With spring training heating up, many baseball fans are gearing up for their fantasy baseball drafts. Most seasons there are some very clear picks at the top of the draft, but there are several players who could make a case to go early, making the upcoming season quite interesting.
One way to differentiate players of equal talent in the first round is by position scarcity. Catcher, second base, shortstop and third base (to an extent) are all scarce positions, and you can get a leg up on your competition if you get an elite player at those spots.
That isn't to say that players should be overvalued due to their position, but if all other things are equal, it makes sense to take a player from a scarce talent pool.
Here is a mock of how a standard 12-team league first round might go, complete with extensive analysis on scarce position studs to target.
1. OF Matt Kemp (LAD)
The runner-up for the 2011 NL MVP did it all last season as he clubbed 39 home runs for 126 RBIs and stole 40 bases. There is no more complete player in the game, making him the obvious No. 1 pick.
2. OF Ryan Braun (MIL)
Things were a bit uncertain for the reigning NL MVP, but Braun was able to avoid a suspension for his positive PED test, so he'll be ready to go on opening day. Like Kemp, Braun produced in every category, which is what you want with early picks.
3. 1B Miguel Cabrera (DET)
Taking a first baseman early isn't ideal, but Cabrera is unquestionably one of the best hitters in the league. Not only did he hit .344 with 30 homers last year, but now he has Prince Fielder as protection in the lineup.
4. 1B Albert Pujols (LAA)
Last season was Pujols' worst in quite some time as he hit "only" .299 and drove in 99 runs, and while his transition to the AL will take some time, he is still the most polished hitter in all of baseball.
5. 3B/OF Jose Bautista (TOR)
There were a lot of questions regarding whether Bautista was a one-year wonder, but he answered them last season with a .302 average and 43 home runs. Rogers Centre is a hitting haven, so there is no reason to believe Bautista will slow down.
6. SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
It isn't often that you can get first base or outfield production from your shortstop, but Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki provides exactly that. He hit over .300 with 30 home runs and 105 RBIs last season, and he seems to be developing on a yearly basis, so he should continue to improve on those numbers.
Coors Field may not be as hitter friendly as it once was, but it is certainly still one of the best offensive ballparks in the league.
There are few hitters in the league who can put up excellent numbers across all categories like "Tulo," so he's definitely a no-brainer at a position that drops off in talent quickly.
7. SP Roy Halladay (PHI)
Taking a starting pitcher in the first round can be a bit risky, but Halladay is the best in the game. No starter is more consistent than Halladay, and because of that you can bank on at least 19 wins, over 200 strikeouts and an ERA in the low 2.00s.
8. OF Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
Ellsbury came back from an injury-plagued 2010 season in a big way last year as he stole 39 bases, and even more shockingly went yard 32 times. Even if the power dips a bit, Ellsbury's speed makes him worth an early selection.
9. 2B Robinson Cano (NYY)
The New York Yankees have a star-studded lineup every year, but for the past couple seasons second baseman Robinson Cano has been treated as the team's best hitter.
It has been for good reason too as Cano may be the most complete hitter in the league.
Not only did he hit for a great average last season at .302, but his power numbers were excellent as well with 28 bombs and 118 RBIs.
There is nothing that would suggest a decline in Cano's production either. He hits in a stacked lineup, so he will have a ton of protection. Also, Yankee Stadium is very advantageous for left-handed hitters, so an uptick in power is quite possible. There are only three second baggers worth taking early, and Cano is the best of them.
10. SP Justin Verlander (DET)
Last season Verlander had one of the best pitching seasons in more than a decade as he won 24 games, struck out 250 batters and had a WHIP under 1.00. He won't do that again, but anything close to that makes him a first rounder.
11. OF Justin Upton (ARI)
Upton still has some developing to do and he is somewhat of a risk in the first round, but his .289 average, 31 home runs and 21 steals suggest that he is trending toward a career year in 2012.
12. SS Jose Reyes (MIA)
New Miami Marlins shortstop Jose Reyes has made a habit of missing a significant amount of games, so he may be the riskiest pick in this projected first round.
With that said, if he can find a way to stay relatively healthy, he should have his best season ever. As the table setter for sluggers like Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton, Reyes figures to score a ton and wreak havoc on the base paths.
Reyes won the batting title last year with a .337 average and he stole 39 bases as well. He managed to do that in the New York Mets' rag-tag lineup as well, and he didn't have much help. If Reyes stays on the field and plays to the best of his potential, then it is conceivable that he could be the best player in fantasy baseball this season.
With that in mind, he is worth the gamble.