With the convergence of multiple baseball card manufacturers and the Internet in the 90s’, many collectors turned into speculators and, therefore, investors. Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft has taken place every June since 1965, but the attention on the players has intensified ten-fold during that time. If you were a baseball fan in 1966, you probably didn’t know that Steve Chilcott, a High School Catcher from Lancaster, California was the first overall pick in the country (by the Mets). And, even if you did, it wasn’t anticipated that he would have a baseball card until he (someday) reached the Majors. The end result was that he had a seven-year minor league career, never had a baseball card and the Mets could have had Reggie Jackson instead.
Bryce Harper, the #1 pick in 2010, was the hottest card in the industry in 2011 and he’s proved his worth ever since with a career that includes a MVP award. The same phenomenon took place in 2010 with Stephen Strasburg but he ended up on the operating table before the 2011 season was over.
Let’s look at the top picks over a 20 year span and see how the hype turned out…
> 1997 – Matt Anderson, Tigers P…a tall pitcher with a triple digit fastball, he never had any real success at the major league level.
> 1998 – Pat Burrell, Phillies OF…got to the majors in 2000 and had a fairly productive career that included over 300 HR’s, but never a star.
> 1999 – Josh Hamilton, Devil Rays OF…lost his way to drugs and personal issues and was actually out of baseball before resurrecting his career with the Reds in ’07…eventually established himself as a star with the Rangers and won the AL MVP in 2010…however, the last few years of his career are remembered mostly for injuries.
> 2000 – Adrian Gonzalez, Marlins 1B…two teams gave up on him before he established himself with the Padres in ’06…signed a huge free agent contract with the Red Sox in 2011 and has had a successful career that is winding down in 2018.
> 2001 – Joe Mauer, Twins C…the face of the Twins franchise since his debut in ’04, he has won three AL Batting Titles…despite 2000+ hits and the ’09 MVP, he’s never been a superstar.
> 2002 – Bryan Bullington, Pirates P…an example of why the Pirates weren’t relevant for so many years.
> 2003 – Delmon Young, Devil Rays OF…was a productive player for a few years including finishing 2nd in the ROY voting in 2007, but his career was over before he turned 30.
> 2004 – Matt Bush, Padres SS…a complete bust, he ended up in jail before resurrecting his career as a relief Pitcher with the Rangers…Justin Verlander was picked next in this draft.
> 2005 – Justin Upton, D’Backs OF…now on his 4th team, his 266 lifetime HR’s show the potential, but he’s good, not great…and inconsistent.
> 2006 – Luke Hochever, Royals P…out of baseball, his lifetime ERA in nine seasons was 4.98.
> 2007 – David Price, Devil Rays P…with 130 career Wins, a Cy Young award and a $200+ Million contract, you’d think he’d be thought of as an elite SP…not to collectors or Fantasy players.
> 2008 – Tim Beckham, Rays SS…didn’t have a decent major league season until 2017 at age 27…hitting .179 this season.
> 2009 – Strasburg
> 2010 – Harper
> 2011 – Gerrit Cole, Pirates P…finally realizing his full potential in his 6th big league campaign.
> 2012 – Carlos Correa, Astros SS…only 23 and already a star on a World Series championship team.
> 2013 – Mark Appel, Astros P…has given up the game at age 26 after five minor league seasons…his lifetime ERA is 5.06…Kris Bryant was the next pick.
> 2014 – Brady Aiken, Astros P…didn’t sign with Houston and was drafted as the 17th player by the Indians in 2015…in “A” ball last year, he was 5-13 with a 4.77 ERA.
> 2015 – Dansby Swanson, D’Backs SS…essentially given away by the D’Backs to the Braves in a trade prior to the ’16 season, he’s still trying to prove his worth with a lifetime .253 BA…Alex Bregman was the #2 pick.
> 2016 – Mickey Moniak, Phillies OF…still only 20 but his minor league BA of .244 in over 800 AB’s doesn’t look impressive…Nick Senzel was taken right behind him.
So, if you “invested” in the initial baseball cards of these 20 players, what kind of success would you have realized? Harper & Correa would be blue chips while some others might still be in your portfolio. The sage advice is to collect, not speculate.