AL Only Fantasy Thoughts: James Loney, Vernon Wells, Manny Machado and Others

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Ray Guilfoyle offers his thoughts on some AL-only league hitters.

The AL-only Fantasy Thoughts article is back after a one week hiatus. In this article I will discuss my thoughts on some players who are outperforming their draft round to this point in the season.

Vernon Wells, NYY

Raise your hand if you had any idea Vernon Wells would be this productive for the Yankees this season? Coming into the season, Wells was a 4th or 5th outfielder in Los Angeles, but the trade to the Yankees created an opportunity for him, and he has made the most of it. Twitter was glutted with people laughing at Yankees GM Brian Cashman for trading for Wells. It looks like, right now, Cashman is the one laughing. Here is a look at Well's WAR over the last six seasons:

2007: 1.8 WAR

2008: 1.2 WAR

2009: - 0.1 WAR

2010: 3.7 WAR

2011: 0.2 WAR

2012: 0.4 WAR

2013: 1.5 WAR

Wells is on pace to eclipse his WAR for every year except 2010, and we are in the middle of May. Wells is currently hitting .299-.349-.526 with 9 HRs, 20 runs, 22 RBI and 4 stolen bases. The move to Yankee Stadium has treated him well, as he is hitting for more power, and walking a bit more. His ISO has jumped from .173 in 2012 to .226 this season, and his .526 SLG is his highest since 2006. He is on pace to hit 38 HRs, drive in 94 runs and steal 17 bases.

James Loney, TB

He's another guy who when you look at his stats page, you say to yourself "where was THIS the last five years?". Loney's hot start to the 2013 season has been nothing short of amazing. The Dodgers were waiting for Loney to start hitting for the power he was projected to hit when they drafted him way back in 2002. He was a pitcher in high school, but the Dodgers saw enough of him to move him to first base. The power never developed for Loney, but he did play great defense and hit for a high batting average, from the Mark Grace mold of first baseman.

The Dodgers traded him to the Red Sox in that blockbuster deal last summer, but the Sox chose not to sign Loney in the offseason. Loney signed with the Rays, and many, including me, did not expect him to play much this season. Well, Loney apparently had a different plan. It appears he has changed his batting stance, and has shown a bit more power this season. He is currently hitting .381-.431-.566 with 3 HRs, 17 runs and 20 RBI in just over 100 at bats. He hit a mammoth home run into the upper deck at Tropicana Field a few days ago, and my jaw just about hit the floor when I saw the replay.

Now, his hot start to this season is supported by a gaudy .408 BABIP, and a 34.7% line drive rate, and neither are sustainable. He is actually hitting more line drives than fly balls (33.7%) and ground balls (31.7%) right now. But, he also owns a stellar 12-10 strikeout to walk rate, so his BABIP may fall into a .340-.350 range.

He won't supply owners much more power, but if he can continue to hit above .300 and drive in runs, he is a productive fantasy player.

Manny Machado, BAL

Is Manny Machado about to enter into the same conversation as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout? It's a little early to do so, but it is certainly fun to see how well he is performing thus far in 2013.

Machado currently owns a 2.0 WAR, while Trout's WAR is sitting at 2.1 right now. He is currently hitting .329-.367-.515 with 5 HRs, 14 doubles, 28 runs, 24 RBI and 4 stolen bases in 180 plate appearances. He is walking more, and striking out less, than in his 2012 cup of coffee. His .329 batting average is buoyed by a lofty .368 BABIP, but we don't know what is normalized BABIP is at this point, but will gain more information on that front as the season goes along.

He currently ranks this among all fantasy third baseman in batting average, 4th in runs scored and 6th in RBI, so it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could be a top 5 third baseman in 2014.

Mark Reynolds, CLE

I have always liked Reynolds, as he is a power hitter, and I lean toward power hitters in drafts. I don't care if they hit .300 or .215, I will make sure I have enough power on my team to compete in the power categories. And I have to say I am upset that I let Reynolds go at $7 in my AL only keeper league auction in early April.

Reynolds is having an un-Reynolds like season so far, as he is hitting .272-.365-.584 with 11 HRs, 23 runs and 32 RBI in just 148 plate appearances. Wow. His .312 ISO and .584 SLG are the highest of his career. If you look at his 25.6% HR/FB rate, you could say that he cannot continue to hit home runs at that pace, but, then again, this is Mark Reynolds.

What's even more amazing than his .272 batting average, is that he has cut down his strikeout rate from 29.6% to 25.0% this season. Actually, his K% is in a three year free fall right now:

2010: 35.4%

2011: 31.6%

2012: 29.6%

2013: 25.0%

He is currently on pace to hit 47 home runs and drive in 136 runs. I don't see him reaching those levels, but a 35 HR, 100 RBI season seems to be a slam dunk to me.

Mitch Moreland, TEX

Coming into this season, many fantasy writers, including me, wrote off Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, as the talk of moving Ian Kinsler to first base gained momentum. Why wouldn't we? We all wanted to see Jurickson Profar at second base in a Rangers uniform, right? But, manager Ron Washington stuck with Moreland and he has made the decision look good so far.

Moreland is currently hitting .296-.347-.578 with 9 HRs, 17 runs and 18 RBI in just 147 plate appearances. Of his 40 hits, 19 have gone for extra bases, exactly what the Rangers need from their first baseman. The power has come as a bit of a surprise as Moreland has never hit more than 16 home runs in the big leagues. Can we expect a 20 home run season from him this season? I think it is certainly possible, as his 18.4% HR/FB rate is now far off his 2012 rate, and he plays his home games in an extreme hitters park.

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