Less than two weeks to go until fake Opening Day, and only three weeks until real Opening Day! Yay! Now that we’re right in the middle of spring training, we’ve had a lot of player value changes on a daily (if not hourly!) basis. Some due to injury, some to due managerial comments about positional battles, and hopefully none due to any of us getting too caught up in how dang ripped some of these guys look when they showed up in Florida and Arizona. (Though I’ve been guilty of that a time or two… I remember a couple years ago, Josh Bell showed up to camp looking so amazing that I was just sure he’d hit 35 bombs that season. Let’s just say he didn’t, unless 17 and 35 are synonymous in your language).

There are several players whose bargain prices have gone up substantially over the last few months… let’s take Colt Keith as an example. His October/November ADP was 494; in the last week or so it’s 282. Trying to figure out which player inflation is still worth paying for is one of the trickier parts of drafting, but let’s take a mid-spring training moment to look at a handful of end-of-draft type players who could have a value spike in the next two or three weeks. Hopefully, these are guys you are stashing and have the depth to move on from even in very deep league if they don’t work out, but in the deepest leagues you may get to the point where you indeed are counting on a pick this late as part of your active roster. In deep NL or AL-only drafts or auctions, you’ll likely have a spot or two where you’ll be forced to make a choice. Do you want the uninspiring veteran player who is a utility/back-up hitter at best, or the younger player who theoretically has at least some upside, but in reality may not see any time in the majors this year, let alone be productive if and when they do. I had to make some of these types of decisions in the CBS AL-only Analysts Auction that we did a couple weeks ago, as you’ll see from blurb number one.

In blurb number one, it turns out, we’ll be talking about Darell Hernaiz. The Oakland A is currently my starting shortstop in that AL-only league, which obviously could be a bit of an issue, especially since the league is so deep that the waiver wire is barely a thing. I mean, it’s a thing, there just aren’t ever really any baseball players who get at bats in major league games available on it. (I would like to point out, though, that I also have Zach McKinstry on this team, who qualifies at short — his playing time in Detroit is looking cloudy right now, but even as a part-timer/utility guy I think he’ll be helpful in a league this deep and while we’re chatting, I don’t mind him at all at his current ADP* of 559). But back to Hernaiz, I’m starting to remember the silver linings of drafting a player who’s on a really, really bad real-life team (and yes, there are plenty of clouds that produce those silver linings, like the fact that the bad lineup will depress everyone’s stats from top to bottom). One is that you just don’t have to worry about the depth chart getting shaken up when you least expect it from a team that clearly isn’t willing to spend any money at all or engage other teams in trades. As a counter-example, I grabbed a few early winter shares of Tyler Black, but his current value took a hit when the Brewers got Joey Ortiz in the Corbin Burnes deal. Finally getting back to Hernaiz again, he’s not even at the top of the A’s shortstop depth chart, so that’s a rather significant caveat (that honorable distinction goes to Nick Allen). But Hernaiz is on the 40-man roster, at least, and had a great year in the minors last season, with a .321/.386 AVG/OBP, and 9 homers to go along with 13 steals. He’s the closest thing they have to a shortstop of the future, so hard to think he won’t get at least a look-see at some point this season, even if it’s not right out of the gate. I’m a sucker for a kid (he’s 22) who can control the strike zone beyond his years, which is something that gets mentioned a lot when folks talk about Hernaiz. And we are talking about a guy whose ADP is around 700. 700! (Early pick 424, late 722).

*Time for our annual “be even more careful relying on NFBC ADP than you already know you should be” alert… with different draft formats and such, once we get ultra late in drafts the ADP is very wonky depending on how many times the player was drafted, or if there is one outlier early pick, etc. Using McKinstry as an example, his ADP is 559, but he’s been drafted as high as 299 and his low pick is 487. This is due in large part to the fact that he was drafted in just 59 of the 108 drafts this ADP covers.

Will Brennan (ADP 718, early pick 356/late 699). Yep, I’ve decided we’ll stay in the deepest of the deep water this week, so I’m going to stick with a few players all the way down ADP lists and outside that #700 mark. I guess we can call Brennan a post-hype prospect? Though it seems like so long ago now, that I really can’t remember if he was ever much of a prospect or there was ever much hype. I do know he’s fighting to keep his job/career going as a member of the Guardians’ outfield but isn’t even listed on the fangraphs depth chart, hence that 718 ADP. With Ramon Laureano in the fold and (hopefully for those of us who’ve already drafted him) Kyle Manzardo sharing DH at bats (and first base) with Josh Naylor soon, Brennan may indeed not even have a clear path to a platoon job. Really, what Brennan does have going for him is a new swing and an attitude adjustment, according to reports out of Cleveland. One could easily argue that neither of these means a thing at this time of year (or ever, perhaps), but the very fact that Brennan realizes his job as a major leaguer is on the line has me buying a couple shares at his next-to-nothing cost. Maybe he’ll figure something out and can establish himself as a player that brings a little ultra-deep league value to the fantasy table. I’ll also take this moment to mention that he hit .320 over the last month or so of 2023, so at least he headed into the offseason on a relatively positive note.

Bowden Francis. (ADP 733, high 523/low 721). Many of us have understandably been drooling over/drafting Ricky Tiedemann, perhaps with even more vigor now that concerning-if-not-daunting injury reports have come in not just on Alex Manoah, but on Kevin Gausman as well. But is it also time to give Francis a look-see, outside the top 700 and in the deepest leagues, at least? He’s got options left so he may not even make the team, but given the injuries and the fact that he’s already getting mentioned as a possible rotation replacement in the mainstream baseball media, it feels like it’s time for at least a check-in at this price. Like seemingly the rest of the pitchers in Major League Baseball, Francis added a splitter recently, so there’s that. Also, he actually pitched incredibly well in the majors last year while completely off the radar, with 35 Ks vs. 8 walks in his 36 relief innings. And Chris Bassitt’s evidently a huge believer. Mitch White is also hanging around, so we’ll see who has what innings limits, who will be used in middle relief, and of course who even makes the team based on how the injuries play out, but I’m gonna keep my eye on Francis as things develop.

Riley Adams. I was struggling to find even one NL player outside the top 700 to write up, but wanted to include someone, so we’ll end this week talking about the Nationals presumed backup catcher. Sure, backup catcher is the most boring spot in all of fantasy baseball, but it also isn’t… at least according to those who drafted Yanier Diaz at this time last year in their AL-only keeper league (raises hand). Adams is not a hyped prospect and I don’t think anyone expects him to ever be a #1 catcher so that’s probably a senseless comparison, but let’s get back to what we’re actually looking for at ADP 739. Namely, we’re looking for a player who might not totally suck and could even be helpful in the deepest leagues. I had Adams rostered last year for the first half of the season in a 2-catcher NL-only league before he got hurt, and that’s exactly what he brought to the table: a tiny bit of help. Sometimes even a tiny bit of help can put you over the top in a category in the deepest leagues, and he had a .273 average (.331 OBP) and 4 homers/21 RBI  in 158 plate appearances.