Baseball card collectors should remember this name: Daniel Tillo.
One reason is because he’s a Top 20 prospect in the Kansas City Royals organization. The 24-year-old pitcher is hoping to crack the big leagues this season, assuming there is one. Another reason to remember his name is if a collector pulls one of his 2017 Bowman Chrome Draft or 2017 Bowman Draft colored parallels, Tillo might be in interested in purchasing the card.
Since signing with the Royals after being selected in the third round in the 2017 MLB Draft, Tillo has gotten back into collecting baseball, football and basketball cards just like during his childhood. But he added a different wrinkle to his collection: attempt to complete the rainbows of cards of himself in the two Bowman Draft products of ’17.
“Once I knew I was in that product—I think it was the fall once my first pro season was over—is when I first started finding them and looking for them,” Tillo said. “I’m actually pretty close to the rainbow now. I’m missing my red paper numbered to five and my gold Chrome numbered to 50.”
Tillo, who as a minor leaguer doesn’t have a ton of expendable cash to spend on things other than the essentials, likes to joke about the price of his cards.
“Luckily, being a pitcher, it’s not the most expensive,” Tillo said. “I’m pretty thankful for that.
“It’s definitely the easiest way to collect yourself, going that route. If I was a top prospect and outfield guy that’s hitting 45 home runs, I’d be spending a lot of money doing that.”
It’s been quite a journey trying to collect all eight varieties of parallels in regular Bowman as well as Chrome.
After wrapping up his third season in the minor leagues last year, he returned home to Sioux City, Iowa. He and his older brother Nick, who is an even bigger collector than Daniel, got to talking. It was Tillo’s plan to try and hunt down his 2017 Bowman Chrome Superfractor. Being a 1/1, it wasn’t going to be easy, of course.
A good starting point was eBay, so Tillo did a quick search and luckily enough it popped up: $320, ungraded.
“I was kind of eyeing this last fall, and me and brother were like, that seems like a lot for a 1/1 card of you in a refractor,” Tillo said. “I was trying to make the guy go down as much as possible. The guy didn’t really accept my offers.
“I’m like, ‘This is me on the card.’ He’s like, ‘Sorry, man. Good luck next year.’”
The next day, the seller had the audacity to jack the price up to $499. Tillo gave up at that point.
Fast forward to spring training this year when Tillo went down to Arizona with the Royals as a non-roster invitee. Every year during spring training, Tillo likes to visit Phoenix Sports Cards about an hour drive from the Royals’ facility.
One day, Tillo stopped into the card shop, and he and an employee got to talking. The employee told Tillo his Superfractor was available on eBay. Tillo explained what had happened back in the fall with the negotiation and he wasn’t going to pay the $499. The employee told Tillo the 1-of-1 most likely won’t come around ever again and he needed it for his collection.
Tillo contacted the card seller again. This time it dropped down to about the original asking price of $320. The card was Tillo’s – finally.
“It was really cool,” Tillo said. “It was when I came back home, my brother already had it. He’s like, ‘Here you go. Here it is.’ I got it and I was like, ‘Oh, wow. This is even cooler in person.’ I was pumped to get it. I’m glad I have it.”
Tillo was able to see his Superfractor in person sooner than he had imagined since spring training was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When he first saw the card, Tillo tweeted out a picture. Tillo’s tweet collected a ton of comments, but one stood out in particular. Missouri resident Terry Gardner told Tillo he had the 2017 Bowman Draft paper black border 1/1 Tillo card, and he would give it to Tillo.
“I was like, ‘No way. I need to see a pic. Let me see it.’ And he had it in a PSA 10, and I was like, ‘That looks so sick.’ He’s like, ‘You can have it for free. This is yours, because it’s awesome to see you collect.’ I was like, ‘Man, I’ll give you a signed baseball and hopefully when I make my debut, more big league gear or tickets.’ That’s awesome what he did for me.”
Growing Up a Collector
When Tillo was about 10 years old, his older brother got him into collecting. Circa 2007, buying packs wasn’t the cheapest thing for youngsters. But he’d take advantage of an opportunity when he had the chance.
“Obviously, not having an income at that age, when my mom or dad would go to Target or Walmart, I would just get a few loose-leaf packs and see whatever I could pull,” Tillo said. “That was about the only time besides Christmas and my birthday when I could get stuff. Every Christmas, me and my brother would always get hobby boxes of some sort that would be around $100 – now they’re even more than that. We’d always do like pack wars at Christmas time, so that was always fun to do.”
Tillo and his brother would battle to see who pulled the best card out of their box. Tillo remembers his greatest pull of his childhood like it was yesterday.
“I got a Felix Jones out of a Leaf Rookies & Stars pack auto numbered to 10, so it was pretty low printed, obviously,” Tillo said. “It was something where I was like, ‘Whoa, this thing is sick.’ Obviously, him being a Cowboy at the time, there was a little hype around him. The card’s not worth much now, but it’s still cool to think about.”
Tillo put collecting on the backburner when he reached high school since he didn’t have a lot of spare time. He was trying to craft himself into one of the best baseball players in the country. After a stellar senior baseball season at Sioux City North High School in Sioux City, Iowa, Tillo was drafted in the 39th round of the 2015 MLB Draft by the Minnesota Twins.
Tillo decided to forgo a professional career at that moment, opting to sign with the University of Kentucky. After sitting much of his freshman season, Tillo transferred to Iowa Western Community College to be closer to home and get the innings on the mound he felt he deserved. He had a strong season, going 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA, and the left-handed pitcher was drafted 90th overall by the Royals.
He inked a deal with the Royals and received a $557,500 signing bonus.
“Once I signed, I started [collecting] again,” Tillo said. “I had a decent amount of money to buy cards with.”
Tillo also had the opportunity to sign with Panini to autograph cards for the 2017 Panini Elite Extra Edition. Unfortunately, Panini didn’t give him any of his own cards to take home. He had to buy one online.
“I feel like I should get my own 1/1 just for me to keep forever,” Tillo joked. “Not one I have to search and pay money for like my Superfractor I had to do off eBay.”
Tillo, who has a few thousand cards in his collection, is big into picking up basketball and football cards with baseball being his least favorite.
“Me and my brother have always just done it, and we like to collect Prizm and Optics just because it looks great,” Tillo said. “We go to Walmart and Target and try to buy whatever Prizm’s there and stuff like that. It’s just kind of what we’ve always done.”
Tillo loves to open boxes, but he’s never pulled his own card. However, he was once in a box break of 2017 Bowman Draft where he had the Royals team and he got a card of himself.
“That was funny,” Tillo said.
For basketball cards, Tillo likes to collect Zion Williamson – he has a couple Prizm base rookies – Luka Doncic, Ja Morant and PJ Washington. Tillo also has quite a few Jayson Tatum Optics and Donruss PSA 10 rookies.
For football, Baker Mayfield is one of his favorites.
“I like Baker a lot,” Tillo said. “I think he’s going to have a great season this year. He’s going to turn it around, in my opinion.”
The most valuable card Tillo owns is a 1/1 Derrick Henry on-card auto with an NFL patch logo from 2018 Panini Encased Football.
“I’ve been trying to find a Prizm base Kyler Murray card out of retail and I haven’t found him yet,” Tillo said. “I’ve spent probably definitely enough to just buy a PSA 10 itself on eBay, but there’s not as much fun in that.”
Tillo said for baseball, he’s picked up quite a bit of 2020 Topps Series 1. He likes to buy hanger and blaster boxes from the big retail stores.
“I’ll buy them once in a while whenever I’m there,” Tillo said. “I have a decent amount of cards like Bo Bichette and Gavin Lux right now. I’m starting to kind of hold those guys right now and I see them having a good future.”
One of Tillo’s favorite top baseball prospects is Milwaukee Brewers infielder Keston Hiura. The two were in the same draft class with Hiura being selected No. 9 overall. Tillo has a few PSA 10 rookies of Hiura.
“I had a feeling right away he was going to be really good,” Tillo said. “I faced him right after we got drafted, and you could tell that guy was good.”
Tillo feels it’s advantageous to be a minor league player who collects cards, because he can get first-hand intel on the players he faces.
“You can kind of tell the guys that are going to be absolute dudes,” Tillo said. “But then there are some, it’s just obvious like Luis Robert. He signed for like $27 million as a free agent. Last year when we faced them, right away I’m like, wow, this guy’s unbelievable. He was just tearing up the Carolina League, that’s where I started – I finished in AA. You could tell this guy’s going to be something. Obviously, after the year he had, he signed a long contract already.”
Robert, the phenom outfielder for the Chicago White Sox, faced Tillo three times in a game on April 8, 2019. Tillo pitched well, throwing six innings and allowed just two earned runs, but Robert had his number.
“He actually hit an opposite field home run off me and a double,” Tillo said. “So, he did a lot of their damage. I gave up five hits and two of them were him. And his last at-bat I got in and jammed him, and got him out finally.
“I think he’s the next really big thing in my opinion. He’s awesome.”
Tillo doesn’t really collect too many autographs or memorabilia of teammates or opposing players he’s faced over the years. However, he’s picked up some cool items.
“Playing in the fall league last year, I had all the pitchers I played with sign a baseball on a team baseball, so it’s nice to have that,” Tillo said. “When I played with Team USA after that, we had the whole team sign a few balls, so I had three baseballs from that with crazy prospects on there.”
Looking to Complete the Rainbows
With Iowa having a shelter-in-place order, Tillo has been just taking it easy and staying at his parents house until the season starts. He has a lot more time on his hands these days to dive into his card collection without baseball occupying his every second.
In late April, Tillo collaborated with his new friend Gardner, from whom he got the 1/1 paper card version of himself, and sent in a bunch of cards to PSA to get graded.
Joe Orlando, the president and CEO of Collectors Universe, Inc., the parent company of PSA, said he likes to see minor league ballplayers collecting cards.
“Over the years, we have seen many celebrities get involved in our hobby, but a large percentage of them wish to remain private about their collecting pursuits,” Orlando said. “Of course, this is completely understandable, especially when the collection is comprised of very high-value items. It’s a position that most people understand and respect. On the other hand, when a well-known actor, singer, businessperson, athlete or prospect shares their interest in collecting with others, it can do wonders for the hobby. I applaud those individuals that are willing to do it. It helps expand our market by inspiring active collectors, while helping to cultivate new ones.”
Once Tillo finishes off the rainbows of himself, he’d like to send in all his raw cards of himself – only his 1/1 Bowman paper black border is graded -- to PSA for grading. He loves the look of the PSA case.
Tillo plans to keep collecting into the future. When the Royals purchase his big league contract and bring him up, Tillo’s bigger paychecks might equate into some higher-end card products.
“I’m still kind of waiting hopefully to get called up here soon and then more cards of me can come out to collect,” Tillo said. “That was my next thing with baseball. But basketball and football, just keep ripping packs. And baseball too even, retail right now, nothing crazy. No hobby boxes in the near future. But I just opened up a few basketball hobby boxes, I actually do it on my YouTube channel, so that’s fun to do, too.”
Tillo is having a lot of fun these days collecting cards, just like he’s a kid again.