This is the point where it got really tough to put players in particular spots. Every team in baseball would love to have every guy on the list from here on out – the warts are now much more minor or the potential is so high as to make it seem like a risk worth carrying. Even in this section, you’re looking at some of the best young talents in baseball. If you want to move a guy a few spots up or down here, I won’t begrudge you at all. These guys are all very, very good.
Rank – Player – Position – Team – Past 3 Calendar Year WAR
#25 – Ubaldo Jimenez, SP, Colorado: +16.4
Compared to last year, Jimenez’s fastball is down nearly 3 MPH and his ERA is up over 4.00, but in reality he’s not pitching all that much worse. The spike in runs allowed is about runner stranding, and his peripherals are pretty much in line with his career norms. There would be a bit less demand for him this year than last, but teams will still look at Jimenez as a young front-line starter. Toss in his insanely team-friendly contract ($21 million over the next four years if both team options are picked up), and even without the premium fastball that he had last year, the Rockies would still be able to command a ransom for Jimenez.
#24 – Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington: +2.6
By far, the hardest player to put on this list. Some teams would still value him as a top 10 guy, while others would take every other guy on this list and a few dozen more before they took Strasburg. Both the risk and reward markers on him are off the charts. On one hand, he could end up as the next Mark Prior, offering nothing but false hope and becoming a story of what-could-have-been. On the other hand, Tommy John surgery is hardly a career-killer, and if he’s back on the mound next spring, he could easily be the best pitcher in baseball in 2012. He doesn’t offer much in the way of 2011 value, but he’s not a long ways off from contributing again, and the upside is just too high to ignore.
#23 – Tommy Hanson, SP, Atlanta: +9.0
Hanson isn’t quite as good as his career 2.99 ERA would indicate, but even if you factor in some regression going forward, he still projects as one of the best starting pitchers in the National League. At 24, he’s shown significant improvement this year, and is now using his stuff to it’s full potential. He still throws too many balls to be a true ace, but he’s not far off from that, and there’s still room for growth. Still in his pre-arb years and under team control through 2016, Hanson is a terrific combination of present and future value.
#22 – Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati: +9.5
While Bruce might seem like something of an enigma, it’s worth keeping in mind that he’s only three weeks older than Danny Espinosa, and he already has nearly 1,800 career plate appearances under his belt. There has been a learning curve, to be sure, but Bruce has settled in as a good player already, and he still has the physical tools to become a superstar. There just aren’t many players with his athleticism in the outfield and his abilities at the plate. The long term contract he signed with the Reds will pay him just $48 million over the next five years and should buy out most of his prime years, so any team trading for Bruce would not only get a good player with star potential, but get one at a bargain rate as well.
#21 – Mike Trout, OF, Anaheim: -0.1
Yes, he’s still basically a prospect with no proven success in the big leagues, but Trout is not your average prospect. He’s the epitome of a five tool player, only he’s developed at years beyond his age. While he might not yet be ready for stardom in the big leagues, it’s worth remembering that guys who destroy AA-ball at age 19 usually turn out to become good big league hitters. When those guys are also center fielders with enough speed to be elite defenders and add a lot of value on the bases, you’re looking at a guy who could be the best player in baseball. There’s really nothing wrong with Trout beyond a lack of MLB experience, and yet he’s still good enough to start for a number of Major League teams right now. Few players offer as much future value as Trout, and the Angels won’t have to wait much longer for it to start paying off in the big leagues.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.