Carl Crawford, LF, Devil Rays, Age 25 (NR last year)
Crawford seems like he's been around forever, having become a big league regular at age 20, but he's still just 25, and may have some further room for power development. He's also one of the more likely major leaguers to take a run at 3,000 hits, as he's even-money to have cleared the 1,000-hit barrier by the end of this season. Plus, he's perhaps the best baserunner in the league, and one of the few left fielders that might be worthy of Gold Glove consideration. So there's a ton to like here, but at the end of the day a .327 career OBP from a corner outfielder is too much to overlook.
Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks, Age 24 (NR)
When I first drafted this year's list Drew seemed like an obvious candidate for inclusion. But the further you peel under the surface, the more reasons there are for caution. Drew's minor league numbers were boosted by the hitter-friendly environments of Arizona's minor league system, and that pattern has continued in the big leagues, where he has hit just .252/.295/.337 in his brief major league career away from Chase Field. Plus, while Drew is a sure-handed defender, he is not as fleet of foot as most other shortstops, and may eventually require a move to second base.
Curtis Granderson, CF, Tigers, Age 26 (NR)
Granderson has a similar skill set to Crawford, but is his mirror image in other ways. When Crawford was in the major leagues in 2000 Granderson was hitting just .271 for the University of Illinois-Chicago Flames. While Granderson's high strikeout rate limits his upside for the time being, he has been a late-bloomer his whole life, and his intelligence and work ethic may force him into the Top 50 by year's end.
Carlos Guillen, SS, Tigers, Age 31 (NR)
Speaking of late-bloomers, Guillen might be the best player that casual fans have never heard of. There's a case to be made that Guillen is every bit the player that Derek Jeter is, but the limited track record and questionable defense are enough to just hold him out of the Top 50.
Rich Harden, P, Athletics, Age 25 (17)
Harden is the pitching equivalent of Whac-a-Mole: fix an injury in one place and another problem pops up somewhere else. Over his past couple of seasons Harden has had trouble with his back, his shoulder, his lat and his elbow. That's the sort of grand slam that isn't helping the A's.
Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers, Age 25 (NR)
I said that I wasn't ranking the Honorable Mention players, but Kinsler, for the record, is No. 51. I'm a shade skeptical about his power breakout; he isn't a huge guy and had a mixed track record in the power department in the minor leagues, but there's certainly a chance that he turns into a low-carb version of Chase Utley.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs, Age 31 (13)
The injury that Lee suffered a year ago isn't really a cause for concern; it came on a fluke play and Lee is a good athlete who has stayed very healthy throughout his career. Still, the bar is set very high for a first baseman in his 30s, and the decline in Lee's power numbers is enough to knock him out the of Top 50.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Devil Rays, Age 21 (NR)
PECOTA liked Longoria significantly more than Brandon Wood entering this season, and now that Wood has been moved to third base, it's easier to make an apples-to-apples comparison. On that front Longoria's minor league numbers this year -- five homers and a .956 OPS so far -- are significantly better than Wood's, even though he has played in a much tougher hitting environment. Longoria plays outstanding defense and might even be a candidate for a move to shortstop; think Ryan Zimmerman, Part Deux.
Russell Martin, C, Dodgers, Age 24 (NR)
Martin may have the misfortune to play most of his career in the shadow of Joe Mauer and Brian McCann, but he brings his own special skill set to the table, combining excellent defense with a phenomenal ability to get on base. The upside could resemble what might have happened if Craig Biggio had stayed at the catcher position.
Jonathan Papelbon, RP, Red Sox, Age 26 (NR)
The 60-70 range is about where you'd start to think about ranking some relief pitchers -- it's hard for a guy to be much higher than that when he's only pitching 75 innings a season. Paps gets the nod over Francisco Rodriguez because he doesn't fall over after every second pitch.
Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs, Age 29 (NR)
A player whose early career was marked by inconsistency, Ramirez reeled off three seasons between 2004 and 2006 that were carbon copies of one another, and he's on pace to have a fourth. If his concentration on defense were a little better he'd be Top 50 material.
Justin Upton, CF, Diamondbacks, Age 19 (24)
Upton's professional debut last year wasn't just a disappointment; it was a minor disaster. But he nearly snuck his way back onto the list with his .365/.451/.612 April in the California League, and his tools are virtually unparalleled throughout the minor leagues. There is some speculation that Upton's poor numbers last year were the result of a lack of effort; perhaps he's so talented that he was simply bored by the competition. I'm leaving him off the list for now, but this could well be the last season in long while that he misses the Top 50.
Dontrelle Willis, P, Marlins, Age 25 (42)
There's nothing to worry about. D-Train's ERA is high but his peripheral statistics are right in line with his career averages. He's simply been lapped by a lot of the other young talent coming into the league.