The Baby Braves are taking the world – and the hobby – by storm! Tied for first place in the NL East and winning at an unexpected (even for the most die-hard fans and optimistic organizational reps) clip, this band of young players has buoyed the 2018 baseball market in the wake of a potentially devastating injury to Shohei Ohtani. How in the world did they manage this? It’s simple really – the Braves have gotten back to their organizational roots with an absolutely incredible farm system that is chock full of exciting prospects. That this farm system has produced players that are ahead of schedule should be less of a surprise than it is to most of us who are enjoying the ride.
When your elder statesmen so far as regulars are a 28 year old first baseman (a criminally underrated one) and a 34 year old journeyman catcher, you know that you are not only set up for short term winning, but long term sustained success. Let’s look at a few players that YOU need to be at least keeping an eye on, if not buying up every chance you get:
Look, we all know that chicks dig the long ball. As do collectors, and at the time of this writing, Albies ranks in the top 5 in the MLB with 15 dingers through June 10. Oh, and he’s 21 years old. This is a kid that you will want to grab if you are trying to grab up the next big slugger that no one has ever heard of. He’s an athletic 5’8” and 165 lbs, so it’s not as though the only thing Ozzie does is hit homers. He’s an athletic player developing into a 5 tool guy with a bit of speed as well (6 stolen bases so far in 2018). While he could make a bit better contact, batting average isn’t the necessary stat it once was – on the diamond or in the hobby. The fact that his rookies are in 2018 products helps too – with everyone hunting Ohtani, his prices have stayed relatively low. Let’s look at 3 categories of cards to buy with a specific suggestion for each:
Budget Friendly: As a product itself, Donruss Baseball is gear toward both kids and those who wish to be budget-conscious when selecting additions to their collections, and in the case of Ozzie Albies, collectors can get his Donruss autographs at a very reasonable price. At the time of this writing, comps on his 2017 Donruss autographs are running $10-$15. Not a rookie, not on card, but for those who want an auto with low risk on a player with a potentially high return, Donruss could be a great product for you!
Middle of the Road: With a ton of products to choose from, this price range is an incredibly interesting search. Topps begins to have an edge on Panini here in baseball because they can put team logos and names on the cards (thanks to that exclusive license) and there is one product in the mid-range price that really stands out for Albies. 2018 Topps finest included many Albies autos in its checklist. All hard-signed since this is his rookie card, and well-gradeable with a chromium finish, Topps finest is a great bet for a collector looking for a step up from Donruss or a similar product. At the time of this writing, one would be looking at $40-$60 for a numbered parallel Albies auto.
Go For Broke: Look no further than a 1st Bowman Chrome auto here, preferably a numbered parallel graded 9.5 by BGS. That card is THE gold standard for rookie autos, and Albies’ are through the roof compared with his other cards, but not at astronomical prices. His first Bowmans can be found in 2015 products, and will run you an average of around $200 as of now. Those who know me know that I shudder at spending this kind of $$$ on an unproven player with a lot of ball left to play, but if Albies really does turn into the next big slugger, these cards could fetch a decent return for those who wish to invest big-time.
The oldest player on this list, Foltynewicz is what many consider a late bloomer, really coming on last year at age 25 and now, at age 26, has entrenched himself as the Braves #1 starter. The man averages a 96 mph fastball, and has a nasty second pitch in his slider as well. Starting pitchers can become the face of a franchise quickly, and while these Baby Braves have gained notoriety through their bats, Foltynewicz could be a hobby darling if he keeps a sub-2.5 era and keeps winning four times as many games as he loses (counting stats still matter for pitchers when it comes to value).
Budget Friendly: Low-cost autos are the name of the game in this category, as really most any collector can’t resist a cheap auto with potential. As a product, Elite prospects baseball just honestly doesn’t always give investors a great return. The good news is that there isn’t really a costly investment with Elite autos. At the time of this writing, you can acquire an auto of this ace for less than $8 shipped. Ya’ll, that’s less than what most people spend on lunch. If the Braves stay hot and Folty stays healthy, this $8 could turn into $25 or $30 quickly. Or, this could just be a great and easy way to add an exciting auto to the PC.
Middle of the Road: Even though Folty’s 1st Bowmans came out in 2010, his rookie cards began to be produced in 2015. Even though Immaculate is considered a high-end product, when you have a late bloomer like Mike Foltynewicz, high-end can become mid-range very quickly. $15 will get you a numbered auto out of Immaculate, cards that are quite classy, even if the autos are on stickers rather than hard signed. Immaculate’s prices can go up and down like a roller coaster, so it could be worth it to pick this particular product up, given that guys that throw hard strike people out a fair bit, which could lead to a big season and a potentially decent return.
Go For Broke: 1st Bowman Chrome rookie auto again here, except for ‘Folty’, you have to go all the way back to 2010 to get your hands on his first Bowmans. A while back to be sure, and a graded 9.5 is going to run you roughly $125. Again, for an unproven pitcher who relies on velocity, this is a pile of cash to drop, but if he goes on a Koufax-esque run, his value could very well spike, giving this a great potential investment.
Did you really think it was possible to write up a Braves investment piece and not mention one of the most highly touted prospects of the past five years? Ronald Acuna Jr profiles as a five-tool player with elite speed and defense and can’t-miss upside. Let’s just be honest for a minute – the kid is 21 years old. He has played less than half a season in the majors. Let’s be clear too – I’m a HUGE Braves fan. Yes, I’m biased. No, I don’t care. I like Acuna and had the opportunity to see him when he was in AAA ball last year and came through Charlotte. He passes the ‘eye-test’ and if you can pull him from a pack, I would honestly sell the card while the hype is high. Acuna has every opportunity to become a Willie Mays type of player, with maybe a better average and slightly less power. He also has a LOT of ball left to play. In baseball more than any other sport, hype can be a roller coaster for prices (Paul Goldschmidt, anyone?). Invest here, but be shrewd with your cash. You’re about to see why I say that:
Budget Friendly: With Acuna, this category is kind of a joke. His elite autos are hovering at $100. The cheapest way you’ll get into an Acuna auto is probably by pack searching, but if you’re like me and would really rather just buy singles, an Elite auto is still the best way to go. A careful buyer can probably find one of these for $75 or so, and if you hold the card and Acuna has a big post-season or a massive hot streak, there could be money to be made. Just be careful if budget truly matters and you want an Acuna.
Middle of the Road: When the mid-range autos are in the $150-$250 range, you know the hype is real. In this range, you can find a nice graded Bowman’s Best or a hard-signed Topps Debut auto. These cards should hold their value, even as some other cards may fluctuate with Acuna’s performance. There’s a potential to pick them up for less than this, there is also the potential for these prices to go up if he gets hot or the Braves go on a bigger tear (or, you know, when he comes back from the DL). That his prices haven’t dipped a ton with a DL stint speaks to his potential both as a player and a hobby sweetheart.
Go For Broke: We’re 3-for-3 on 1st Bowman Chrome autos here, as that card really is the modern hallmark for baseball rookie autos. Acuna’s, graded 9 or above, are north of $1,000. Just try to pull one. You’ll probably save money. However, if you just HAVE to have THE Acuna rookie auto, you can get it at this price. A word of caution here: this is a VERY high price for an unproven player. If Acuna turns into the next Trout or Harper, then this investment could pay off. However, you can get legit hall of famers and LEGENDS for a fraction of this cost. Maybe rookies and prospects are your thing, and if they are that’s all you, however, for the average collector, I would steer clear of the high prices on this rookie for the moment.