The season is under way, and ESPN recently came out with their list of the top 500 players in baseball. Zeroing in on the Top 10, one can debate the merits of the selection and order. Undoubtedly though, the list includes ten of the best players in baseball, and due to their popularity, these players offer many collecting options. Here I’ll discuss a bit about their rookie cards in general and, specifically, their most popular rookie autograph releases:
1. Albert Pujols: Pujols broke into the Majors in 2001 and was the rare player who did not have a rookie card before he reached the “bigs.” This (along with Ichiro’s RC season) made for some pretty exciting times in the hobby, and the card companies capitalized releasing a huge variety of rookie, rookie autograph, and insert cards of the slugger. It was also the first time I recall a company put a redemption into a product without saying what it was for. (Five redemptions cards for RC’s were inserted in Fleer Premium for unnamed rookie cards, one of which was later revealed to be Pujols.) The “Holy Grail” of all Pujols rookie cards (and the “Holy Grail” for many modern collectors) is the 2001 Bowman Chrome Albert Pujols RC Autograph /500. Cost of Chrome RC Auto: recent BGS 9s have sold in the $4000–$5000 range.
2. Roy Halladay: Halladay’s rookie cards stem from 1997, and offerings include Bowman, Bowman Chrome, and Bowman’s Best. His Bowman Chrome RC card is a popular one amongst collectors; though his most highly regarded first-year cards are likely his Bowman Autographs. While they are inserts, they’ve been accepted by collectors much like any other rookie autograph and command serious prices. The card comes in three versions: blue ink, black ink (which sometimes looks red if it is faded), and gold ink. Estimates of the gold ink version are as low as 50–100 copies. They are also extremely condition sensitive with black-back borders, and in decent condition they command a nice premium. Price of a Bowman Auto: $175–$225 while a BGS 9 got $700. (Note that the price on raw copies is way down from where it has been over the last year or two.)
3. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is another guy with very few options. His rookie cards are from 2000 and are limited to Topps Traded and Topps Chrome Traded—both boxed sets. Thankfully for rookie autograph collectors, Topps Traded offered an autographed option—a card that has been extremely popular since Cabrera captured the attention of the hobby during the 2003 playoffs as a 20 year old. The Topps Traded autograph is also condition sensitive as the boxed sets led to many dinged corners. The card was also one that was commonly trimmed, so buying graded is recommended. 8.5s often net a premium over raw. Price on 2000 Topps Traded Auto: $400+ for raw; $600+ for BGS 9, though a recent copy went for $844 indicating that his hot start and pairing with Prince Fielder may lead to increased hobby interest.
4. Justin Verlander: Verlander, like Pujols, has a wide array of rookie cards and autographs, and like Pujols his most popular is his Bowman Chrome Autograph. Unlike Pujols though, his card is not limited to 500 copies. By 2005 Bowman Chrome had all sorts of parallels, so collectors who are looking for Chrome can shoot for the parallel that best fits their collection or budget. Because Verlander has so many rookie autographs, there is one that fits most price ranges. Even after his MVP season rookie autographs can be found for $30–$40. Price for a Bowman Chrome RC Auto: $100-$120.
5. Felix Hernandez: King Felix took the Majors by storm as a 19 year old in 2005, but collectors had already been picking his cards up since 2004. He had a variety of cards produced all by Topps and two rookie autographs: Bowman Chrome and Bowman’s Best. His Chrome card has been extremely popular for years. As the final release before Chrome introduced 1/1s and began upping the number of parallels, his best may very well be his gold refractor autograph, a tough card, but one that can be found with some patience (and an open wallet.) Price for a Bowman Chrome Auto: $75–$100.
6. Ryan Braun: The 2011 MVP does not have a huge number of rookie cards to choose from, but he has some very low-end releases as well as a whole bunch of nice rookie autographs. His most popular rookie autograph is his Bowman Chrome Autograph (anyone sensing a trend), but he also has a Bowman Sterling option and a Bowman Heritage Auto. (The red auto parallel /51 is in my opinion one of the underrated cards available. It is basically as rare as a gold refractor and, when found, costs a small fraction of the price.) Price of a Bowman Chrome Auto: $110–$130.
7. Clayton Kershaw: Another one whose Chrome Rookie autograph dominates the discussion, last year’s Cy Young Award winner has never posted an ERA above 3. Kershaw is also the first (and only one) on the list that has actually two Bowman Chrome autographs. While his 2006 version is the most popular, his 2008 version is a nice looking on-card autograph at a pretty reasonable price point. His 2006 BC Auto can be had in the $65–$80 range. (Interestingly his Xfractors have tended to be very cheap relative to other parallels.)
8. Troy Tulowitzki: A rare star over the last few years that does not have a Bowman Chrome RC Autograph, his only rookie autograph stems from the fairly obscure Topps Rookie Cup. (Tulowitzki’s Bowman Chrome cards are still very popular and collectible.) While the Rookie Cup cards are sticker autos, they do have a nice large picture of Troy and a bevy of parallels to satisfy rainbow collectors and those looking for more high-end options. The base version of the Topps Rookie Cup Auto can be had in the $55–$70 range.
9. Tim Lincecum: Owner of tw0 Cy Young Awards and featured on a ton of cards in 2007 (a search for Lincecum (2007, 07) nets over 600 results), his most popular offering (like so many others on the list) is his Bowman Chrome Autograph and parallels. Rare Lincecum Chrome parallels sell for as most as almost anyone who has ever had a Chrome release; though he has many other rookie autographs available—including a great looking Exquisite RC Auto /199. Chrome RC Autos sell for around $150, while the Exquisite card can be had for a little less than that.
10. Robinson Cano: While Cano had a wide variety of rookie cards produced in 2003, the rarer stuff sells really well. A Bowman Chrome Refractor BGS 10 recently sold for over $500! Raw copies of his refractor and Xfractor can run you $150 or so, so it’s not just the BGS graded ones. A relatively young star playing under the biggest spotlight in baseball can do that to a player. Cano also has just a single rookie year autograph: an insert in Bowman Heritage. It’s a condition sensitive card, and the print does not appear to be all that high as there are rarely more than a few copies on eBay at a time.