11. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington third baseman (22).
A Ken Boyer, Scott Rolen-type third baseman. You'll know if the Washington press corps ever starts going to baseball games, because if they do, Zimmerman will be more famous than Britney Spears.
12. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado shortstop (22).
The complete package, apart from so-so speed. Coming out of college I thought he would be too muscular to play short, but he's a fantastic shortstop, also scored 100 runs as a rookie and drove in 99. You might compare him to Ripken, but he's much more athletic at short than Ripken was, although Ripken was an outstanding shortstop in his best years.
13. Miguel Cabrera, Florida third baseman (24).
He's fat and he looks lazy, but he hits .320 and drives in 115 runs every year. As a hitter, he's in a class with Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez and Albert Belle, just crushes the ball about 200 times a year. As a third baseman he's in a class with guys who really need to work on playing third base.
14. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee third baseman (23).
Harmon Killebrew-type power, a little like a right-handed Jim Thome. He probably won't make it as a third baseman, either, which kind of sets up an interesting quandary for the Brewers, as to where they're going to hide his glove with Fielder over at first. But this guy may be a better hitter than Fielder, and it might be the smart thing for the Brewers to do to say screw the defense, we can give you seven runs and beat you with a football score. They could be the first team ever to have 50 home runs at each corner of the infield.
15. Justin Verlander, Detroit starting pitcher (24).
As a rookie I was a little skeptical of him because, despite the 100-MPH fastball and the 17 wins, he struck out only 124 batters. But last year he was much more confident with his curve ball and his change, and his strikeouts were way up. There are Cy Young Awards in his future.
Nick Markakis batted .300 with 23 home runs as a 23-year-old last season.
16. Nick Markakis, Baltimore right fielder (23).
A beautiful left-handed stroke, sort of in the mold of Paul O'Neill, Mike Greenwell or Garret Anderson as a hitter, possibly even Billy Williams. Decent right fielder.
17. Jake Peavy, San Diego starting pitcher (26).
Often cited as the best starting pitcher in baseball, which probably has quite a bit to do with park effects. Padre fans at this moment are bellowing that Peavy was 10-1 with a 2.57 ERA on the road, as if this should preclude us from taking park effects into account.
18. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego first baseman (25).
Graceful but slow, he is somewhere between Rafael Palmeiro, Kent Hrbek and the Crime Dog. He hit .295 on the road with 33 doubles, 21 homers, 68 RBI -- more than twice as many doubles, homers and RBI on the road as he had at home.
19. Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh lefty (24).
The heir to the mantle of Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer, Kenny Rogers and Jimmy Key, which actually I think belongs to Ed Lopat and was stolen from Lopat by Johnny Podres or Claude Osteen or somebody, and lent to Randy Jones and then John Tudor.
20. James Shields, Tampa Bay (25).
He plays Drysdale to Kazmir's Koufax, had an outstanding season despite allowing 28 home runs and working against hard pitch counts. Never wastes a pitch, with a strikeout/walk ratio of 184-36. He had 48 innings of 10 pitches or less, only 32 innings of 20 pitches or more -- a better ratio of quick innings to long innings than any of the big three Cy Young candidates (Beckett, Sabathia and Lackey. Beckett's ratio was 44-45, Sabathia's 58-55, Lackey's 57-40. Carmona actually was better than Shields, at 56-36.)
21. C. C. Sabathia, Cleveland lefty (26).
I have to tell you, as a baseball fan, I absolutely adore C. C. Sabathia. I always have. I've compared all these players to somebody else. It is sacrilege to compare C. C. Sabathia to any other pitcher. He is totally unique. For one thing, although listed weights of baseball players are so bogus that it's hard to see the point of listing them, C. C. has to be the heaviest player in major league history. He's huge -- 6'7"and has an aircraft carrier frame supporting large piles of necessary and unnecessary flesh, all of this adorned with comic little ears that stick out from his face as if the Lord couldn't find a flat place to put them. He has a unique delivery, hanging his massive leg in the air in seeming defiance of both gravity and nature, yet he is balanced and graceful. He projects a sort of genial warrior calm on the mound. He was an outstanding pitcher when he reached the majors in 2001 and has gotten steadily better, cutting his walks from 95 in 180 innings to 37 in 241 innings. He's 26 now, like Peavy, and his age is pushing him downward on this list; he is less of a young talent, and more of a mature product. But I don't think I've ever missed a C. C. Sabathia start in Kansas City when I was near KC or in Boston since I've been in Boston, and I hope he pitches forever.
22. Curtis Granderson, Detroit center fielder (26). Came out of nowhere to be a sensational center fielder for Detroit these last two years, 26/27 as a base stealer with an unheard-of 23 triples, brilliant defense. Engaging personality. Somewhere between Kenny Lofton and Andy Van Slyke, but could be better than either of them.
23. Brandon Webb, Arizona starting pitcher (26). Followed up a Cy Young season (2006) by increasing his innings pitched, strikeouts and wins, and cutting his ERA. I would bet that nobody has ever done that before.
24. Chad Billingsley, Dodger starter (22). A starter in 2006, he was in the bullpen until late June 2007, moved back to the rotation for 20 starts and was much better than he was as a rookie. Not that he was bad as a rookie ... he was 7- 4, 3.80 ERA. 2007 he was 12-5, 3.31. Uses a five-pitch mix with a cutter as the featured pitch. Fly ball pitcher, tough to run on ... may not have the conditioning to endure as a front-line starter.
25. Chris Young, Arizona center fielder (23). Not your typical leadoff man, with 32 homers and a .237 average, but I guess it worked. Trim right-handed hitter with 40/40 potential, doesn't get cheated when he swings.
26-30: Jeff Francoeur, B. J. Upton, Russell Martin, Francisco Rodriguez, Alex Rios
31-35: Ian Snell, Dustin Pedroia, Chad Cordero, Matt Holliday, Dan Haren
36-40: Matt Capps, Hunter Pence, Adam Wainwright, Corey Hart, Robinson Cano
41-45: Delmon Young, Joe Blanton, Carl Crawford, Jeremy Accardo, Jeff Francis
46-50: Bobby Jenks, Chad Gaudin, Manny Corpas, Kelly Johnson, Kyle Kendrick
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From The Bill James Handbook 2008, copyright (c) 2007 by Bill James and Baseball Info Solutions. Used with permission. All rights reserved.