Conventional wisdom says that first base is a position where you can afford to wait because it's flush with top-tier talent. But those can be contradictory statements.
What determines whether you can wait at a position is the relative value of those players for whom you don't have to pay top dollar, and compared to years past, first base doesn't measure up in that regard.
Part of the blame falls on the players with the asterisks (*) next to their names. They're DH-only to begin the year, which means you can't actually start them at first base. Tiering them separately would be meaningless since there's so few, but there's more than in years past. Some are liable to gain first base eligibility over the course of the season -- it only takes five appearances there, after all -- but since you can't exactly count on it, you should treat the position like it's only 11 deep (omitting Posey, of course) through The Next-Best Things.
Which means one owner in a 12-team league is going to be at a real disadvantage.
The Unmatched: Paul Goldschmidt
The Elite: Miguel Cabrera, Anthony Rizzo, Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion
The Near-Elite: Buster Posey, Jose Abreu, Chris Davis
The Next-Best Things: Prince Fielder*, Adrian Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman, Miguel Sano*, Eric Hosmer, David Ortiz*, Albert Pujols
The Fallback Options: Byung Ho Park, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Santana
The Last Resorts: Stephen Vogt, Kendrys Morales*, Logan Forsythe, Lucas Duda, Ryan Zimmerman, Alex Rodriguez*, Brandon Belt, Wil Myers, Yangervis Solarte, Mark Trumbo, Evan Gattis*, Victor Martinez*
The Leftovers: Mitch Moreland, Adam Lind, Ben Paulsen, C.J. Cron, Pedro Alvarez, Steve Pearce, Chris Colabello, Mike Napoli, Joe Mauer, Chris Carter, Brandon Moss, Justin Bour, Mark Canha, Matt Adams, Travis Shaw, A.J. Reed, Ryan Howard
That disadvantage becomes even more pronounced when you consider that five of those top 11 are top-tier.
Wait, what? Doesn't Goldschmidt have the top tier all to himself? Ah, but if you compare my tiers at all the positions, you'll see that first base is one of only three (in addition to outfield and starting pitcher) with an extra tier at the top. Goldschmidt isn't just "elite," he's "unmatched." It's my heavy-handed way of suggesting that he, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw should be the first four players off the board. Keep up, Timmy.
So yeah, recognizing that elite is elite even if there's something slightly better, first base is still deeper in top-tier talent than any of the other infield positions, but since all five will be gone by the end of the second round, tiers don't even come into play at that point. You're more or less at the mercy of where you draft.
Which puts the onus on you to grab Abreu or Davis in Round 3 since being a have-not at the position is even deadlier with so many haves. Might Abreu and Davis go in Round 2 in some leagues? Yes, but not to me. I'll be focused on drafting one of The Elite remaining at some other position, like Dee Gordon at second base or Posey at catcher, knowing that I can still turn to Gonzalez, Freeman, Hosmer or Pujols as long as I don't (gulp) screw it up.
And I don't just mean waiting too long. One of the biggest mistakes I've seen owners make early this draft season is jump at one of The Next-Best Things too early, anticipating the big drop-off. You don't want to be the guy who picks Gonzalez in Round 4 when you could have had Zack Greinke or J.D. Martinez instead.
Realistically, you should still be able to get one of Gonzalez, Freeman and Hosmer as late as Round 6 in a 12-team mixed league, but depending where you are in the development of your pitching staff at that point, it could still be a major sacrifice. Most likely, The Elite starting pitchers are also nearing depletion by then, and if you have only one (or heaven forbid none) when Round 6 rolls around, well, a Chris Archer or Felix Hernandez may be an even higher priority.
If that's the case, then suddenly you're in a position where you have to trust in Pujols' recovery, hope Teixeira stays healthy or gamble on a complete unknown in Park, which certainly isn't ideal at a position where most of the league is getting monster production. All this is to say that if you find yourself in a logical spot to draft a stud first baseman in the first two rounds, you shouldn't pass it up in a misguided nod to position scarcity. Things get scarce here real quick.
Of course, when it comes to filling additional lineup spots like utility or corner infield, first base still has the most to offer. Duda and Zimmerman are better bets to make a meaningful contribution than similarly tiered players at other positions, like Howie Kendrick at second base or Matt Duffy at third, which is why first base doesn't exactly grade as shallow. Seriously, how many other positions have multiple 20-homer guys (Moreland, Lind, Bour, to name a few) among their Leftovers? It's just that it breaks down in such away that, at least in a 12-team mixed league, there will be clear haves and have-nots. You don't want to be on the wrong side of that divide.