Mint Musings: MLB’s 2016 Prospect Watch – I honestly can’t believe it, but the 2016 Major League Baseball season will soon be upon us. Players are already reporting to spring training, and the Royals will soon begin their World Series title defense. With an eye towards the future though, Baseball America recently released its Top 100 Prospects list heading into the 2016 season.
Following what was arguably one of the best baseball rookie classes ever in 2015, 2016 will have a difficult act to follow both on the field and in the hobby. With that in mind though, here are a couple of players on that list who collectors should watching in the card world this year.
Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles’ shortstop is the No. 1 prospect on the list. He is arguably the next in line as the most anticipated player in the baseball card market. Seager is the brother of Mariners slugger Kyle Seager, which has helped add some notoriety to him early on. The high-profile Los Angeles market certainly helps to add to that appeal.
Collectors flocked to Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson after they debuted. While Puig has waned for a variety of reasons, collectors are still gobbling up Pederson stuff. A variety of Seager’s cards, both base and autograph alike, have been selling fairly steadily. If he plays well, the highly touted rookie could prove to be this year’s hobby darling. If he does, it will bode well for the hobby as a whole as evidenced by the number of key rookies that drove the MLB trading card market last season.
Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins
A hard player to gauge, he’s had his past few seasons derailed by several injuries. However, the ceiling is still very high for the No. 2 prospect in baseball. It’s also worth noting that a number of collectors and speculators have been patient with his cards for a few years now, so it’s not illogical to think they’ll wait it out a little longer for him to show off his full potential.
He’s also part of an influx of young Twins talent, which includes Miguel Sano, that may get more notice than usual, similar to the Cubs last year with their large number of notable newcomers. Injury concerns aside, my main hobby problem with Buxton is he simply has too many cards, especially autographs. Aside from Topps and Panini, he has several offerings from various Onyx products as well.
While this is great for collectors looking to get his autograph on the cheap, it’s a bummer for those who are realizing lesser values for his more mainstream stuff. If he does take off this year, I expect his card values to rise accordingly, but I think you’ll see an effect similar to Carlos Correa last year where his lower-end autos could be had for as little as $30-$35. Again, it’s great for people trying to acquire his signature but a bit of a shock in the value department for such a top prospect.
Julio Urias, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers, once again, managed to come up with another highly-regarded pitching prospect. Urias became better known to fans this past off-season as his name came up often in potential trade talks. Los Angeles’ extreme reluctance to include him in trade offers showed how highly they value him, and the hobby market has reacted accordingly. Recent eBay sales show his high-end licensed autographs typically moving for over $100.
Fans looking to acquire an autograph of Urias shouldn’t despair though as he has many autographs from Leaf available at more affordable prices. If you have to have a licensed autograph of him, Urias also has affordable Topps cards in 2013 Bowman Sterling. Most of them appear to be in the $30-$50 range. That’s not exactly a bargain by today’s standards, but if he can make an impact for the Dodgers this season, it may soon seem like one. Urias has been invited to Dodgers camp, and an extended stay there could help gain even more notoriety for the Los Angeles lefty.
Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Someone who also got a bit of a longer look in MLB last season, I’d be lying if I said I could make heads or tails of his future. He started off with a bang by hitting home runs in his first two games, but he quickly tailed off. That being said, the Rangers are still high on him and his future in the game appears bright. Because of his so-so first stint though, his cards haven’t been as hot as one would expect for such a highly-regarded prospect.
Like Buxton, I think Gallo is suffering a little from the fact that he has a large amount of cards and autographs, including many affordable options in Onyx products. The high-end cards are still worth chasing if you want to take a shot on him, but by and large, it seems you can get autographs of him for under $10. He’s also a pretty good in-person signer, adding to the plethora of Gallo signatures. He strikes me as a good candidate to buy low on for now in the hopes that he realizes his true power potential soon enough that he’ll become one of the top sluggers in baseball.
Carson Fulmer, Chicago White Sox
Ranked No. 70 on the Baseball America list, I have him here for the reason that the White Sox have a tendency to push their younger pitchers to the majors quickly. As such, he might join Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon as Chicago pitchers who get introduced to a national audience sooner rather than later. His card future is a little murky as there seems to be some debate as to whether he’ll be in the starting rotation or contribute out of the bullpen.
As most collectors and speculators can attest, that position designation can have a huge impact on a pitcher’s value. As such, it may scare some people off on investing heavily in him until his role is more defined. Fulmer has a variety of licensed and un-licensed rookies and autographs, both at very affordable prices, so you won’t have to drain your wallet to get him.
Aaron Judge, Yankees
Greg Bird’s season-ending injury was a sore blow to both Yankees fans and people who had been heavily collecting him. However, it should help to shine a bigger spotlight on Aaron Judge. Gary Sanchez is ranked a lot higher on the Baseball America list and may make more of an immediate impact on the field. With that in mind though, I think Judge has the higher hobby ceiling.
Catchers are often a risky bet and rarely offer a lot of offense, which tends to lead to a deprecation of value. With the injury propensity of the Yankees’ older outfielders, it’s not a stretch to think that Judge could be in Yankee Stadium at some point this season. As Masahiro Tanaka demonstrated a few years ago, people love going nuts for New York rookies, and a successful season by Judge could continue that tradition. His autographs, while atrocious in appearance, are still pretty affordable, so you may want to consider buying low on him.
One great thing about most of the players on my list, and the Baseball America list for that matter, is that many of them are still highly affordable for rookies and autographs. While the high volume of products in the market can make it hard to realize a better value, it does give more people a chance to get autographs of these players. As always, be careful when choosing to invest in prospects.
Whether it’s Brien Taylor or perhaps even someone a little more recently like Jurickson Profar, the trading card landscape is littered with stories of collectors who got hosed by betting on the wrong horse. The upside can be fantastic, but the risk is often more prevalent. As always though, good luck and above all else, have fun adding to your collections.
Kelsey’s ability to bring hobby coverage to the mainstream sports fan as the producer of ESPN’s Mint Condition has been a true asset. GTS is happy to feature his thoughts on the hobby in Mint Musings. The opinions expressed are his and do not necessarily reflect those of GTS Distribution.
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