Hobby Musings: Baseball is back on the field and with cards – For collectors, one of the joys of a new baseball season is a new wave of trading cards. Especially where prospects are involved, it’s fun to see who breaks out and finds their way into collections. Coming off a stellar 2017, it will be interesting to see how the 2018 class performs. I had the chance to catch up with Sports Collectors Daily editor Rich Mueller for his thoughts on what this baseball card year will bring. The following interview was conducted via email.
KS: As we sit today, how would you assess the state of the baseball card market?
RM: The biggest problem for shop owners who are doing things the right way seems to be acquiring product, not selling it, so I’d say that’s a pretty good sign. Last year’s phenomenal rookie class really drove sales and while I think this year will have a hard time matching that, there are lot of good, young players who always drive sales. I can’t speak to how many cards are being sold at retail outlets but at the start of the year, at least, it seems pretty solid.
KS: One of the big offseason acquisitions was the Angels getting Shohei Ohtani. Being the new shiny prospect so to speak, there was a big early demand for his cards, especially his autographs. Overall though, what kind of collector response have you seen for his stuff so far?
RM: A subpar spring seems to have dampened enthusiasm on him a little bit. There was a lot of excitement early and frankly with the rough start he’s had, I’m surprised his cards haven’t dropped even more. Not every Japanese player who has come to MLB has met expectations and the expectations for this guy are enormous. Spending hundreds or a few thousand dollars on autographs and low print run cards seems like a huge gamble to me, but if he becomes the phenom some think he can be, we’ll see a crazy market, I’m sure. I wish he’d scrap his English signature, though. It’s awful.
KS: Another hot prospect this season is the Braves’ Ronald Acuna. He’ll be in the minors for a few weeks after not making the Opening Day roster. What kind of market are you seeing for him?
RM: Seeing quite a few big sales and as a long-term play, I think those could be dollars well spent if you’re a prospector. When respected big leaguers are heaping praise on a guy, that’s a good sign.
KS: Aside from Acuna and Ohtani, which newcomers that could debut this season should collectors be keeping an eye?
RM: Lewis Brinson is going to get a chance to play regularly in Miami. Eloy Jimenez seems to have a lot of people excited. Scott Kingery of the Phillies had a great spring and Willie Calhoun, one of the big pieces in the Darvish trade last year, is a player who may have a big impact by summer according to those who have been watching him.
KS: Going even deeper into, who’s a younger/more unheralded prospect that should be on collecting radars?
RM: I’m not a scout or talent evaluator. I’d defer to the experts there; guys who really track prospects at the lower levels and know what they’re talking about. The more you know, the better you’ll be as a prospector.
KS: No matter what, this year’s rookie class will have a hard time topping last year with the likes of Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger. If you had to make a pick, which second-year player do you think will have the best trading card year?
RM: I’ll go with Bellinger although Stanton’s impact could boost Judge again.
KS: Which veteran player do you think is poised for a big year in trading cards?
RM: Stanton’s move to New York could push him to a new level. A lot of baseball people seem to think Christian Yelich is on the verge of becoming a superstar and his cards aren’t very expensive. Jose Altuve is putting up historic hit totals and both the ongoing success of the Astros and his personality are making him a fan and collector favorite. Of course, you can’t have a list like this without Trout and Harper who has the rare quality of being a very young superstar. Seems like a lot of people believe he will have a monster season if he stays healthy. Sorry—that’s a lot more than one player isn’t it?
KS: Most of baseball’s notable stars past and present are well-represented in cardboard and autographs. That being said, who is one player you feel is underserved who could make a big hobby spike with more ink on the market?
RM: With Albert Pujols at over 600 HRs and counting and on the verge of 3,000 hits I think the hobby would absorb a lot of signed cards this year.
KS: Looking ahead a bit, by the time it’s all said and done, what do you think will end up being the biggest story of the 2018 baseball trading card year?
RM: From a business angle, if the Bloomberg story is accurate and Topps is mulling offers, that would dwarf anything else but otherwise, as always, I think emerging stars is where to look. Judge (and the other rookies to a lesser extent) had an enormous impact in 2017 and while it’s unlikely we’ll see that type of player emerge, the possibility of a new superstar emerging is what makes the start of the season fun.
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