These players came up just short of the top 50. To view the players ranked 50-26, click here.
Erik Bedard, P, Mariners, Age 29 (Unranked Last Year)
If we had done this list at the beginning of the year, Bedard's talent might have ranked him somewhere in the mid 20s or 30s. But I worry about someone who has taken such a long time to recover from injury, when that someone has never pitched more than 196 innings in a single season.
The results in Beantown haven't been pretty -- a 2-8 record and a 6.35 ERA thus far on the season. But Buchholz' strikeout rate remains solid, and we need to grade on a curve for any 23-year-old pitching against AL East competition. The way to think of Buchholz is as a prospect rather than as a finished product. If Buchholz were still in Triple-A, he'd be dominating the league and would rank among the top half-dozen prospects in baseball; we rate him accordingly.
Cain looks like he could turn into a durable, Jack Morris type of workhorse. But while his numbers have been good, they have not been extraordinary, and he has benefited significantly from his home ballpark, where the large outfield and stiff winds turn a lot of would-be home runs into long outs. Cain's lifetime ERA away from AT&T Park, where his tendency to give up a lot of flyballs can get him into more trouble, is 4.07.
As bad as Cano has been over portions of this season, I don't know if people realize quite how could he was before: to be a Major League All-Star by the time you're age 23 is a very rare thing, and Cano still owns a .303 lifetime average. Certainly, the Juan Samuel career path appears more likely now, in which Cano fails to gel as a player because he never improves his batting eye. But he's also a pretty good "buy low" player in any kind of fantasy league.
Two things we've learned about Jones this year: his defense is terrific, and his plate discipline is terrible. Since he's just 22 years old, I would tend to focus on the positive attribute.
Chipper Jones, 3B, Braves, Age 36 (--)
It was good to see Chipper chasing the .400 mark earlier in the season, since he's tended to be taken for granted since winning the MVP in 1999. In spite of his frequent injuries, Chipper's bat has been so strong the last couple years -- a 1.025 OPS since the start of the 2006 season -- that I'd expect him to retain significant value through the age of 40.
Pitchers are more likely than hitters to have late-career breakouts, and Lee has gone from a No. 4 starter to a No. 1 by adopting a more straightforward style of pitching and learning how to keep the ball down. But he still doesn't have any one real out pitch, and I worry about how well his numbers are going to hold up once hitters have a winter to digest his scouting reports and adjust their approach.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox, Age 27 (Honorable Mention Last Year)
Papelbon holds his HM spot from last year; his performance, if anything, has gotten better. But until closers start to be used more in the old Willie Hernandez mold, and pitching 120 innings a season rather than 60, it is going to be extremely hard for one of them to crack the Top 50.
Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians, Age 26 (--)
Peralta has been almost completely overlooked; if he played in a bigger city and had a cool nickname, his 20-25 home runs a year from the shortstop position would make him a perennial All-Star.
What's unique about Price is that he may be as low-risk a pitching prospect as you're ever likely to find, having three years under his belt against SEC competition in college and then having already graduated two minor league levels thus far in this, his first full professional season. But I see more of a No. 2 starter here than a true No. 1. Price has struck out almost exactly one batter per inning thus far in the minor leagues. In the major leagues, that is a fantastic figure. In the minors, where a lot of hitters simply can't hit a breaking pitch, it points toward a good-but-not-spectacular career.
Ben Sheets, P, Brewers, Age 29 (--)
Sheets is having his best season in years, and certainly his healthiest, and his 3.9-to-1 lifetime strikeout-to-walk ratio is among the best in major league history. He is nearly 30, however, and I don't know what kind of bet you can place on this arm holding up over the next six seasons.
One of the things I try and emphasize is not to place too much emphasis on any one year's worth of performance. Baseball players have off-years for all sorts of reasons, and Tulo, with his hand and quadriceps injuries, has some pretty good excuses. But it could have also been that 2007 was the outlier, when his performance exceeded that projected from his minor league numbers.
Which of these two pitchers is having the better season?
Pretty close, huh? Pitcher A has given up fewer walks, but Pitcher B has an advantage in strikeouts and limiting base hits. The first pitcher is Justin Verlander in 2006, when he had a 3.63 ERA and a 17-9 record. The second pitcher is ... Justin Verlander this year, with his statistics extrapolated out to the same number of innings pitched. But this year, his ERA is 4.60, and his record is 9-13. There is a lot of luck inherent in pitching statistics, and this year, Verlander has gotten the worst of it, but that doesn't make him a worse pitcher.