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10 MLB players set to break out during dog days of summer

Sportsnaut logo Sportsnaut 8/4/2018 Matt Johnson, Sportsnaut
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Video by USA Today Sports

When the dog days of summer hit, it can make things even tougher for MLB players. As teams take the field with the heat blistering down on them, it only adds to the intensity of a grueling season.

In the most pressure-filled and physically draining time of the year, we see special moments in baseball. Players who rise to the occasion and when the field heats up and the temperatures skyrocket, so do their numbers.

While veterans also have the most experience in these moments, sometimes it’s young players who thrive under fire. On the hottest days of the summer, they remain calm and cool.

Here are 10 players set to break out in the dog days of summer.

Bryce Harper, outfielder, Washington Nationals

a man looking at the camera © Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

So much for the Home Run Derby curse. After Harper posted a .214 batting average and .833 OPS before the All-Star Break, the 25-year-old outfielder has returned to his dominant form since winning the derby in front of Washington’s fans.

Since the All-Star Break, Harper has slashed .359/.480/.692 with a 1.172 OPS and 13 RBI. He is arguably under the most pressure of any player in the sport to perform in the coming weeks when the temperatures and circumstances are the most intense.

This is the version of Harper baseball fans love. Crushing baseballs under the summer sun with his locks of hair flowing. Harper is an MVP-caliber player who was made to perform under the sun and raise his game in the biggest of moments.

Kole Calhoun, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels

a man wearing a red hat © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the season, Calhoun was one of the worst players in all of baseball. As the Angels entered July facing scorching temperatures, Calhoun entered the month ice cold at the plate with a .162/.216/.224 slash line.

As the temperatures got hotter, the 30-year-old’s bat seemed to turn from ice into fire. Since July 1, Calhoun has posted a .309/.378/.732 slash line with 11 home runs. Even more noteworthy, 19 of his 30 hits went for extra bases.

While the Angels have wilted under the summer’s heat, the veteran outfielder has thrived. A season that could have gone down as one of the worst ever offensively, could now elevate Calhoun’s profile as one of the best all-around corner outfielders in the league.

Jon Gray, starting pitcher, Colorado Rockies

a person wearing a hat © Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After being optioned to the minors at the end of June, Colorado quickly brought Gray back when the dogs day of summer arrived.

Gray, who posted a 5.44 ERA before the All-Star Break, has been sensational during the hottest stretch of the season. In his last two starts, Colorado’s ace has allowed just three earned runs in 14.1 innings and his command has significantly improved.

What fans are witnessing now is a 26-year-old ready to handle the intensity of being a team’s ace while often pitching in one of the most unfriendly conditions possible for a pitcher. Add in frequent home starts at Coors Field and it makes everything Gray has done and will continue to do even more impressive.

Ronald Acuna, outfielder, Atlanta Braves

a baseball player wearing a red hat © Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

As mentioned at the beginning, sometimes it is the most inexperienced players who rise to the occasion during the summer. In this instance, Acuna is turning up his game under the hot Georgia heat and giving fans in Atlanta something to be excited about.

We’ve started to see it in the last few weeks. Over his past 12 games, Acuna slashed .370/.453/.761 with a 1.214 OPS, four home runs and four stolen bases. He isn’t just performing beyond his age, the 20-year-old has been Atlanta’s MVP lately.

Acuna is a transcendent talent and we’ve seen it proven even more lately. While Braves fans will have to deal with the scorching summers in Georgia, Acuna’s excellence on a daily basis will make the experience far more enjoyable.

Brad Keller, starting pitcher, Kansas City Royals

a baseball player is getting ready to pitch the ball © Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans may not be familiar with Keller, that should change in the coming weeks. Kansas City uncovered a gem in this offseason’s Rule 5 Draft and has been rewarded immensely for the addition.

While the 23-year-old struggled in July with a 15/14 K/BB ratio and 31 hits allowed in 28 innings, he is still plenty capable of being a solid starter. He proved it in four June starts with a 2.38 ERA and he demonstrated it in his most recent outing with nine strikeouts and two runs allowed in 6.1 innings.

Keller offers a solid repertoire of pitches and finds himself in a pitcher-friendly park, which further aids his chances for success. July was the adjustment period he needed to make improvements and come through with a strong final two months of the season.

Yasmani Grandal, catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

a baseball player swinging a bat at a ball © Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

An impending free agent with a great opportunity to be the top catcher available, Grandal has an opportunity to maximize his value. The 29-year-old is in the midst of his prime and rising to the occasion.

While the Dodgers’ lineup is highlighted by Matt Kemp, Cody Bellinger, Manny Machado and Brian Dozier, it’s Grandal that can be the real difference maker. In addition to his work behind the plate, he has been phenomenal with the bat.

Grandal hit six home runs and posted a 1.215 OPS in July. He hasn’t cooled down in August either. He is well on his way to the first .900-plus OPS season in his career and an excellent month of August seems a safe bet from one of the game’s most underrated players.

Tyler O’Neill, outfielder, St. Louis Cardinals

a man wearing a red hat holding a baseball bat © Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

When St. Louis traded outfielder Tommy Pham, it signaled an opportunity for O’Neill. One of the top prospects in the Cardinals’ system, he would finally be given the opportunity he earned.

In Triple-A Memphis, O’Neill slashed .311/.388/.711 with a 1.100 OPS and 26 home runs across 61 games. After brief stints in the majors, St. Louis is finally giving the 23-year-old a chance to see regular playing time.

He packs immense power into his frame with the potential to one day average 30-plus home runs each season. Most impressively, a hit tool that drew some questions is starting to show he can post a respectable batting average. O’Neill is ready for his new role and the numbers should follow in a big way over the coming weeks.

David Fletcher, third baseman, Los Angeles Angels

a baseball player holding a bat © Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In a lost season, Los Angeles opted to follow the Cardinals’ path. The Angels traded away veteran Ian Kinsler, which opened the door for Fletcher to receive more regular at-bats over the final stretch.

The 24-year-old made his MLB debut this season and the early signs have been pretty impressive. After Fletcher slashed .297/.341/.398 in his first 38 games, Los Angeles determined it was time to make him a regular player.

While fans shouldn’t expect a lot of power from the right-handed hitter, given he hit 13 home runs in 1,386 career at-bats in the minors, he could develop into a fixture in this lineup. After he posted a .350 batting average and .953 OPS earlier this season in the minors, Fletcher will now get to prove himself as a great hitter at the highest level.

Matt Chapman, third baseman, Oakland Athletics

a baseball player holding a bat on a field © Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

As the Athletics continue to surge in the standings and become one of the best stories in baseball, Chapman remains one of the most important chapters in the tale of this team.

He is already one of the best players defensively in all of baseball. Capable of making the most difficult plays and throws look routine, he is the golden standard defensively at the hot corner.

Now we might be seeing the greatest step from Chapman. The development into a hitter not just capable of holding his own at the plate, but a reliable hitter in the middle of Oakland’s lineup. After slashing .336/.434/.563 from June through July, the 25-year-old now seems ready to become a perennial All-Star third basemen.

Dereck Rodriguez, starting pitcher, San Francisco Giants

a person posing for the camera © Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

The son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, Dereck is quickly starting to create his own legacy. A former outfielder, he has since converted to pitcher and turned himself from a minor-league reliever into one of San Francisco’s most stable starters.

Frankly, Rodriguez has been one of the better pitchers in baseball over the last month. Among qualified starters, he ranked 11th in ERA (2.08) in July and posted a 21/9 K/BB ratio over that span.

While he may not get the run support needed to post an impressive record, Rodriguez has proven himself as an excellent, mid-rotation star for the future.

Related slideshow: 2018 MLB season (Provided by photo services) 

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