Some companies are obviously great investments -- in hindsight. Sure, we should have bought Starbucks at its IPO and earned hundreds of percent return over the years. Yet for every stock out there screaming "buy me," others simply give us a nudge and a nod. How can we tell tomorrow's obviously great investments from the thousands of pretenders?

The stars' walk of fame
On Motley Fool CAPS, these opportunities can be found among our four-star stocks. In CAPS' proprietary ratings system, they rank higher than most of the other 5,500 stocks in the CAPS universe, but they're just shy of superstardom. While all the attention might be focused on their five-star peers, we can sift through CAPS to find four-star companies approaching greatness:

  • Indevus Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:IDEV)
  • JA Solar Holdings (NASDAQ:JASO)
  • United States Steel (NYSE:X)

Some of these names might surprise you. United States Steel, for example, has not only been around seemingly forever, but was once emblematic of all that was wrong with the U.S. manufacturing industry. Almost great? Even familiar names can offer some of the best opportunities. Perhaps we've just forgotten the potential they still hold. However, the 110,000 CAPS investors chose these companies as less obvious sources for tomorrow's great buys so let's see why they might merit your attention.

Coughing fits and starts
It's already a proven therapy in Europe, so Indevus Pharmaceuticals probably expected a relatively easy endorsement of its hypogonadism drug Nebido from the FDA. Yet the agency, which apparently has been feeling the sharp elbows of critics, brought the hammer down on the drug because of a single instance of a patient coughing when the drug was administered. Such "symptoms" are in fact a rare possibility at the time of injection along with possible shortness of breath. In this case, the symptom went away and the patient continued using the drug with no further side effects. Nebido carries a warning label in Europe, but that wasn't good enough for the FDA. It wants an additional two years of study.

Despite the FDA setback, investors like top-rated CAPS All-Star TMFBreakerJava feel that there's more to Indevus than just Nebido:

Another ridiculous FDA decision has driven this stock to very low levels. The value of their approved drugs is being ignored as well as the ultimate approval of their drug candidate which is already on sale in Europe. This presents a good buying opportunity.

Prescription for growth
Information security specialist Zix has had a modicum of success with its email encryption services and now hopes to capitalize on a movement to require the use of electronic prescription services. A bill moving through Congress would mandate that Medicare prescriptions be electronically filed by doctors using an e-prescribing system by 2011. Zix's PocketScript enables doctors to learn of potential drug interactions when writing the prescription. This conveniently allows physicians to change to a safer medication, and it provides co-pay information that keeps patient costs lower.

Health-care cost containment is a hot button issue for politicians, doctors, patients, and investors like CAPS All-Star DCMonty25 who believes the market for Zix's technology will be widespread:

Zix offers a stand-alone e-prescribing tool (PocketScript) that is basically Electronic Health Record (EHR) Lite... It's cheaper and less time-consuming to implement than a full EHR, which means it is more attractive for small physician practices looking to integrate health information technology. Health IT is very much a hot topic in Congress, and will be a significant part of future health care. Improves safety, quality and efficiency, while saving money from increased use of generic prescription alternatives and fewer medication errors resulting in hospital stays, etc.

A great opportunity for you
You've heard directly from the CAPS community on some of these stocks approaching greatness, but do you agree? Are these four-star candidates still investment-grade material? On Motley Fool CAPS, your input can influence how they're rated. Outperform or underperform, near term or well into the future, your opinion counts. It's free. Sign up today and tap the intelligence.