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