SCU Go-Live Report: 2014 Topps Strata Football

Although I cannot understand why there are two products again this week, I do love me some Strata enough to forgive the odd schedule. In its 3rd year after the initial release in 2012, the big hits from the product are some of the best looking rookie cards of the year. In terms of the main hits, they remain some of the more innovative cards around, but its clear that there cannot be a lot invested in the rest of the set as a result. It hurts the box break, which in turn hurts the product.

Here are some of the bigger hits posted so far:

2014 Topps Strata Teddy Bridgewater Shadowbox Auto /50

2014 Topps Strata Jeremy Hill Auto Clear Cut Patch – Nike Logo 1/1

2014 Topps Strata Sammy Watkins Clear Cut Auto Relic

2014 Topps Strata Mike Evans Clear Cut Auto Relic

The concept and box break are not even the biggest issue with products this year, as the rookie class will have more impact than any box break could have. With Odell Beckham and the rest of the WR class being the top guys on the field, it doesnt leave a lot of value to be had. Receivers dont have the collecting impact that quarterbacks have, and Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater dont have the stats to carry a class in that way. Manziel has shown nothing but question marks this year to boot, which means that the tentpole that held up the big top is weak for 2014.

Being that Strata is a rookie based product, it will suffer. The later release will also have a large impact, especially now that collectors can compare on field results with their own personal perception of what they think the card is worth. Bottom line, Football is degrading faster than ever, as many of the buyers out there have resorted to putting the money behind cards of players who they feel have a higher ceiling. In the general public’s opinion, there arent many who fit that bill in this year's class, other than the aforementioned receivers who never really carry the torch the way a QB does.

As for the product itself, the design is still as awesome today as it was when the product was first released. The shadowbox style cards are still amazing, and I will continue to chase my targets with rabid tenacity. I think that this product at the price for the two box hits is a really great deal, the design is still as awesome today as it was when the product was first released. Being that there is not a Shadowbox card per, means that you may not get much. However, because this isnt 120 dollars, its not as big a hit.

Collectors just dont like opening a bunch of packs that have a lot of repetitive base, and I am still curious why Strata hasnt shifted to a 1 pack configuration. It really would help solidify how incredible the box hits really are, and not bore people with all the base. It understandable that Topps needs the extra packs for a retail release as well, but many of us couldnt care less about that.

Even the clear cut autographs with acetate on card autos are a star, despite the fact that the better players can be really hard to pull. There are also a lot of redemptions as well, which seems a bit odd considering that most of Chrome and Platinum on card got done in time. Obviously those sets take priority, but Topps is lucky that the Strata cards are worth the wait.

Its pretty crazy that Strata is a largely forgotten product because of some of the issues it has, because I really think it is sorely underrated.

Playoff Primer – Breaking Down Underrated Value Targets

Like any sport, the playoffs are a big time of year for the NFL and football collectors. With every game nationally televised over a 6 week timeframe, any and every great performance can lead to huge increases in value. If the player plays in or wins the Super Bowl, look out! Buying in now can be a recipe for success or disaster based on what happens over the next two months. Here are some thoughts.

CJ Anderson – Denver Broncos

If you have watched the games as of late, you probably wouldnt recognize what the team looks like. What used to be a pass heavy team has all of a sudden become a running machine, with CJ Anderson taking the bulk of the carries. His cards are so cheap right now, it almost is a no-brainer to buy a few just in case he breaks out. If not, you are only out minimal amounts of money.

2013 National Treasures CJ Anderson Auto RC /49

2013 Contenders CJ Anderson Auto Ticket RC

2013 Black CJ Anderson Auto RC Base

Jordy Nelson – Green Bay Packers

This guy. Seriously made a mockery of my favorite team over the last few years, and I hate him for it. But he remains one of the best WRs in the game, and he is beyond underrated in the hobby. It hurts a bit that the rookie year he came out was a disaster for good looking cards, but his production should net him much more attention than he gets. If his personality were more like Dez Bryant, we might not be having this conversation. Alas, he is a quiet guy, so no one really sees him as a star.

2008 Exquisite Jordy Nelson Auto Rookie Patch

2008 Topps Chrome Jordy Nelson Auto RC

2014 Flawless Jordy Nelson Auto Emerald /5

DeMarco Murray – Dallas Cowboys

Hard to say that Murray is under the radar, but hobby wise, he remains an easy pickup. Although he only has one truly amazing season under his belt, he is primed to be a great player for years to come with the line he has in front of him. The only issue is that the Cowboys have been known to implode this time of year, but this time it LOOKS different. The word “looks” is the key part of that sentence in case the caps lock didnt do it for you.

2014 Flawless DeMarco Murray Jumbo Patch Auto

2012 National Treasures Virtuoso DeMarco Murray Auto

2011 Topps Chrome Demarco Murray Auto RC

TY Hilton – Indianapolis Colts

If anyone deserves credit for a monster season, its him, as his numbers are quite impressive. Although he is out with a hammy right now, he will be good come wild card weekend. Im guessing he wont play if Denver seals the bye tonight, but you never know. His cards are dirt cheap, which is really odd all things considered.

2012 Topps Finest TY Hilton Auto RC Refractor

2012 Topps Strata TY Hilton Auto Clear Cut Relic

Le’Veon Bell – Pittsburgh Steelers

Tough to put a player like this on a list of underrated players, but he really is just that. The Steelers may have an immense fan base, but RBs are dead in this hobby. Bell has been among the top backs in the league all year, and with a big performance in the playoffs, he might finally get close to the value he should get.

2013 National Treasures Le'Veon Bell Auto Jumbo Patch Colossal

2013 National Treasures Le'Veon Bell Auto Rookie Patch /49

Emmanuel Sanders – Denver Broncos

I never thought I would be saying that Sanders could be the key to a Broncos victory, but he has produced like never before with Manning throwing him the ball. He was basically cast aside by the Steelers when the Broncos made him a big offer, and Denver is reaping the benefit. He has had some ridiculous games this year.

2010 Topps Prime Emmanuel Sanders Six Piece Booklet Auto

2010 Topps Five Star Emmanuel Sanders Auto Inscription

Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers

Another Steelers player with a mammoth year under his belt. Like most WR in this hobby, he gets about half the love he deserves, as his production is at or near the top of every important category. He was overshadowed by Mike Wallace during his first few years, but since Wallace left, Brown has broken out. This year could be a defining moment for his career.

2014 Topps Antonio Brown Auto Variation SP

2014 Flawless Antonio Brown Auto Ruby Parallel

I am very excited to see what happens this year, as I think there is a lot of potential. Im still sad for the hobby that Odell Beckham Jr is going to be watching from his couch, but I digress. Hopefully we get a nice performance out of some of these guys and we wont have to worry about it!

Another Look At 2014 SP Authentic’s Star Sets

Sometimes, a product comes along and you just dont expect how good it can really be. I honestly believe that after seeing what SP Authentic football is all about this year, it is definitely one of those products. There are a lot of great parts of the product, but if you know me well from reading this site, you know what I am going to love.

Inscription Auto Patches

The great thing about college products is that you can literally make them any time of the year and the content really will never need to change all that much. Because the player's college career is already over by the time cards are made, Upper Deck always had a frozen window of time that they could draw from. Inscriptions are a logical way to make that happen in the best possible way, and I am beyond excited to see that there are inscription patch autos just like there were in SPX this year. Just like SPX, its a special tag patch parallel, and some of the cards have been getting huge prices. SPX inscriptions were popular despite being sticker autos, and on card should do better. I love the look of the patch auto design this year, and the inscriptions just make it that much more awesome.

2014 SP Authentic Jeremy Hill Inscription Auto Patch RC /10

2014 SP Authentic DaVante Adams Auto Tag Patch Inscription RC /10

Inscription Base Autos

This is where things get really interesting, as the rookies arent the only ones to have inscriptions in this subset. I have seen some killer players have big big cards with inscriptions on them, and that is always a treat when you can get them hard signed. Some players really took it pretty far, too. Adding in the rookies is a big plus, but let’s be honest here, there is no rookie that will overshadow some of the other signers.

2014 SP Authentic Jerry Rice Auto Inscription 3/3

2014 SP Authentic Mike Evans Inscription Auto RC

2014 SP Authentic Kelvin Benjamin Auto Inscription RC

Super F/X Autos

With SPX its own product again this year, Upper Deck went old school with the Super F/X acetate cards that are included as box toppers. I really like these cards a lot, as I think the multi layer acetate approach is a really cool look with hard signed autos. Not horribly excited about the yellowish look, but its still cool.

2014 SP Authentic Teddy Bridgewater Super F/X Auto RC

2014 SP Authentic Derek Carr Super F/X Auto

Authentic Moments Autos

Commemorating big moments is a great idea. Commemorating big moments with on card autos is an even greater idea. These cards look amazing with the cool pictures and events on them, and I think that this is something that I really saw as a program that SPA should be all about. More card companies need to tie in the biggest moments of their subjects’ careers and watch how much collectors will latch on.

2014 SP Authentic John Elway Authentic Moments Auto

2014 SP Authentic Sammy Watkins Authentic Moments Auto

2014 SP Authentic Blake Bortles Authentic Moments Auto

2000 Future Watch Retro RC and Autos

Man, if you dont recognize this set, you havent been in football very long. This set is straight out of 2000 SPA, with one of the more iconic cards that the hobby continues to chase. Looking much like the Tom Brady RC, these cards look awesome, and I love the autographs just as much. History like this shows how far Upper Deck has come in building the NFL’s following in higher end cards, and makes me wish they would come back. Too bad that will never happen now.

2014 SP Authentic Jimmy Garroppolo Auto Future Watch 1/1

2014 SP Authentic Brandin Cooks Auto Future Watch 1/1

Here is the thing with this product. The Evil Empire has bullied their way into exclusive deals with many of the major universities, making the CLC license exclusive that UD has over college cards moot for all intents and purposes. That means that this could easily be the last year that SPA is released in this type of format. Panini has done their best to rid the hobby of some of the best things that exist to our liking, and I cant even begin to express how angry that makes me. Not only do they make shitty ass cards, but they use their money to force out the good stuff. That’s not even the worst part. The worst part is that they could eventually end up with many of the products we love under their stable, which only means further bastardization of the names we love. If this is SPA’s last big hurrah, UD did a great job. If not, ill definitely be back for another look next year too.

SCU Go-Live: 2014 Triple Threads, Select, and SP Authentic

This is getting a bit insane. Another week, another 3 products hitting the shelves, only to drown collectors further into 2014. Although we understand this is the holiday season, it doesnt mean we have this much money to throw around. The interesting thing is that all three products have their fair share of nice stuff, with an unexpectedly cool look from an old favorite. Here is the breakdown.

2014 Topps Triple Threads

When I first saw the solicitation for this product, I was kind of shocked at how good it looks. Its pretty clear that Topps has given license to the team to really go outside the normal box for Triple Threads, and boy has it paid off. Baseball continues to be a train wreck, while football continues to get more sleek every year.

Here are some of the nicer cards so far:

2014 Topps Triple Threads Triple Jumbo Silhouette Booklet – BEARS

2014 Topps Triple Threads Teddy Bridgewater Triple Patch Auto

2014 Topps Triple Threads Six Auto Relic Book – Manziel, Bridgewater, Evans, Bortles, Watkins, Ebron

2014 Topps Triple Threads Martavis Bryant Transparencies Auto

I really like the base triple relic autos this year, as the off set patch configuration looks really nice. High contrast photos against dark backgrounds make things pop, and that is always a good thing when you are pulling high end cards.

My complaints continue to be ever in place for the stupid die cut phrases in these cards, as I seriously have no idea why anyone finds them the least bit interesting after all these years. Considering that the product is all stickers as well does not help it differentiate itself from other releases this week that look as good with hard signed cards.

I think Triple threads and I will never have anything more than a love to hate relationship, as cards like this just make me cringe.

2014 Panini Select

Last year, Panini complete ripped off the Chrome style brands from Topps. Spectra was Bowman Sterling, Select was Finest and Prizm was Chrome. Just goes to show the lack of ability Panini has in building equity in their own ideas. Complete fucking joke.

That being said, of all the Chrome ripoffs, Select looks and is the best of the bunch:

2014 Select Johnny Manziel Pink Border Relic Auto

2014 Select Mike Evans Orange Border Relic Auto

Of course, that didnt stop Panini from completely neutering the content in a box, removing the guaranteed auto relic and taking away two autos overall. That should make this a 70 dollar box, but instead we are forced to stomach a 110 dollar price tag. What idiot approved that one? Seriously one of the worst format decisions I have seen in a long time. Even though there are now relic cards included, I could not give less of a flying fuck.

The auto relic cards on all accounts are the stars of this product, but they are severely undercut by single autographs that are beyond hideous. Further shit stained consideration should be given to the new “MOJO!” parallel, which is the first parallel that not only should be run over by a truck, but looks like it too. Only Panini would name a parallel after the M word. Barf.

2014 SP Authentic

Since I can remember, SPA has been at the forefront of the hobby. Everyone appreciates the legacy of this product, and now thanks to more bullying by Panini, this might be the last licensed year of the product. In light of these horrible circumstances, UD deserves a fucking medal for the way this product looks. Great looking cards all around.

Here are the new look for the Patch Autos:

2014 SP Authentic Mike Evans Patch Auto

2014 SP Authentic Bishop Sankey Patch Auto

Over the last few years, the rookie auto patches have improved steadily, much to my excitement. This year is a continues the evolution, as the cards remind me of the once great set that I waited all year to collect.

Even the on card rookie and veteran autos look boss, as I think that the cool looking background does a lot to complement the player pictures and autographs. Hard signed all around makes me happy, and I am pretty surprised by how awesome the overall product turned out. Funny how an NCAA product can make licensed NFL stuff look crappy in a lot of ways.

Kudos to UD on this one.

Overall 2014 is slowly degrading into a pretty dud year. Save Odell Beckham and the WR class, this group of rookies is looking much more like 2013 than 2012, and that could not be more of a terrible situation for the hobby. Pumping out product after product in November and December regardless of licensing forecasts or autograph delays cant be the best approach available, and I am wondering how much sustainability this year provides long term.

How Has Prospecting Changed Baseball Cards and the Hobby?

Before even starting this article, I knew my perspective was going to be a weird one, even more so as an outsider looking into the world of Baseball Prospecting. Its one of those things that many people refuse to partake in, or dont understand due to complexity of the market. In a similar amount of cases, some cant even define the true practice correctly. Either way, prospecting has become one of the largest areas of baseball card collecting today.

In fact, prospecting players is no longer just a practice reserved for baseball cards, as rookies in general have come to be a large part of every sport. I would even go so far as saying that rookies are almost twice as important as the veteran players in many cases. It was shocking to me how much some of the rookies even sell for in Hockey!

With the release of 2014 Bowman Draft, Topps has now completed the release of its THIRD prospect flagship product, and like the two that came before it, people are trying to get going quickly in chasing their determined prospecting targets.

Here are some of the top cards from the recent product, you can see how expensive they can get:

2014 Bowman Draft Kyle Schwarber Superfractor 1/1

2014 Bowman Draft Alex Jackson Super Jumbo Parallel Refractor Auto /15

2014 Bowman Draft Kyle Schwarber Purple Refractor Auto /10

2014 Bowman Draft Nick Gordon Red Refractor Auto /5

2014 Bowman Draft Tyler Kolek Orange Refractor Auto

For those of you in the dark, true prospecting involves a few main steps. First, prospectors will spend hours scouting players they know to be on the checklist. For these players, they review stats, potential, organizational rankings, and national rankings according to a few main publications like Baseball Amercia. Once the targets are acquired, a few things are brought into consideration, including price, potential value, and call up variables that focus on when the player can hit the major league roster. Many of these players are rarely known by all the Joe Collectors out there chasing the big names, which makes lot purchases much easier.

Most prospectors have a lot of players in their stash, and they are bought in lots or singles, and then graded for top return. These players are not the Schwarbers or Jacksons of the class, but more mid range guys that can be picked up cheap. As you can see, Alex Jackson is likely not a great target with the prices he is at. At the point where targeting, buying and grading are complete, the waiting games begin. Many prospectors will need to sit for years before they will start moving guys, and the number of these types of collectors are usually determined by how many can stand the potential wait time.

Now, there are residual effects of these types of situation, and Topps has clearly been happy to juggle them for years now. Ever since Albert Pujols stormed onto the scene back in the beginning part of the 2000s, prospectors have taken center stage. They were again thrust into the limelight with the meteoric rise of Mike Trout in 2011 and 2012, when his cards when from relative commons to collection centerpieces overnight.

All of this came to a head in 2010 when Stephen Strasburg was drafted and called up by the Washington Nationals. Prospecting received national news attention when his 2010 Bowman Superfractor 1/1 sold for over $20,000 to a casual collector. Since that time, other players like Yasiel Puig have also brought national coverage along side their blazing starts. The new hotness rules the roost. Ironically, Strasburg’s injury and sharp decline did service in showing the downside of investing in unproven guys with that kind of cash.

Most prospectors will tell you that Pujols and Trout were never on their list because of the cost of their cards from day one. That’s not where the real money can be made, even though they most likely couldnt avoid trying to pick up a few. Strasburg and Harper were never those guys either. Its the guys that they pick to make the Major League roster and be productive as quickly as possible.

The ripples can be felt throughout the hobby, as the once coveted rookie cards from the post-call up sets are now worth considerably less than they would have been previously. With the Bowman sets having rookies two to three years ahead of their major league debut, most prospectors already have TONS of cards by the time a guy hits the majors. Bowman is actually predicated on this, similar to the way Contenders is now predicated in football. Guys like Tom Brady and Tony Romo were lower tier rookies that have risen to All Pro and HOF Status.

Ripples are also felt at the high end level, as collectors want to buy in early on the top players from each class. Guys like Kris Bryant and Byron Buxton are recent examples, regardless of the fact that they are not really what prospecting is congruent to in its truest form. This has gotten so out of whack that comparable value is almost non-existent these days. A hot rookie is almost 100% more valuable than a player of similar caliber who has already had sustained success. As mentioned above, players like Bryant and Buxton have yet to take a major league swing, but are valued above All Stars and HOFers.

This plays back to the age old adage that if one person finds a way to make money, 100 will try to do the same thing. This is the main complaint about what prospecting has become, as so many people tend to shoot for the lowest common denominators. They gravitate toward big ticket rookies and get discouraged when their investment doesnt pay off. True prospectors never buy in on the Penthouse level where Alex Jackson currently resides. They enter through the kitchen’s back door, hoping to strike it big with a no-namer turned all star.

I have heard the horror stories and the success stories in a parallel manner, and it always shocks me how much risk is always involved. On the other hand, Bowman has turned into one of if not the most important brands that Topps produces, and that is a feat in itself. Looking back 20 to 30 years, no one would ever guess that the brands would function the way that they do. Setting the bar a brand of collecting that didnt exist a few decades ago.

If you are looking for some good resources on this year’s Bowman draft product, GTS distribution has put together some great articles on the entire autograph checklist from Bowman. They break down each player and give a blurb about their potential. I would check it out if you are like me, as it might give you a head start on who you might want to collect.

GTS Guide to Collecting 2014 Bowman Draft Autographs Part 1

GTS Guide to collecting 2014 Bowman Draft Autographs Part 2