By Greg Bates
Yasiel Puig started to make a name for himself in spring training last year. That’s when the young Los Angeles Dodgers phenom jumped on the radar of most card prospectors.
After beginning the regular season in the minor leagues, Puig’s card prices skyrocketed after his June call-up and subsequent offensive outburst.
There were some talented youngsters this spring training who introduced themselves to card collectors, but don’t be surprised if there aren’t any big-time major league stars that emerge this season who have Puig-like potential.
“It always happens where you end up with somebody like that, but I don’t see any Puig, (Mike) Trout, (Bryce) Harper pop from anybody that’s a slam dunk this year,” said Scott Allen, owner of South Bay Baseball Cards in Lomita, Calif.
Allen is constantly on the lookout for the next big thing in Major League Baseball. The longtime dealer had enough foresight last March to line up a signing with Puig before the Cuban defector took the card business by storm.
“I don’t see that happening with anybody else immediately,” Allen said. “But, hey, I’ve been wrong before. Somebody always sneaks up on you. We’ll see who the sneaker is going to be this year.”
Some card shop owners nationwide believe they have a solid suspicion who could make the biggest splash in 2014.
“We like that kid Xander Bogaerts from the Red Sox, who ended up being involved in their World Series championship last year,” Allen said. “We’ve had our eye on Carlos Correa from Houston and really like Kris Bryant from the Cubs. (Gregory) Polanco and (Javier) Baez are two other different prospects; we’ve been buying their cards for a good 12 to 24 months now, as well as George Springer.”
Also on Allen’s list are a pair of outfielders: Boston Red Sox’s Jackie Bradley Jr. and Pittsburgh Pirates’ Austin Meadows. Allen is high on the Cubs’ Albert Almora, too, who has had cards on the market since 2010. Allen believes Almora could make a pretty good combination with fellow outfielder Jorge Soler and Bryant.
“We’ve been following these guys by way of following their cards,” said Allen about his list of prospects. “Most of their cards that sell pretty well are some of their autographed Bowman Chromes and colored refractors and different things like that ... I think that’s where collectors are going to see some pop with some of the cards if we’re right about some of these talented guys.”
Allen – who has a list of about 25 to 30 players for which he buys autographed and graded rookies cards – was extremely high on Minnesota Twins power hitter Miguel Sano, but in early March, Sano injured his right elbow and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He will miss the entire 2014 season.
Injuries can play a major factor in the progress of prospects.
“I stay away from a lot of pitchers just because they tend to get hurt pretty easy,” Allen said. “However, I like what Carlos Martinez did with the Cardinals as they were going down their World Series stretch run last year.”
Adam Martin – CEO and co-founder of Dave and Adam’s Card World, which is based in western New York but has a worldwide online presence – isn’t concerned about the liability of pitchers. He thinks the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka will be a big name for prospectors because of his potential and the fact he’s playing in the New York market.
Tanaka turned a lot of heads after posting a 24-0 record in the regular season a year ago for the Rakuten Eagles in Japan and has gotten off to a fast start in 2014.
“The hype that’s here is very (Stephen) Strasburg-esque,” Martin said. “So, first and foremost, you have to look at Tanaka.”
Topps has Tanaka in Gypsy Queen, Bowman Baseball, Topps Archives and a few others for 2014.
“Expect his cards to be overly inflated when they first release,” Martin said. “They should settle down and level until he starts more games.”
One player who Martin and his company’s baseball product manager, Pat Blest, are high on who has a similar story as Puig is Jose Abreu. The Cuban defector signed a monster contract with the Chicago White Sox last October and then inked a deal with Topps to have his autographs in the 2014 Bowman series.
Minnesota Twins five-tool talent Byron Buxton, St. Louis Cardinals youngster Oscar Taveras and Bogaerts also land on Martin’s list of prospects to watch for this season.
Orlando Sports Cards South owner Kendall Loyd is in a prime location for being able to check out MLB prospects from a first-hand account. His shop is only about one hour from the Florida spring training homes of the Houston Astros, Atlanta Braves, Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals.
Loyd tries to attend at least one spring training game per week, mostly at night because during the day his shop is swarming with collectors trying to pick up cards of future stars.
“A lot of these prospects, I hear [about] from the people who consistently come in here,” said Loyd, who has owned his shop for 22 years. “It’s hard to keep up with all these minor league organizations and who’s called up and who’s down, who’s doing really well. I get so many people in here that do that prospecting, that gives me even more knowledge of how they’re doing.”
Loyd tends to carry a lot of singles – he figures he has around 12 to 13 million cards – and it’s his prospects cards that are flying off the shelves.
The most scoured after young players at Loyd’s shop this year have been Buxton, Meadows, Bogaerts, Bryant and the Cleveland Indians’ Clint Frazier.
“I think Bryant and Frazier have autographed cards that are already $50 to $100, and Buxton, I sold one a while back, a 1-of-3 autograph, for about $700,” Loyd said.
A couple of prospects on Loyd’s radar who he has been impressed with after watching play is Houston Astros outfielder Springer and Braves pitcher Alex Wood. Springer was called up just recently, while Wood is entrenched in Atlanta’s rotation after two of their expected starters have landed on the disabled list.
With so much early hype about their futures, some of the cards of the highly touted prospects are already on the rise.
“You can still get some of these guys for $50, $60 or less on some of their different cards,” Allen said. “Other stuff as depending upon by nature of how many they made, if it’s limited to something like 50 or 10 or 1-of-1 or if it’s graded a 9.5 or 10. Some of those cards have already exited the $1,000 realm, and they’ll push it up even further.
So prospectors can go ahead and accumulate some of that stuff on the lower dollar end and stay to $50, $60 or less or under $100 and be able to still make some good buys.”
Allen said there’s a lot of product on the market for most of the top prospects, so card collectors can pick and choose who they want to go after.
“Some of it’s still affordable and some of it people would look at that and go, ‘Why would I pay $500 for that when I can go buy a nice Mickey Mantle or Roberto Clemente from the ’50s?’ ” Allen said. “It’s in the eye of the beholder, as they say.”
Greg Bates is a freelance contributor for SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.