By Greg Bates
Scott Allen has recently been doing a lot of traveling.
The owner of South Bay Baseball Cards in Lomita, Calif., has driven up the coast to San Francisco and flown to Virginia, all for one reason.
“We’re specifically looking for Buxton stuff,” Allen said.
“Buxton” is Byron Buxton: Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year for 2013 and No. 1 overall prospect. He is the talk of prospectors nationwide who are constantly in search of the next great big league star. Look no further than the 19-year-old outfielder from the Minnesota Twins organization.
“You’ve got a five-tool player that you’re buying futures in, basically,” Allen said. “You’re buying potentially what people think is an Apple or a Microsoft stock at the beginning of the IPO. I think that’s what a lot of collectors and prospectors do. They like to prospect and buy some of these phenoms and sit for a couple years, unless they pop early. (Yasiel) Puig caught everybody by surprise. But Buxton, (Miguel) Sano, (Oscar) Tavares, (Carlos) Correa, these are players that have been on people’s shopping list for 2013, with Buxton being at the top.”
Not bad for a kid who just 17 months ago was helping the Appling County High School (Baxley, Ga.) baseball team win the state championship. Three days later, Buxton was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft.
In splitting time in 2013 with the low-Class A Cedar Rapids Kernels and high-A Fort Myers Miracle, Buxton tore up minor league pitching. He hit .334 on the season with 12 home runs, 77 RBI, 163 hits, 254 total bases, 55 stolen bases, a .520 slugging percentage and .944 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“The good Lord blessed me with a lot of talent and I’m just out there using it,” Buxton said.
Buxton has drawn comparisons to Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim do-everything outfielder Mike Trout, who donned a Kernels uniform just three years ago. When Buxton’s at the plate, he resembles a young B.J. Upton, the Atlanta Braves’ All-Star center fielder. Buxton’s speed on the basepaths and in the outfield are also turning heads.
“He’s blessed with great ability, athleticism and strength. He has a good eye at the plate,” said Kernels Manager Jake Mauer, brother of Twins star Joe Mauer. “Tool-wise, he’s through the roof; personality and makeup-wise, he’s through the roof, too, which is even more important because if you have ability and the willingness to get better, that could be pretty dangerous.”
Buxton rookies on fire
It wasn’t long after the 2012 draft that unlicensed Buxton cards started surfacing and prospectors nationwide began hunting for his rookies.
Three Stars Sportscards owner Dan McKinnon refuses to stock unlicensed cards in his shop, but interest from customers for Buxton cards, any cards, was quickly apparent after his first season in the minor leagues. The demand was so high due in large part because McKinnon’s business is based in Roseville, Minn., which is just 12 miles from Target Field, the Twins’ ballpark and future home of Buxton.
McKinnon, who has been a dealer for 13 years, doesn’t think a player has garnered this much attention in Minnesota this early in a career since the Twins selected hometown boy Joe Mauer with the top pick in the 2001 MLB Draft.
In Dubuque, Iowa, just 70 miles from Cedar Rapids where Buxton played the first half of the 2013 season with the Kernels, Tri-State Baseball Cards owner Dave Orr started collecting Buxton cards around May of this year.
Despite Buxton’s popularity just an hour away in Cedar Rapids, Orr said there haven’t been any customers who have stopped into his shop looking for Buxton cards. Orr believes the lack of prospectors in the area is due to the extremely bad economy in Iowa. However, Orr is stockpiling Buxton cards, anticipating Buxton will be a highly desired card in the area in the future.
“I pick them up as I see them because I know he’s going to be good,” Orr said. “I get them on eBay if I can get them cheap, or customers or anybody at a show. I think he’s going to be good; I just don’t think he’s hit here yet.”
According to McKinnon, Bowman, which are most the sought-after cards for Buxton collectors, doesn’t release its line from the previous June draft until November, and when Buxton was not included in the 2012 edition, that didn’t make prospectors too thrilled.
“That made fans wait an extra-long time, but then some of the non-Major League-licensed products like Donruss Elite and Leaf had Buxtons in them, so those came around November,” McKinnon said.
Bowman’s 2013 base set hit the shelves in May of this year and Buxton – card BP1 – along with Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2012 draft, were the two cards every collector desired while tearing through wax packs.
“Over the offseason as Bowman got closer, people got more and more interested in (Buxton), and it became clear that he was the best name in the Bowman stuff,” McKinnon said. “From the moment they hit, we were clamoring for every card we could get of his.”
McKinnon is currently selling the Bowman base Buxton rookie for $2.50 in his store. In California, Allen is charging $5. Buxton’s base Chrome card is going for $6 at McKinnon’s shop.
McKinnon doesn’t remember any player’s cards ever starting out so high, but Trout prices were very similar. McKinnon generally sells cards of Twins players for higher. However, with Buxton, McKinnon has kept the cost pretty close to book price because he knows they’re all going to be sold quickly.
“When Bowman was first out, his prices were so high that we just really didn’t feel like we should add our kind of a local price to it,” McKinnon said. “Now nationally, his prices have leveled off.”
The autographed Bowman Chrome cards of Buxton have been red hot. Allen said they are the most desirable Buxton cards at this point. When the autograph cards were first released, Buxton was fetching $200. Now, the prices have come down a bit to around $110-$120, McKinnon said.
“I think there’s some stuff that’s undervalued, and I think there’s some stuff that’s appropriately valued,” Allen said.
Bowman also features a ton of special insert Buxton parallel cards – including colored borders and Chrome refractors – that have been commanding top dollar because of their rarity. In early May, a Buxton Gold Refractor autograph (there were only 50 produced) was selling on eBay from $680–$810. That price has increased significantly. Allen jumped at the chance to purchase one, getting a BGS 9.5 Gem Mint 10 for $1,500.
Allen believes his investment will pay dividends. He’s also prepared to pay top dollar for any rare Buxton cards. Allen has his eye on the Buxton Superfractor autograph, which Bowman features only one example of.
“If I can find that card, I’d be happy to buy it for somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000,” Allen said. “That would be the Holy Grail of his cards that I would like to own.”
McKinnon is always trying to get his hands on Buxton cards, but he’s having a tough time because none of his customers are willing to part with their prized possession.
“We bought him, traded for him online more aggressively than we’ve ever had to search for online,” McKinnon said. “Nobody would bring him (to the card shop) to sell, trade or anything like that. (For) Buxtons, we really had to go out and look, and we’ve stockpiled them and stockpile every chance we can get.”
Added Allen, “Buxton’s definitely somebody that we’re looking to continue to acquire, his autographed card and his autographed bats, balls and jerseys. We think he’s the next guy to pop like Trout and Puig and some of these other great talented guys.”
McKinnon and Allen agree that now is the best time to buy Buxton cards since he is done playing for the season. Once baseball season starts up in April, Buxton’s card prices are expected to increase.
“I would be buying Buxton’s right now and into the January, February area or in product that has Buxton in it,” Allen said. “You’re going to see some maturation with the prices of sealed boxes of the products that he’s in.”
As crazy as it sounds, McKinnon believes Buxton cards are at their low point.
“This may be the time to get them,” McKinnon said. “Once the holiday buying season starts to get in, if there’s not a lot there, his prices will start to go up because every prospect in the world goes up when January rolls around. I think this is the time to get them if you’re going to get them. Don’t wait two years.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.