AL Only fantasy thoughts: Early 2013 surprises

USA TODAY Sports

Ray Guilfoyle highlights some of the early surprise performances from an AL only league perspective.

This weekly series takes a look at the fantasy happenings for those of you in AL-only leagues. Today, I will take a look at three hitters and three pitchers who are having a surprising start to the 2013 season. One month does not make a season, so I will offer my thoughts on whether we can expect the player to continue to outperform or not.

Pitchers

Yu Darvish

I ranked Darvish in the lower half of my Top 12 starting pitchers for 2013, but thus far, he has been the best starter in baseball. In his 6 starts, covering 38.2 innings, he is 5-1 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.59 FIP, 0.93 WHIP, and has struck out 38.4% of the batters he has faced this season. In addition to his 13.50 strikeouts per nine, which by the way, leads all starting pitchers, he keeps the ball on the ground at a 52% rate. He is an early favorite for American League Cy Young right now.

Ryan Dempster

Dempster signed with the Red Sox in the offseason, and I didn't think he was a good fit for Fenway Park, but he has pitched very well thus far. He is just 1-2, but his record doesn't tell you how good he has been. In addition to the one win, his ERA sits at 3.30, with a 3.28 FIP and 2.83 xFIP and a 1.13 WHIP. What is really amazing about his season is that he is striking out 35.3% of the batters he has faced so far, for a 12.90 K/9. The strikeout rate will come down, but he should put up double digit wins with a mid to high 3s ERA.

Lucas Harrell

Harrell is on this list due to his 3 wins so far. He is far and away the best Astros starter, but he doesn't do it by dominating hitters. Instead, he gets hitters out via his elite level 59.0% ground ball rate. He has induced 10 or more ground ball outs in five of his six starts thus far in 2013. Harrell will probably hurt you in the WHIP category because he pitches to contract, but should win 10+ games with a mid 3s ERA.

Hitters

Nate McLouth

McLouth hasn't been fantasy relevant since 2009 when he hit 20 HRs and stolen 19 bases, but since then he has been nothing more than a 4th or 5th outfielder. This season, the Orioles handed him the left field job and he has made them look smart for the decision. So far, McLouth is hitting .329-.433-.488 with 2 HRs, 22 runs, 8 RBI and 8 stolen bases leading off for the hot hitting Orioles. He is a big reason for the team's early success. He is walking in 15% of his plate appearances and has limited his strikeout to just 9%. I don't see him hitting .300 this season, but do see him scoring around 90 runs and stealing 20+ bases in a full time role.

Manny Machado

Machado has been a big surprise for me this season, as i own him in several leagues. The Orioles put him in the two hole in their lineup early in the season, and Machado has fliourished in that spot. He is hitting .311-.349-.504 with 3 HRs, 19 runs, 17 RBI, 2 stolen bases and a 21-7 strikeout to walk rate thus far. Pretty good for a 20 year old in his first full season. I see him hitting 15-20 home runs with 15 stolen bases this season. The batting average will come down, as he will slump at times, but he should end up in the .270 range by season's end.

Josh Hamilton

Wow. What happened to him? Hamilton looks completely lost at the plate right now. After hitting a career high 43 home runs, and hitting .285-.354-.577 last season, Hamilton is hitting just .214-.260-.304 with just 2 HRs, 11 runs and 9 RBI through 27 games thus far. Like teammate Albert Pujols last season, Hamilton is off to a terrible start after signing a big contract with the Angels, and could just be pressing to show he is worth the large contract. I see him turning things around soon, so he is a pretty decent buy low candidate if you can buy him for .80 on the dollar.

Question: Are there any other AL only players off to a surprising start that you would like to hear about? A few guys come to mind: Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana. Others?

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