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Forget MVP. Who's fantasy baseball's No. 1?

By Tim Heaney

Milwaukee Brewers OF Ryan Braun
Brains say Braun

With all the American League Most Valuable Player debate over Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera hitting the social media diamond this morning (follow my tweets to see my take), I'd rather spend my efforts weighing in on what you, as a player, cares about the most - that coveted but often dangerous No. 1 fantasy baseball snake selection.

When you pick first, you shouldn't do so with blind confidence that your guy will have the best fantasy season. Instead, go with the most stable source of No. 1 credentials - someone who'll easily challenge for the crown in a normal season and finish in the first-round return bracket.

Sometimes, a stud player's regression would still reach that level, but I don't believe Trout's will for this coming season. Top-12 player? Maybe, considering his swipes, but there's plenty of downward potential immediately following his reWARding 2012.

As Baseball HQ sage Ron Shandler noted at HQ's fanalytastic First Pitch Forums Arizona retreat - and many, including Nick, have repeated since - there's a high likelihood (in Shandler's words, "99 percent") that we've just witnessed Trout's career season. If I have, say, Pick 6 or 7, I'd consider him, but not without reservation.

Trout might eventually become the most consistent run creator in the league, but I'm not banking on a ridiculous 129 plate crossings again. And his down-the-stretch tapering, while not eradicating his body of work, shows some plate vulnerabilities that should arise more frequently in 2013.

Anyone else see a resemblance between pre-2013 Mike Trout and pre-2012 Matt Kemp?

I have also given some consideration to Robinson Cano, considering how far he stands above the others at his position, but I have some concerns about his attitude and performance versus southpaws, and there are a few keystone bargains I like. He's No. 3 on my board, though, which is no slight.

Thus, my debate squarely comes down to two: Cabrera, who, oddly enough, was my grab at No. 3 in that FPF Five-Year Futures draft Nick and Steve talked about; or Ryan Braun, who was the first pick there.

Look at Braun's numbers compared to Trout's: eerily similar across-the-board studliness. Except, with the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder's career logs, unlike Trout's, you see more than one full MLB season.

Strictly following my FIRST strategy would say Miggy, but I made a similar mistake in last year's LABR mixed when, with the third selection, I valued Joey Votto before Braun (post-acquittal). This approach needs some tweaks, especially when presented with the early-rounds opportunity to buy a five-category contributor with a vaunted track record. (More on these revisions to come this offseason.)

Cabrera is one of the most slump-proof players in the sport. I don't think his lack of stolen bases should be held against him - at least at the level others do - in the MVP discussion, but I'm comfortable citing the statistic to proclaim Braun as the safest top selection in fantasy baseball.

He may not finish as the top player. However, he has the five-category profile that puts him in the best position to do so. Braun falling at year's end outside the mixed top 10, barring an injury or act of vengeful fake baseball deities, has as little chance of happening as baseball writers staying silent after the AL MVP announcement.

Good luck betting on either happening.

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