This is part four of a five part countdown. In case you missed it, here's 60 through 41...
60. Mark Reynolds
59. Roy Oswalt
58. Raul Ibanez
57. Michael Young
56. Brian McCann
55. Jon Lester
54. Edwin Jackson
53. Jason Bay
52. Aramis Ramirez
51. Jake Peavy
50. Torii Hunter
49. Ryan Zimmerman
48. Curtis Granderson
47. Victor Martinez
46. Matt Cain
45. Carlos Lee
44. Jonathan Papelbon
43. Chipper Jones
42. Jimmy Rollins
41. Chris Carpenter
Here's part four!
There are guys lower than Youkilis who are more physically gifted. Youkilis just outworks everyone.
Love or hate him, you gotta at least respect his hustle.
A renowned on-base machine, coming to be known as the "Greek God of Walks," Youkilis is second in the AL in both OBP and OPS.
Youkilis' value to the Sox is mostly due to his glove however. He plays gold glove defense at each corner infield position, allowing him to spell the injury-prone Mike Lowell if need be.
He does everything but run. He's invaluable to the Sox.
It took Johnson only 11 months after Tommy John surgery to return the mound, where he promptly became the undisputed ace of a very young, very talented Florida rotation.
After a stellar rookie season in 2006, where he very nearly took home the NL ERA title, Johnson struggled with injuries the following two seasons before returning in 2008 and putting up very solid numbers.
It's been this year though that the imposing young right hander has taken the step up to bona fide ace, leading baseball in win percentage and tied for third in wins, and making the All Star Game for the first time.
Raul Ibanez really said it best. "Where does Florida find these guys?"
If the Arizona Diamondbacks organization should feel good about one thing that's happened this year, it should be the breakout of their young right fielder.
After experiencing a streaky 2008 season, Upton has put it all together at the age of 21. You can't really appreciate what this kid is doing until you find out how young he is.
Batting .301 through 103 games (a year after batting .250 in 108), and on the cusp of the top 10 for slugging percentage in the NL (.541), the one thing Upton needs to work on is reducing his strikeouts.
Like I said though, at 21, he's got plenty of time to figure it all out.
No player in baseball personifies winning like Derek Jeter—it's all he's done from the moment he first set foot in Yankee Stadium.
In 14 full seasons in the majors, he has never finished one of them with an average below .290.
He has batted over .300 in 11 of those seasons. He has stolen double-digit bases each full year in the majors.
Though no longer the defensive wizard who made jaws drop regularly with the plays he made, 2009 has seen Jeter post his best defensive season in years (.986 fielding percentage, just six errors).
I know he's a Yankee, and was the catalyst behind their dynasty just before the turn of the century, but aside from that it's pretty hard not to like this guy.
One of the greatest players you or I will ever see play, and the best kind of player—a winner.
Since clinching the Cardinals first world series in 24 years back in 2006, Wainwright moved from the pen to the rotation and has been a horse for the Red Birds ever since.
He is enjoying a great 2009 season, arguably the frontrunner for the NL Cy Young right now, and helping the Cards withstand two DL stints by Chris Carpenter; when Carpenter is healthy, the two form arguably baseball's best 1-2 punch.
His stats suggest he's getting better every year. A keeper for the Cards undoubtedly.
In a year that was full of feel-good stories, there was arguably none bigger in 2008 than the tale of Josh Hamilton.
A decade after being taken first overall by the Rays, Hamilton finally showed the world what he could do after a long and treacherous battle with drugs and alcohol.
There is literally nothing he can't do on a baseball field. He's perhaps the most complete player in the majors.
He hits for power and average, runs like a deer, is a great outfielder and has a hose of an arm.
Then why is he so low, you ask.
The answer is his history of injury problems, which date back to his first few years in the minor leagues. Injuries have basically sapped him of his 2009 campaign a year after he contended for the AL MVP award.
He has too much potential to not be in the top 40. In March, I'd have ranked him in the top 10 and I can very easily see him getting back to that level.
On a side note, I highly recommend his book "Beyond Belief" to every baseball fan.
The Orioles haven't had a whole lot to cheer about since Cal Ripken Jr. retired, but there recently has been a surge of hope among the fan base with all the young talent Andy MacPhail has assembled.
The cream of that crop is probably Nick Markakis, a bona fide five tool right fielder the O's were wise to lock up through 2014.
Markakis has been a superb run producer who has hit for contact since his first year in the majors. Although the stolen bases have been down this year, he still has the speed to steal bases in the future.
He is a fantastic right fielder with a great arm, currently leading the league in outfield assists.
This young superstar is making the Baltimore fan base believe.
David Wright is a case very similar to Hamilton. Preseason, he'd be in my top 10, no questions asked. Back to back 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons merit a ranking that high.
Before his recent injury though, the power had disappeared. He hit only eight home runs in 115 games (despite a more than commendable .324 average).
Third base is a power position though, and David Wright is a guy you expect to hit you some long balls.
He is overrated defensively.
There is still a lot to like about his game though. As mentioned, he's a great contact hitter. He's hit at least .300 in each of his full seasons in the majors.
He is also a threat on the base paths and was on his way to another 30 steal season before the injury.
He's been around so long, it's easy to forget he's only 26 too.
If the power returns and I do a list again a year from now, I'm sure he'll be top 10. For now, this is as high as I'll put him.
Rookie of the year in 2005, NL MVP in 2006, a world champion in 2008. Talk about a charmed career.
When I think "slugger," few guys come to mind faster than this guy. Howard hits baseballs very hard and very far.
That is, when he's hitting them.
Strikeouts will always be a part of his game. His power numbers are so awesome (and that's all the Phillies ask of him), it more than compensates for the constant swinging and missing.
He is (for now) the fastest player ever to 200 career home runs. Considering he's not 30 until November, Ryan Howard is going to be playing long ball for years to come.
Pedroia has all the same spunk and energy of his teammate Kevin Youkilis, in a much smaller package. Raise your hand if you picked him to win the AL MVP last year.
He doesn't give the Red Sox colossal amounts of anything—just a considerable amount of everything. This is reflected in his winning both a silver slugger and gold glove award last year.
Speaking of hardware, Pedroia's got it almost as bad as Howard. He's another guy who has a rookie of the year, MVP, and World Series under his belt.
His baseball IQ is amazing for a 26-year-old, and he's already a leader in the Red Sox clubhouse. With Big Papi's best years behind him, Dustin Pedroia has become the face of the team.
One of the most physically gifted players in the game right now, Kemp has what it takes to eventually become the fifth member of baseball's 40-40 club.
While he hasn't quite developed that kind of power, he still could at some point. Through 115 games, he has one fewer home run than he hit all of last year.
And the wheels obviously are there already. Kemp stole 35 bases last season and is on pace to surpass that total in 2009. That speed translates to gold glove defense in centerfield as well.
He's a phenomenal talent.
Who knows what the future holds for Manny Ramirez in Hollywood, but the Dodgers are set in center and right for the foreseeable future.
Can you imagine if the Rangers, already baseball's best offense, had held on to him? I mean, wow. That wouldn't have been fair.
Playing in a small market, for a terrible team, Adrian Gonzalez has quietly been getting it done on both sides of the ball since 2006.
Since taking his power hitting to another level, his average has dipped a bit. But he still is more than respectable in that department.
He has cut down on his strikeouts a little this year but still needs to improve there. He's already got one gold glove and it won't be his last.
There's really no way he stays in San Diego too much longer; wherever he ends up, the Padres will gut that team's farm system (or at least they should). 27-year-old superstars who make huge parks look small and play gold glove defense tend to cost that much.
After a disastrous 2008 campaign, Justin Verlander is back at his fire-breathing ways of old that led him to a rookie of the year award, a no-hitter, and an all-star appearance all in his first two years in the league.
Reasserting himself as the ace of the Tigers' rotation and as one of baseball's most dominant young pitchers, Verlander leads the AL in strikeouts (194) and is tied for second in wins (13).
He's a bona fide AL Cy Young candidate.
Most will tell you he has the game's best fastball. The regularity with which his hits the upper 90's or triple digits is almost unbelievable.
Oh yeah, he also boasts a devastating curveball and a changeup that is only getting better.
Velocity, command, movement—Verlander has it all. He has the stuff to be the best pitcher in baseball.
I'd be saying this even if he weren't my favorite player.
Sabathia is just a horse. That's the easiest way to put it. The league leader in innings pitched the last two seasons (and in the top five this year) is worth all $161 million the Bombers are paying him the next seven years.
He's the best pitcher they've had in some time.
He is fantastic at changing speeds and keeping hitters off guard, and for such a big guy he is a great athlete and a very capable fielder.
His poise and makeup are exceptional.
While his size makes him the most imposing pitcher in baseball and allows him to be so durable, some wonder if his size will hinder his durability long term.
Valid as those concerns are, right now CC Sabathia is one of baseball's top southpaws, and has sparkling career stats at the age of 29 (130-80, 3.65 ERA).
Morneau is currently half of baseball's best offensive tandem, along with Joe Mauer. I'd be saying this even if Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were still teammates.
The Twins have it figured out. Pair up a perennial MVP candidate (Morneau) and a perennial batting title candidate (Mauer) and surround them with guys who get on base. The Twins are an uncompetitive club without either of them.
Morneau is an elite RBI man—currently leading the AL in that category—and has driven in 100 every year since 2006 when he won the AL MVP award.
Sure there are better hitters than him, but save for a somewhat disappointing .271 average in 2007, he's not shabby in that department either.
Fans in the Twin cities need to soak up every moment of Mauer and Morneau's joint mastery as long as the two are still teammates. We might not see a tandem like them again for some time.
If one thing in baseball has surprised me this year, it's been this kid's struggles. He was my preseason pick to win AL MVP and I remain convinced he'll win one before it's all said and done.
He is the 2009 equivalent of Justin Verlander last year—a really good player having a really disappointing year.
A year after being a 30-30 man, Sizemore is hitting for very low average (.242) and his stolen bases are way down as well (10). I suppose even the most gifted players have down years.
His run production has been there in spite of his low average, though it's still disappointing by his standards. He also plays a great center field, winning back to back gold gloves in 2007 and 2008.
Too talented to struggle forever, Sizemore will get back on track. I have no doubts he'd rank higher if I were to do the list this time again next year.
From the time I became a baseball fan, it's been common knowledge to me that Mariano Rivera was the most automatic closer in the game. As such, I never really took the time to look in depth into his stats.
Well, I took the time the other day.
I was mesmerized.
From 2003 to 2006, he was unflappable. His 1996 season has to be one of the best in history for a reliever. Just pinpointing his best season is hard to do. In his years as a closer, he has never allowed more hits than innings pitched.
What makes it even more amazing is he's accomplished all this with basically one pitch. I guess you can get by with just a cut fastball when it's the greatest cut fastball of all time.
He has screwed up before—any Diamondbacks or Red Sox fan will tell you as much.
Trevor Hoffman is the all time saves champ. Make no mistake though. By any measure, Mo is the greatest closer of all time.
Some people in baseball are so high on this kid, so wowed by his downright unfair repertoire of pitches, they thought he could single-handedly win Kansas City the AL Central (or at least that's the only justification I could find behind the short-lived Royalmania).
In all seriousness though, this kid is pretty incredible if you live under rocks and haven't heard yet. He has put it all together after struggling with anxiety not too long ago.
Greinke's stuff can rival Roy Halladay's. He has four exceptional pitches—a mid 90's fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. He can throw each over a dime.
Some of the many hitters he baffled over the year have claimed he simply invents pitches on the spot.
He is human. After that meteoric start, he has come down to earth a little and let many others into the discussion for AL Cy Young. Wins will be hard to come by as long as KC's offense remains so nonexistent.
If he ever does start getting run support, run for the hills, major league hitters.
Speaking of offensive duos, we come to half of the best one in the National League—Ryan Braun. Along with Prince Fielder, the slugging left fielder has provided Brewers fans with plenty of magical moments since his rookie year in 2007.
Braun is one of those guys whose bat just makes a different sound when it greets the ball. He can hit the ball just as far as Adam Dunn or Ryan Howard, all while hitting 30 points better than either.
He was nothing short of porous at third base, so he was moved to left field where he is solid defensively. No gold glover, but very serviceable.
Extremely gifted, Braun is a hustler as well, always giving max effort. That combination of talent and work ethic should lead Braun to a long and prosperous career.
I've used the term "five tool player" quite a bit this countdown. Most if not all of the time, I'm sure I've been referring to an outfielder.
Ian Kinsler, is a five tool talent at one of the game's most offensively bankrupt positions—second base. He is the engine that makes the Rangers go, as evidenced by how mightily they struggled after his season ended last August.
That didn't stop 2008 from being the best season of his brief career thus far. He topped his best average by 33 percentage points, while driving in 71 and swiping 26 bases.
He really isn't that fast, he simply is a great baserunner.
He led major league second basemen in range factor.
Despite his average being way down, Kinsler is still driving in runs.
This year has exposed his Achilles heel though—his lack of durability. Your body will take a beating playing the game as hard as he does, I guess.
Kinsler is the most important and exciting player on a fast-rising team chock full of young, exciting players.