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Reality Check: The first two rounds of 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Enough with the charade.

By now, you pretty much know if you're in or you're out. The trade deadline has passed, the waiver wire is picked clean and your team is more or less on cruise control.

Which makes now the perfect time to shift gears to next season.

The draft -- you know you've wondered about it. How different will it be? What changes should you make to your approach? Why do you have to wait so long to find out these things?

Well, wonder no more. Over the next few weeks, I'll give you a sneak peak at next year's rankings. Keep in mind these rankings aren't meant to reflect just my own personal preferences but also public perception. If I think Edwin Encarnacion is the best player on earth but no one else does, he obviously shouldn't rank first overall. (Just an example. I don't actually think Encarnacion is the best player on earth.) Also, keep in mind these rankings are subject to change with the developments yet to unfold over the next month and beyond. They're meant as a sneak peak, not the final authority.

We'll begin with the beginning -- that is, the first two rounds.

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Projected first round for 2013:
1. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Tigers
2. Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
3. Mike Trout, OF, Angels
4. Albert Pujols, 1B, Angels
5. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees
6. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds
7. Matt Kemp, OF, Dodgers
8. Prince Fielder, 1B, Tigers
9. Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
10. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Rockies
11. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers
12. Jose Bautista, OF, Blue Jays

I know where your eyes went right away: Mike Trout. And you probably didn't like what you saw. Third? How could he not be first!? He's been far and away the best hitter in Fantasy since his arrival in late April, outscoring Cabrera on a per-game basis by more Head-to-Head points than Cabrera has outscored Adrian Beltre.

Relax. Only on planet kneejerk would ranking a 21-year-old sophomore ahead of first-round mainstays like Pujols, Cano and Votto be considered disrespectful. Trout is no doubt a stud, and you could certainly make the case for him to go first overall. But with my first-round pick (particularly a high first-round pick), I want safe more than anything else. And as we've seen from stud rookies like Eric Hosmer and Jason Heyward over the last couple years, the league often adjusts to second-year players before they're able to adjust back.

Now, I know Heyward's and Hosmer's rookie seasons, as impressive as they were, weren't on the level of Trout's. I also know Trout maintained an other-worldly batting average every step up the minor-league ladder. He's different. I get it. Am I expecting him to take a significant step back next year? No, I'm not. But wouldn't you want to safeguard against the possibility by opting for one of the two most reliable studs in Fantasy, especially when their best is still better than what anyone other than Trout could offer? Maybe it's just me.

So what else stands out here? Probably that Tulowitzki, despite my sincerest efforts to hype him as a potential first overall pick each of the last two years, barely cracks the top 10. That's right: I'm no longer a slave to position scarcity. It has more to do with the changing landscape of the shortstop position than a philosophical revelation. With the emergence of players like Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro, Asdrubal Cabrera, Ian Desmond and Alcides Escobar, not to mention the newfound eligibility for Ben Zobrist, the gap between the top two tiers at the position is no longer as extreme. And now that Tulowitzki is a definite injury risk, having spent significant time on the DL each of the last three years, the reach is that much harder to justify.

With any assessment of the first round, the pessimist in all of us can't help but pick out the worst place to draft -- the point where you'd essentially be getting a second-rounder with your first-round pick. I detect slight drop-offs after the third pick, the seventh pick and the ninth pick, but I think the pick I'd least want is No. 11. I still wouldn't mind building my team around the best shortstop in baseball, even if he's less of a sure thing these days, but if I had to start with a pitcher, knowing how plentiful aces are these days, I'd feel like I was playing catch-up all draft long.

I suppose I should touch on the last of the three Tigers before moving on to the next round. Fielder hasn't had a career season or anything, so why is he projected to go higher than ever before? Simple: Good hitters are hard to find, and they're becoming increasingly hard to find in the post-steroid era. Fielder may not outclass his position every year, like Cabrera and Cano tend to do, but his numbers are always stud-worthy. And considering he's in the thick of his prime at age 28, they figure to stay that way. By comparison, imagine all that could go wrong for any of the hitters listed here ...

Projected second round for 2013:
13. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers
14. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers
15. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
16. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
17. Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
18. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners
19. Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies
20. David Wright, 3B, Mets
21. Matt Holliday, OF, Cardinals
22. Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS, Dodgers
23. Dustin Pedroia, 2B, Red Sox
24. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, Blue Jays

Among all the players listed in these two rounds, Kinsler and Pedroia are the two most likely to strike you as overvalued. That's where position scarcity comes into play. Second base may very well surpass shortstop as the weakest position in Fantasy next year, if it hasn't already, which is why I ranked Cano ahead of Votto in the first round. With Chase Utley, Brandon Phillips and Dan Uggla continuing to decline and Ben Zobrist likely to be drafted as a shortstop, Cano, Kinsler and Pedroia are head and shoulders above the rest at the position. Cano is the most obvious of the three because he's a standout performer in two categories, but the across-the-board production of Kinsler and Pedroia makes up more ground than you think. In standard points leagues, Kinsler has actually outperformed Cano this year -- which, if anything, makes him a bit undervalued.

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As you can see, Kershaw and Hernandez are the only other pitchers included in my first two rounds, which may not be the way your actual draft goes. But ask yourself: Who would be the fourth guy? David Price? He's a great pitcher who's had a great year, but judging from his peripherals, he hasn't definitively distinguished himself from the Cole Hamels, Madison Bumgarner and Jered Weaver types. He's had the best numbers of the four this year, but if it's a toss-up who'll have the best next year, why reach for one?

Encarnacion is perhaps the most interesting name here, and I'll admit I didn't think I could justify ranking him in the second round. Don't get me wrong: I think his 2012 performance is completely legitimate, but I suspected the majority of Fantasy owners would be too skeptical of it to draft him so early. They still may be, but when I took the time to measure his numbers against everyone else's, I discovered that, on a per-game basis, the only hitters to outscore him so far this year are the top three: Cabrera, Braun and Trout. Knowing that, I don't see how I could justify ranking him lower than 24th overall.

I feel like Posey has provided so much at a weak position this year -- and with the pedigree to back it up -- that I have to rank him as high as I have, but I can tell you right now I won't be the one drafting him there. I learned my lesson with Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Mike Napoli and Alex Avila this year. Too much can go wrong for a catcher. It's the most physically demanding position on the diamond, which increases the risk of injury. A major one puts him on the DL for weeks at a time. A minor one limits his production for weeks at a time. Either way, the loss might be more than your team can survive.

Likewise, Ramirez is a player I'll probably avoid. I don't think the numbers he's put up this year are the best he can do, which is an exciting thought at a weak position like shortstop, but he -- like Jose Reyes, who was just off this list -- has a history of injury and inconsistency. I'm not saying I'd reach for players like Evan Longoria, Jason Heyward and Adrian Gonzalez over him, but I'd hope I'm not the one who has to make that decision.

Notable omissions (other than those already mentioned):

Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals: Yes, we all know how talented he is, but if the Nationals stop him short of 175 innings this year, who's to say they won't stop him short of 200 next year? Until they're ready to turn him loose, he's not ready to be a Fantasy ace. Frankly, Chris Sale, who has outscored both Strasburg and Clayton Kershaw on a per-game basis this year, is a better candidate for the second round -- and he's a stretch himself.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees: Three straight years of subpar batting averages pretty much tells you everything you need to know. At age 33 next year, Teixeira isn't likely to reverse course, and as things stand now, he's a worse contributor on a per-game basis than up-and-comer Freddie Freeman.

R.A. Dickey, SP, Mets: He's been by far the highest-scoring pitcher in Fantasy this year, but if drafting Edwin Encarnacion is scary, what about a 37-year-old whose success depends on a gimmick pitch? I believe in Dickey, but more to the tune of a fifth-round pick.

Joe Mauer, C, Twins: Even though his power numbers aren't as impressive, Mauer's Fantasy production has been about the same as Buster Posey's this year, and he may actually be the safer option given the Twins' growing hesitance to start him at catcher. Still, we know who Mauer is by now. Posey, on the other hand, might have room to improve.

Allen Craig, 1B/OF, Cardinals: You may have seen the Matt Holliday comparisons this year, but you probably haven't taken them as seriously as you should. On a per-game basis, Craig's production this year is actually closer to Joey Votto's. Yeah, really. I'll be especially curious to see how high he goes in next year's drafts. I have a feeling it won't be high enough.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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