Ryan Braun back to first-round status

It's official, and it's surprising news for which you might want to first sit down.

Milwaukee Brewers outfielder and reigning National League MVP Ryan Braun has successfully appealed his suspension for a positive drug test, and he will not face any penalty entering the 2012 season.

This sends shock waves through the fantasy baseball community, especially for people in leagues that drafted early or in keeper formats where Braun's owners might have swapped him on the cheap in fear of a potential 50-game suspension. With the threat of a prolonged absence hovering over him, he seemed destined to slip into the third or fourth round in preseason drafts; our hope is that either your league has not yet drafted or you were the individual lucky enough to have secured Braun at that somewhat discounted rate.

Debate Braun's guilt if you wish -- Major League Baseball in fact issued a statement "vehemently disagreeing" with the arbiter's ruling -- as it's certainly possible that he is guilty of having taken performance-enhancing drugs, hence the failed test. I choose not to believe that, considering he has maintained his innocence throughout the process, plus nothing in his five-year major league (and seven-year professional) statistical profile stands out as especially unusual, with the possible exception of the 33 stolen bases he tallied last season.

Assuming there are no other developments that alter Braun's status, what matters in fantasy is that he is instantly restored to the No. 4 spot overall in our rankings; he was No. 3 overall on the Player Rater in 2011.

Braun was a 30-30 player a season ago, one who batted .332, at that, and who, despite the winter loss of Prince Fielder, is as compelling a candidate for top honors on the 2012 Player Rater as anyone else. We've now projected him, somewhat conservatively, at a .311 batting average, 31 home runs, 121 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. Draft him with confidence; in fact, I've restored him to the No. 1 spot overall in my personal rankings after this news.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can email him here or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.