot start in June, collecting three hits (including a triple) in his first two games of the month.

    The knee injury that caused Jennings to miss time last month put a stop to a confidence-boosting start. Jennings wasn't dominating, but he was in the process of proving that last season's contributions were absolutely not a fluke.

    Now that he's fully healthy and back in the lineup, Jennings has the kind of speed to single-handedly tip the balance in steals, and his June interleague schedule will make his thievery even easier.

    The Rays get nine games against the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, two of the worst teams in baseball at controlling the running game.

    No Mets catcher has thrown out even 25 percent of attempted base-stealers. John Buck, the Marlins' primary catcher, has managed to cut down only 31 percent.

    Jennings has eight steals so far. He'll swipe 10 more by the end of the month.

Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox 1B/OF

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    It's an age-old situation.

    Whenever you have a chance to move a Gold Glove first baseman and the best hitter on your team to a position he's never played in the big leagues to make room for a player with a grand total of 106 major league plate appearances, you have to do it.

    The Will Middlebrooks-related reshuffling is a patently ridiculous move for the Red Sox, but Adrian Gonzalez's fantasy owners couldn't be happier about it.

    Even if Bobby Valentine realizes his foolhardy mistake, two weeks of impending interleague play will guarantee Gonzalez enough time in the outfield to earn eligibility in nearly every format.

    At the plate, Gonzalez's flat-lining walk and home run/fly ball rates have kneecapped his fantasy value this season, but coming off of a five-year history in which he's nearly doubled both of his current rates in those categories, there's no cause for alarm.

    In fact, the position switch might actually help him.

    In 32 at-bats as a right fielder, Gonzalez has hit .281 with a home run and two doubles, a marked improvement over his production as a first baseman. It's a microscopic sample size, but definitely something worth monitoring as the season goes on.

Michael Morse, Washington Nationals 1B/OF

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    There's always going to be an adjustment period for a hitter coming back from injury, but after a lengthy rehab process that concluded with a full seven games' worth of minor league action, Michael Morse is ready to hit the ground running for the Washington Nationals.

    In many cases, a team welcoming a player back from a long layoff would ease him back into the lineup, but with an already depleted outfield, the Nationals can't afford to give Morse too many days off.

    Morse has galactic power, the kind that can single-handedly sweep a category for a week and easily rack up double-digit homers in a month. It's also the kind of power that's made even more dangerous when injected into a homer-friendly environment.

    The Nationals will travel to some of the best home run parks in baseball this month, playing a total of 16 games in Colorado, Boston, New York (Yankee Stadium) and Toronto, giving Morse ample opportunity to get his season off to a flying start.

Dee Gordon, Los Angeles Dodgers SS

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    I thought Dee Gordon was grossly overvalued heading into the season, and I wasn't even a bit surprised by his early scuffles.

    But I think those struggles have made the fantasy community as a whole a bit to eager to send him packing.

    For a team in need of speed, Gordon can be incredibly useful. In fact, over the last two weeks, Gordon is hitting .298 in regular at-bats. Yet, oddly enough, he's only stolen two bases in that time.

    Don't worry, that's an aberration, not a trend.

    Even while hitting just .207, Gordon attempted 14 steals in the season's first month. I expect his total for June to be even higher, given the fact that he's likely to have more opportunities to run.

    Gordon's strikeout rate dropped by nearly 10 points from April to May, and when that trend is combined with a BABIP that's bound to jump over .300 sooner or later, it'll yield loads of chances to run for one of the fastest players in baseball.