Baseball’s Top Prospects: Collecting the Next Superstars

The Orioles’ Dylan Bundy logged only 1.2 innings in 2012, but he’s already got nearly 300 cards on the market. Bowman Scouting Report taps this 2011 Bowman autograph card as one of its top picks for collectors.

Come Opening Day, the annual return of the “boys of summer” brings hope eternal to team enthusiasts across the country and around the globe. A clean slate and a fresh start provides players and fans the opportunity to focus on the present and anticipate a long summer of baseball drama in the pursuit of the opportunity to play in the Fall Classic.

Without baseball players, there wouldn’t be baseball cards—an obvious and overly simple statement but one made to point out that with each new season brings the potential for the game’s next big star to emerge.

So who are those top prospects and what cards should collectors be chasing? Here is a breakout of the top five MLB prospects according to the Bowman Scouting Report and a look at its current baseball cards.

One note to keep in mind: there currently exists some discrepancy in the definition of what constitutes a player’s rookie card. Baseball collectors traditionally put more value and emphasis on a player’s first trading card, regardless whether he’s appeared in a game at the major-league level. In an attempt to alleviate any confusion in the marketplace about what defines a “true” rookie card, several years back Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association adopted specific rules and incorporated a specially designed rookie-card logo to be prominently displayed on the card’s front.

There was a time when a player’s rookie card was his most valuable. This is not the case anymore, and the attempt to remedy the situation with the official logo managed only to cause more confusion for the novice collector or casual fan. Thus the reason that top prospect, Dylan Bundy, already has 296 total cards despite appearing in just 1.2 innings for the Orioles in 2012.

1. Dylan Bundy—Baltimore Orioles, pitcher
Total cards: 296
Rookie cards: 4
Autograph cards: 118
Key cards: 2013 Topps #78 RC, 2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospect Autographs #DB,
2011 Bowman Sterling Prospect Autographs #DBU, 2011 Donruss Elite Extra Edition Prospects #P4.

The Rangers’ shortstop Jurkison Profar on a 2011 Bowman Chrome autograph card. His key cards ranked second in Bowman’s picks.

Oscar Taveras of the St. Louis Cardinals also tops Bowman’s top picks. It names his 2011 Bowman Chrome autograph card as a key pick.

2. Jurickson Profar—Texas Rangers, shortstop

Total cards: 295
Rookie cards: 4
Autograph cards: 41
Key cards: 2013 Topps #286 RC, 2010 Donruss Elite Extra Edition Signature Aspirations #90, 2011 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #BCP82, 2011 Leaf Valiant Draft Auto #JP2.

3. Oscar Taveras—St. Louis Cardinals, outfielder

Total cards: 116
Rookie cards: 0
Autograph cards: 18
Key cards: 2011 Topps Pro Debut #80, 2012 Bowman Black Collection Autographs #OT, 2012 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs #BCP102.

Travis d’Arnaud of the New York Mets ranks fourth on Bowman’s list.

Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez rounds out Bowman’s top five card prospects.

4. Travis d’Arnaud—New York Mets, catcher
Total cards: 183
Rookie cards: 0
Autograph cards: 27
Key cards: 2007 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks Autograph #BDPP140, 2008 Bowman Draft Signs of the Future #TD Travis D’Arnaud.

5. Jose Fernandez—Miami Marlins, pitcher
Total cards: 127
Rookie cards: 0
Autograph cards: 59
Key cards: 2011 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospect Autographs #JF, 2011 Bowman Sterling Prospect Autographs #JF, 2011 Leaf Metal Draft Prismatic #JF1.

“Key cards” are those carrying one or more of the following characteristics:

• The most popular based on secondary-market sales and trading;
• Typically autographed, carrying consistent secondary-market value regardless of the player’s early-career ups and downs of on-field performance;
• Available in print runs of at least 99 or more;
• Designated with the official RC (rookie card) logo.

Other cards for these players exist, including additional base cards and memorabilia cards. Often times, variations or parallels of a player’s key cards can carry substantially more value, as they are short-printed in smaller quantities. It is up to collectors to decide what they like and wish to pursue, always keeping in mind budget, potential future returns, general interests and other traditional collecting factors.

When returned in near-mint condition or better, graded examples of a player’s early cards can significantly increase the value of the card. In addition to being a potential investment premium, grading the card protects its condition indefinitely and is often worth paying the surcharge for such services.

While the definitions may have changed for card collecting, the concepts have not. Whether prospect or official rookie card, early cards of star players will always be that player’s most desirable in terms of collector demand and future value.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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