#25 – Jay Bruce, OF, Cincinnati
The young outfielder for the Reds possesses all the abilities to be a true superstar, and a breakout year is coming, likely sooner than later. One of the best power and speed players in the game, Bruce will be a middle of the order hitter with defensive value, making him a rare specimen. He still has some growing to do before he gets there, but he’s already a quality player and has barely scratched the surface of what he could be. The Reds having him under team control through 2014 only enhances his value.
#24 – Tim Lincecum, SP, San Francisco
If this was strictly about past performance, he’d rank much higher. The continued loss of velocity, however, raises questions about what kind of pitcher he’ll be going forward, and teams have long been skeptical of his durability due to his size, workloads, and unorthodox delivery. Once you add his escalating paychecks into the calculation, and this is where we end up – with a pitcher who has been as good as anyone, but has enough question marks about his future abilities to keep him out of the top tier in terms of trade value.
#23 – Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle
Perhaps because of the expectations that came with the beginning of his career, Hernandez can often feel like a disappointment because he’s not the best pitcher in the game. He is, however, in the discussion of guys not named Halladay, and his combination of stuff and durability have teams convinced that he could be even better if he ever fully matures. The five year contract he signed last winter is far enough below his market value that most teams could add him to their budget without too many problems.
#22 – Albert Pujols, 1B, St. Louis
Speaking of best in the game, trying to figure out where Pujols should land was quite the challenge. On one hand, he’s baseball’s premier slugger and drastically underpaid, but his contract only lasts through next season, so his value is short term only. He provides so much production, however, that teams would still be beating down the Cardinals door if he was ever made available, even though he’ll be looking for a huge paycheck a year from now. He’s pretty much the only guy good enough to overcome the lack of long term value.
#21 – Carlos Santana, C, Cleveland
Of all the good young catchers on this list, Santana is the best. A switch-hitter with power and a tremendous approach at the plate, he projects as a better version of Victor Martinez at the plate, only with much better defensive skills than his predecessor. He’s wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the game’s best young players, and because he wasn’t called up until June, the Indians will control his rights for six more years. The Dodgers will regret trading him for a long, long time.