With the convergence of multiple baseball card manufacturers and the Internet in the 90s’, many collectors turned into speculators when it came to top prospects. 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 2009 with Stephen Strasburg but he ended up on the operating table before the 2011 season was over. And, he’s injured again in 2021.
With the 2021 Draft just completed, 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 almost 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 ended a 15-year career with four Gold Gloves and over 2,000 Hits.
> 2001 – Joe Mauer, Twins C…the face of the Twins franchise after his debut in ’04, he won three AL Batting Titles…despite 2000+ hits and the ’09 MVP, he was never really a superstar.
> 2002 – Bryan Bullington, Pirates P…an example of why the Pirates weren’t relevant for so many years…Zack Greinke went #6.
> 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 5th team, his 321 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…Clayton Kershaw was available at #7.
> 2007 – David Price, Devil Rays P…with 154 career Wins, a Cy Young award and a $200+ Million contract, you’d think he’d be thought of as an elite SP but not to collectors or Fantasy players. This season, he’s making $32 Million to be a relief pitcher.
> 2008 – Tim Beckham, Rays SS…didn’t have a decent major league season until 2017 at age 27…in 2021, he’s hitting .279 at AAA Charlotte…Buster Posey was the #6 pick.
> 2009 – Strasburg
> 2010 – Harper
> 2011 – Gerrit Cole, Pirates P…blossomed in Houston and then signed a gigantic deal with the Yankees…but can he pitch without sunscreen?
> 2012 – Carlos Correa, Astros SS…ROY in 2015 and he’ll be a free agent in ’22. However, he’s only been able to play over 110 games once in his career.
> 2013 – Mark Appel, Astros P…gave up the game for three years at age 26 after five minor league seasons…currently pitching at AAA for the Phillies…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…hasn’t pitched since 2019…it seems Aaron Nola at #7 would have been a better choice.
> 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 been a decent player with a lifetime .247 BA…Alex Bregman was the #2 pick.
> 2016 – Mickey Moniak, Phillies OF…still trying to make it but he’s currently batting .213 at AAA.
> 2017 – Royce Lewis, Twins SS…still highly rated but he’ll miss all of 2021 with an injury.
> 2018 – Casey Mize, Tigers P…in the Bengals rotation this season and has 5 Wins with a 3.59 ERA.
> 2019 – Adley Rutschman, Orioles C…hitting .283 with 12 HR’s at AA.
> 2020 – Spencer Torkelson, Tigers 1B…at age 21, he’s smacked 12 HR’s with a .999 OPS at A+ / AA.
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.