By Greg Bates
If card prospectors don’t follow the Chicago Cubs farm system, now is the time to jump on the bandwagon.
The Cubs feature some of the best young talent – from power hitters Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler to five-tool shortstop Addison Russell.
“Over the next three or four years, there’s no excuses with that pitching staff and the young players they’ve got coming,” Dave & Adam’s Card World product manager Pat Blest said. “They might actually get that World Series title they’ve been looking for.”
The Cubs phenoms lead a solid group of players for whom card prospectors should keep an eye out as spring training gets underway.
“If you’re a prospector, you’ve got a nice crop of young players coming up – 2015 was a good draft for that,” said Blest, who has more than a decade of service in at Dave & Adam’s Card World, which is based in western New York but has a worldwide online presence.
With five consecutive losing seasons, the Cubs have landed in prime position in the draft. The team has certainly taken advantage, picking some of the best and brightest young prospects.
Bryant is at the top of prospectors’ lists after launching 43 home runs and 110 RBI last season between Double and Triple-A. The 23-year-old could crack the opening day lineup for the Cubs.
“Everybody is really excited about this guy,” said Orlando Sports Cards South owner Kendall Loyd. “I’m hoping he gets called up.”
Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has had plenty of cards on the market for the last two years. Collectors are starting to grab anything of Bryant’s they can get their hands on.
“Any prospect products like a Bowman Draft or a Bowman Chrome, he’ll have cards. Same with (Byron) Buxton,” Blest said. “Any of those top draft picks that went high in the draft, they’ll be in any of those products that feature prospects, whether it would be Bowman or Leaf products, some Onyx, stuff like that.”
Buxton, the Minnesota Twins’ all-everything outfielder, was the No. 1-ranked prospect heading into last season by ESPN. This season, Bryant has moved to the top of the list, with Buxton a close second.
“I would put Buxton up there as well,” Blest said. “He had a lot of injuries last year, so he may not make his debut until late in the season this year. He had comparisons to Mike Trout. He’s a five-tool player – great defense, great speed and probably can hit .300 in the majors. He’s still developing power and hasn’t quite shown it yet.”
Card prices for Buxton were sky-high heading into last season. That’s been the case this year for Bryant. Some of his autographed cards are fetching multiple thousands of dollars and upward of five figures for the extremely rare items.
“If you look at some of the book values on a Kris Bryant, who hasn’t even seen a pitch in the majors yet, he’ll have cards going for $300-$400 book value in Beckett,” Blest said. “Depending on Bowman with superfractors – the limited stuff, the low-numbered cards – they do go for crazy money. You can tell that people who collect those cards pay attention to what these guys do in the minors, looking at the box scores every day. When a guy gets hot, you see those cards start to take off.”
“You can get some of his basic rookies for $5-$10, but he hasn’t even been up to the pros,” Loyd said. “If he starts out and they call him up, then you can see those cards being $10-$20 at the cheapest. We sold a Kris Bryant for $2,400-$2,500 because it was a blue refractor auto. That’s out of control.”
Russell, who the Cubs acquired from the Oakland A’s in the trade for Jeff Samardzija last season, could push Bryant from third base to right field since the Cubs infield could get crowded. The 21-year-old will be joined by Baez and Soler – both saw time in the majors last season but are still considered rookies – in the potent Cubs lineup.
Along with the Cubs’ young talent, a strong group of Cuban players is expected to take the MLB world by storm.
“For the card market, that’s pretty good,” Loyd said. “There’s a lot of Latinos out there all together, so with all these guys coming over and playing – and seem to be pretty decent, like (Yasiel) Puig and Jose Abreu – they did really good.”
Puig made a major splash with the Los Angeles Dodgers two years ago in spring training, and this year some of the Cuban-born prospects could also make their names prominent in card collectors’ minds.
Yoan Moncada is at the top of the list for Cuban players. The 19-year-old free agent has reportedly signed with the Boston Red Sox for a hefty sum, but it’s unlikely he’ll be in the majors this year.
“Some people are saying he’s probably the best Cuban prospect in the last 10 years,” Blest said. “That’s pretty high praise when you consider you’ve had Soler come over and Yasiel Puig, Yoenis Cespedes.”
Blest wouldn’t be surprised if his rookie card appears in a Bowman product by April.
Another Cuban player on the radar is Hector Olivera. The 29-year-old infielder could be on his way to the Dodgers, along with a hefty contract.
“I have read a few scouts say that he’s a guy who can make an impact right away in 2015, depending on where he ends up,” Blest said.
“He had some health issues in Cuba, so there’s a question mark there. He might be a little under the radar in that regard. He’s not getting all the headlines Moncada and some of those other prospects are getting.”
The rest of the best
Blest has plenty of other players who he is tracking, and card prospectors should keep an eye on, too.
Texas Rangers third baseman Joey Gallo possesses extraordinary strength. Gallo, who has been rated an 80 power by scouts on the 20-80 scale, nailed 42 home runs last season in the minors and put on a show prior to and during the Futures Games in 2014.
“He was a lot better than a lot of people expected as far as adjusting to Double-A pitching, which is a big test for a lot of young guys,” Blest said. “If he keeps his strikeouts down, he’s a potential 40-home run guy in the majors. We’ll see what he does, and he could be a September call-up and could do some damage.”
Blest also likes the potential of Red Sox outfielder Rusney Castillo, Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson, Blue Jays center fielder Dalton Pompey, Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon and Twins third baseman Miguel Sano, who missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.
In early February, Loyd was getting his prospects cards ready for his annual spring training rush. Loyd’s shop is only about one hour from the training camps of the Braves, Astros, Tigers and Nationals, so he stocks up on the prospects from those clubs. Some of his top sellers early on this year and also last year have been Correa and George Springer, both of the Astros.
“I get people in here all the time that come in and they’ll buy all I have of certain guys if they’re reasonable enough,” Loyd said. “They try to get them before they get to that Trout and Harper range of $20 or $40 a card.”
Youngsters such as Astros infielder Nolan Fontana, Braves outfielder Braxton Davidson and Tigers outfielder Steven Moya also garner a lot of attention from Loyd’s customers.
With a big pool of potential All-Stars and possibly future Hall of Famers, card prospectors have plenty to look forward to this season.
Blest sees the card prospecting business get bigger every year.
“I don’t know if we’re just paying more attention to it, but definitely in baseball, prospects and rookie cards seem to drive a lot of these products,” Blest said. “Some of them are dedicated to the returning players and along those lines, but so many of them are driven by who the rookie cards or who the big prospects are.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.