Collecting World Series Young Stars Key Baseball Cards
The 2017 MLB World Series match-up between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros featured a host of young, marquee players, on both teams. For collectors, this means the opportunity to add key cards of these October heroes to their collections.
However, current trends in the baseball card market mean that a player’s rookie cards, aren’t necessarily their most valuable. The reason for this can be slightly confusing despite the rule that was instituted to clarify such confusion. So before looking at the key cards of individual players, an explanation is necessary.
Understanding Baseball’s Rookie Card Rule and Licensing
By definition, a player becomes eligible for an officially designated rookie card when he is assigned to an MLB team’s 25-man roster. Late season call-ups to the expanded 40-man roster are ineligible for such designation. These guidelines were instituted by MLB and the MLBPA in 2006. The prevalence of prospect-oriented baseball card products was making it difficult for returning and new collectors to determine which cards of a player were, or had the potential to be the most valuable. This designation, complete with an official MLB and MLBPA Rookie Card Logo, was an attempt to clarify confusion for fans and collectors.
However, due to grandfathered contracts with the MLBPA, Topps, the official trading card licensee of Major League Baseball, can continue including prospects in their products. Adding to the confusion is that another trading card manufacturer, Panini America, currently carries an MLBPA license but not an MLB license. What that means is that Panini can produce baseball cards of MLB players, but they cannot use MLB team names or team logos on their baseball cards.
As a result, the very rule designed to clarify confusion in the marketplace, in most cases has only added to the confusion. Reason being that regardless of imposed rules, the demand of the market place itself will always determine value. Most experienced collectors place extra value on a player’s first appearance on a baseball card regardless of official designation. Because of this market factor and despite not having an “official” RC logo, most players’ early “prospect” cards are valued as that player’s defacto rookie card. In fact, baseball is the only sport where a player’s rookie card may not be as valuable as some of his other cards.
Other Factors That Determine Value in Modern Baseball Cards
In addition to when a player’s first key cards were produced, other factors ultimately determine the value of that player’s key cards. Those include rarity and condition. How can a modern card be considered rare? Because of current design and production methods, today’s trading card companies can manufacture scarcity. This is done in the form of serial numbering specific cards. A standard, base or common card may have different versions printed. The different versions are called parallels and in addition to being serial numbered are often printed in a different color, tint, background or other distinguishing characteristics. A player may have a base card and several parallels of the same card serial numbered to different print runs: /499, /299/, /199, /99, /49, /25, /10, /5 and just /1, as an example.
As with other collectibles, condition is also an important characteristic of value. Third-party trading card graders assign grades on a 10-point scale, with 1 being Poor and 10 being Gem Mint. For the purposes of this article, we will look at the value of a player’s base, autographed cards that are ungraded as they are often the most commonly attainable.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have scouting down to a science. As a result, the organization has produced more MLB Rookie of the Year award winners than any other team. They have produced 17 ROY award winners which is more than double that of any other team. Remarkably, they have an opportunity to add number 18 to the list this season in the form of first basemen, Cody Bellinger.
Cody Bellinger’s very first baseball cards were released by Panini America in 2013. They lack an MLB team name and logo but still carry a significant value. Recent sales of Bellinger’s 2013 Elite Extra Edition autographed cards consistently sell in the $150 range.In 2015, Topps produced Bellinger’s first MLB licensed cards as part of their revered Bowman brand. Bellinger’s 2015 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs currently sell for $500.
Cody Bellinger’s 2013 Elite Extra Edition (left) cards consistently sell in the $150 range; his 2015 Bowman Chrome (right) cards sell for $500.
The shortstop for the Dodgers, Corey Seager was the 2016 ROY award winner. As a result, his cards are highly valued by collectors. He was identified as a potential MLB draft pick as far back as 2010 when he played for the United States 16U National Team. At the time, Topps had a licensing agreement with USA Baseball. They included autographed cards of Seager as a member of Team USA in their 2010 Bowman Baseball set. Prices for these cards range from $50-$75.
Topps included autographed cards of Seager as a member of Team USA in their 2010 Bowman Baseball set. Prices for these cards range from $50-$75.
By the following year, it was clear that Seager was on an MLB-career path. He was one of the marquee players featured in amateur baseball’s Perfect Game Showcase. This annual event features top prep players from around the country performing for MLB scouts. Topps included cards of Seager related to that game in 2011 Bowman Baseball. Those cards routinely see in the $150-$160 range.
Topps included cards of Seager in 2011 Bowman Baseball that sell in the $150-$160 range.
After being drafted in 2012, both Panini America and Topps produced autographed baseball cards of that year’s 1st round, 18th overall draft pick. The difference in value for the two cards is significant. Seager’s 2012 Elite Extra Edition cards sell in the $75 range. His 2012 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks autograph cards however, routinely sell in the $200-$300 range.
Seager’s 2012 Elite Extra Edition cards (left) sell in the $75 range; his 2012 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks autograph cards (right) routinely sell in the $200-$300 range.
Now compare the value of the cards below, of both players, to the values of their “official” autographed rookie cards. Cody Bellinger’s 2017 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph cards commonly sell for $150. Meanwhile, Corey Seager’s 2016 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph cards sell for between $100-$130.
Corey Seager’s 2016 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph cards (left) sell for between $100-$130. Cody Bellinger’s 2017 Topps Chrome Rookie Autograph cards (right) commonly sell for $150.
As you can see, although each of these rookie cards carries a solid value, neither card carries close to the value of their respective first Bowman autographed cards from their draft year.
The Houston Astros have been through a 4-year rebuilding program. In 2013 the team suffered one of their worst seasons in franchise history with 111 loses. The years that followed saw the team make some key trades, free agent acquisitions and smart draft picks. As a result, the team is in contention for their first World Series championship.
Jose Altuve is a spark plug for the Houston Astros. He brings a lot of energy to the team and has become a key part of the team’s offense and is in contention for this year’s MVP award. He flew under the radar of the trading card manufacturers and was excluded from the autograph checklists of the first set in which he appeared. Because of this, his key cards aren’t autographed. Instead, his most valuable cards are lower numbered parallels from 2010 Bowman Chrome. Prices range greatly depending on the specific serial numbering. The standard refractor parallel, serial numbered to 500 (pictured below), sells for anywhere between $20-$35. However, that same card when graded in mint condition, sells for over $900.
The standard refractor parallel, serial numbered to 500, sells for anywhere between $20-$35; however, that same card in mint condition, sells for over $900.
Correa was another highly touted high school prospect. His first autographed card was featured in 2012 Bowman as part of the Perfect Game Showcase set. Limited to just 235 serial numbered copies, raw, ungraded versions rarely come to market, making current pricing difficult. However, his autographed cards from 2012 Bowman Chrome and 2012 Elite Extra Edition from Panini are more readily available. Copies of the later regularly sell for $120-$40, while his 2012 Bowman Chrome autographs sell most frequently for over $400.
Correa’s first autographed card (left) was featured in 2012 Bowman as part of the Perfect Game Showcase set, but rarely comes to market. However, his autographed cards from 2012 Elite Extra Edition Panini (center) and 2012 Bowman Chrome (right) and are more readily available.
Bregman is another player that had the attention of Major League scouts at an early age. He was the second overall selection in the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft. However, his first autographed cards featured him as a member of Team U.S.A. in 2010 Bowman Draft. That card sells in the $100 range. In 2011, he was included in 2011 Bowman as part of the Perfect Game Showcase set. That autographed card sells in the $20-30 range but significantly more in high-grade condition. The card most collectors pursue of the Astros young third basemen is his 2016 Bowman Chrome Prospects Autograph. The base version of the card has already shown volatility with his post-season performance, selling anywhere from $125-$200 or more.
Bregman’s first autographed cards (left) featured him as a member of Team U.S.A. in 2010 Bowman Draft, selling in the $100 range. His 2011 Bowman as part of the Perfect Game Showcase set (center) sells in the $20-30 range. His 2016 Bowman Chrome Prospects Autograph (right), sells anywhere from $125-$200 or more.
While there are certainly other players worthy of this list, these are the five with the most potential to see an increase in value with a World Series victory. When making a purchasing decision, always buy the best condition card you can afford. Happy collecting!
Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 25 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been involved with multi-media content development for several sports collectibles websites. Currently the Senior Marketing Manager for Sports & Entertainment at the hobby distributor GTS Distribution, he is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live streaming and nationally broadcast web show, Go GTS Live – The Hobby’s Web Show. 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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