#45 – Miguel Montero, C, Arizona
Somewhat overlooked because he began the season on the DL, Montero has been a monster since returning to the line-up, carrying over last year’s success and then some. At 26, he’s a quality defensive catcher who can hit for power from the left side, and he’s become a more disciplined hitter as well. He now heads into the prime of his career as one of the best all around backstops in the game, and only his two remaining years of club control keep him this low on the list. Given the diminished salaries he’ll command and the value he will produce, however, he’s the kind of player that every team would covet.
#44 – Brian Matusz, SP, Baltimore
The best of Baltimore’s young arms, Matusz is one of the game’s best young left-handed starters. Despite pitching in the American League East, he’s more than holding his own with a four pitch repertoire that keeps hitters off balance. He doesn’t light up the radar gun like some other arms on this list, but he has a better idea of how to pitch than most. Don’t judge him on just his major league numbers to date – at 23, there’s far better days ahead. Given that the Orioles have him for five years beyond this one, it would take an overwhelming offer to pry him out of their hands.
#43 – Ben Zobrist, 2B/OF, Tampa Bay
Considering that he was never going to repeat his 2009 season, this has been about as good a follow-up as you could hope for. The surprising power hasn’t carried over, but everything else is still well above average, and the total package is a high quality player that is as versatile as any in the game. The Rays took a risk in locking him up before he had a chance to repeat his monster 2009 season, but it looks like a sound investment, as they have him signed through 2013 at bargain salaries and then hold team options for both 2014 and 2015.
#42 – Geovany Soto, C, Chicago
Like Montero, Soto is a young, offensive backstop with the ability to stay behind the plate. He’s rebounded from last year’s disappointing sophomore campaign, offering his usual blend of patience and power while inexplicably hitting eighth for the Cubs. Given his ability to drive the ball, he could hit in the middle of the order for most teams, and when you have a 27-year-old cacher who can provide that kind of punch, you have a highly valuable piece. The Cubs will control his rights for three more years, and it shouldn’t take them that long to figure out that he’s better than Koyie Hill.
#41 – Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee
The Brewers ace is a bit of a challenge to rank. On the one hand, he’s one of the better arms in baseball at age 24 and already signed to a long term, below market contract. On the other hand, knee surgery has limited his career to just over 400 innings pitched, and now he’s back on the DL with an oblique injury. With a longer track record of success, teams would be more willing to project him as a future ace, but he’s yet to crack 200 innings in a season and looks unlikely to do so again this year. Gallardo has the upside to rank much higher, but the injuries and backloaded contract would make teams think twice before giving up the farm to get him from Milwaukee.
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