By Greg Bates
In the early 1990s, the New York Yankees bolstered a remarkable farm system that produced Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.
Fast forward a quarter century and the Yankees, who had been accustomed to bringing in wily old veterans, are back to their youthful ways. The team has seven players – Gleyber Torres, Clint Frazier, Blake Rutherford, Jorge Mateo, James Kaprielian, Aaron Judge and Justus Sheffield – ranked in Baseball America’s Top 100.
Dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran last year stocked the Yankees’ minor league clubs. New York picked up top prospects Torres, rated No. 5, from the Chicago Cubs and Frazier, No. 39, from the Cleveland Indians.Yoa
Card prospectors are finally looking at Yankees youngsters again and hoping to strike gold with cards like they did when Jeter popped onto the major league scene in 1995. After Gary Sanchez’s rise to stardom last season, the Yankees have many more hot prospects to come.
“The Yankees have a pretty nice farm right now,” said Onyx Authenticated President Lance Fischer. “Some publications rank them as high as No. 2, maybe even No. 1, along with the Braves. They’ve got pitching, they’ve got hitting. They’ve got Judge, Frazier. I know (Greg) Bird was up there even though he didn’t have a full season a year ago. You’ve got Torres.”
If there’s one team prospectors should keep an eye on this year, it’s the Yankees.
Fischer is very high on Rutherford. The 19-year-old outfielder was a first-round pick of New York last year who can hit for power as well as average.
Torres, the youngest MVP in Arizona Fall League history, is just 19 and might be a few years away from making it to the majors. But his 2015 Bowman Chrome color refractor autographed cards are going for multiple hundreds of dollars on eBay.
Fischer believes Jason Montgomery and Chance Adams will be very solid pitchers in the future for the Yankees.
The Yankees’ main rival the Boston Red Sox also have a couple big-name players still in their farm system. The team unloaded second-ranked prospect Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, ranked No. 32, in the Chris Sale trade to the White Sox.
“There are a few guys that are under the radar,” Fischer said. “They got rid of Anderson Espinoza. Another is Roniel Raudes, a pitcher, to keep an eye on.”
Moncada could start in the minors, but if he keeps his strikeouts low and can hit the ball, he might get called up to the big leagues, Adam and Dave’s Card World product manager Pat Blest said. Changing teams is a great move for Moncada, added Blest.
“I think it definitely helped him, because it seemed like in Boston they were giving him some starts at third, trying to get some at-bats for him,” Blest said. “I think it will be a lot less pressure with the White Sox.”
There is quite a bit of product on the market for Moncada, including 2015 Elite Extra Edition Panini and 2016 Bowman Chrome. His first White Sox card is in 2017 Topps Series I.
“That stifles a little sales on him,” said Kendall Loyd, owner of Orlando Sports Cards South. “Unless he can come up and do what (Jose) Abreu did. He came out of nowhere and card sales were huge.”
Another former Red Sox top prospect Manuel Margot is on the rise for the Padres.
“He’s going to be a table-setter for San Diego,” Blest said. “Solid defensively in center field. Above average hitter. Really good speed.”
Even though they have dealt some top prospects, the cupboard isn’t bare in Boston. The Red Sox still have the No. 1-rated prospect in all of baseball, Andrew Benintendi. The outfielder played well in the majors last season as an August call-up.
“Benintendi’s the real deal,” Fischer said. “I know a lot of publications have him forecast to win AL Rookie of the Year. I’m with them. The kid is good all around.”
The Red Sox also have third baseman Rafael Devers, rated No. 19, and pitcher Jason Groome. A while back, Loyd remembers opening some packs of 2015 Leaf Perfect Game in his store and pulling a Groome 1/1 card. Loyd didn’t know anything about Groome, and gave the card to a friend to see how much he could get for it. It was posted online and nabbed $400.
“Never even heard of the guy,” Loyd said. “Hasn’t even pitched yet. I later find out he’s a Red Sox high draft pick, and then it made sense.”
On the West Coast, a name that’s on every prospector’s list is Los Angeles Dodgers power hitter Cody Bellinger.
“That’s a guy that a lot of people are high on right now,” said Ryan Bannister, who owns RbiCru7 Sports Cards & Collectibles in Florissant, Mo. “He was a fly under the radar as far as prospecting goes value-wise, especially a year ago. His stuff has just exploded.”
Bellinger – who follows in a solid line of Dodgers prospects who have been called up and produced in the last couple of years, including Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Joc Peterson – is a potential 30-homer guy.
“I think they’re going to find at-bats for him,” Blest said. “He’s kind of stuck behind Adrian Gonzalez. They’re going to put him at all three outfield positions in the spring, and if he hits they’re going to find somewhere to put him. He could be a perennial Gold Glover-type guy.”
Fischer, who discovers under-the-radar prospects to highlight in his Onyx products, raves about Atlanta Braves phenom Kevin Maitan. The top international player available last year is rated No. 77 in Baseball America’s Top 100.
“Definitely a guy you want to watch,” Fischer said. “If you’re a card collector, he probably won’t be cheap off the bat. But he may be somebody who’s well worth investing in. He’s definitely at the top of our list.”
Maitan doesn’t have any Topps or Bowman cards on the market. Fischer noted Maitan just signed an exclusive memorabilia deal, so some items will become available this spring.
Another youngster Fischer thinks can be a superstar is Washington Nationals outfielder Juan Soto. The 18-year-old doesn’t have much available for cards besides a 2016 Bowman Chrome.
“Totally off the radar; he had a good season in the Gulf Coast League,” Fischer said. “He is very focused. His parents, in fact, don’t want him to do much memorabilia for card deals right now, at least for signatures. They want to make sure his attention is solely on baseball. A lot of potential.”
Fischer and Blest agree that Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Lewis Brinson could make an impact this season. The centerpiece for the Brewers when they sent Jonathan Lucroy to the Rangers could become a big bat in the Brewers’ lineup. Fischer even calls Brinson a potential leading candidate for NL Rookie of the Year.
The top two picks of the 2015 Draft, Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson and Houston Astros shortstop Alex Bregman, are also two guys to watch for this season.
The Washington Nationals are banking on Victor Robles to come up this season and make some noise in the outfield. The Nationals traded their top pitching prospect, Lucas Giolito, to the White Sox last season.
“I think this will be his opportunity this year to stick,” said Blest about Giolito. “Got really good stuff. Plus fastball. Really high ceiling. Once he puts it all together, I think he’ll probably be a No. 2 starter.”
The world champion Cubs still have a plethora of talented youngsters in their system, including second baseman Ian Happ and outfielder Eloy Jimenez.
Loyd, whose card shop is less than 20 miles from the Braves’ spring training facility, has had a lot of customers come in looking for Swanson and Ozzie Albies. The Pittsburgh Pirates’ spring camp is within 100 miles of Loyd’s store where fans are in search of cards of outfielder Austin Meadows, pitcher Tyler Glasnow and first baseman Josh Bell.
Another hot prospect at Bannister’s shop is the Philadelphia Phillies’ top young outfielder.
“Mickey Moniak, the No. 1 pick last year,” Bannister said. “Everyone’s trying to pull his Chrome autos and Bowman’s Best autos. I know he’s a popular one.”
Quicker return on investments
For the majority of the aforementioned prospects, there’s quite a bit of product on the market. That gives prospectors plenty of options to pick up autographed cards, parallel cards or common rookie cards.
Prospects and rookies continue to keep products on the rise.
“That’s what drives my wax boxes,” Loyd said. “All the Bowman Draft, Bowman Chrome, Bowman’s Best. A lot of those are all rookies. I need that bad.”
Blest said 2016 Bowman Chrome sold well over the winter and 2017 Topps Series I has been flying off the shelf.
“It really does drive a lot of these products just because they’ll give these products long shelf life,” Blest said. “It’s not just one year and done. You have guys that will come along that come out of the blue. Once they make it to the majors, it renews interest in products that might be two, three years old.”
With all the products available for prospects, are collectors and prospectors snatching up as many different cards of a certain player or are they sticking to their true rookie card?
“Some collectors will look at that first Bowman Draft card or first Bowman Chrome card that they get,” Blest said. “They look at that as the card they want to seek out. Others, they look for that first rookie card. So for Moncada this year, they’re going after the Series I rookie cards. Some of these guys that will get called up this year and stick, you may be seeing them in Series II, and they’ll look for those cards.”
Bannister, whose store is located just outside of St. Louis, always has prospectors come in searching for the next young talent.
“You never know who could be the next big star, who could have been a nobody,” Bannister said. “Example, Trevor Story was highly touted back in 2011, fell off the face of the world. Chrome autos next thing you know are five bucks, then he comes up and he’s tearing it up and they’re over $100. Obviously, everyone’s looking for that guy who was a common or a cheap guy to explode.”
One major change from even a decade ago is MLB teams are moving top players through their farm systems at a quicker rate and getting them to the big leagues at a younger age.
“For collectors, it’s a good thing. For prospectors, it’s definitely a good thing,” Fischer said. “You’re going to see return on an investment a lot quicker.”
Said Blest: “Where you may have had a three- or four-year lag with some players from their first Bowman Draft or Bowman Chrome cards, now it might only be a year or two years before they go from that to making the major league club.”
But even if teams aren’t calling up their top prospects to the big leagues when they are 20 or 21 years old, the young guys have plenty of time to make a name for themselves.
“Some guys are worth the wait,” Fischer said. “I think a lot of people gave up on Gary Sanchez, and we saw what he did last year.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest and can be contacted at email@example.com.