Rarely do we come across a prospect who is not only wildly anticipated throughout their organization, but also known throughout MLB as the “next big thing” or “a prodigy”. The comparisons to Mike Trout are enough to make your head spin. Ronald Acuña Jr. was signed for $100,000 by the Braves in 2014 as an international free agent out of Venezuela. He debuted with the GCL Braves in 2015 and made his way up to Danville later that same year. In 2017, he had his first invite to major league spring training with the Braves and started turning heads with his incredible power. He is arguably the best prospect in all of baseball, although some view him as No. 2 behind Shohei Ohtani of the Angels.
From a collector’s standpoint, how does this type of hype and overall success at each level translate into baseball card sales? In this case, we will specifically look at his 1st Bowman prospect autograph. I do know the price of Acuña Bowman chrome autos have been on the rise, but it wasn’t until I did some research that I discovered how quickly and significantly that rise took place.
Bowman Baseball is a trading card product released annually that includes 1st Bowman chrome prospect autographs of approximately 50 players per year. In 2017, Bowman Baseball introduced sensation Ronald Acuña Jr’s 1st Bowman Chrome auto. This product was released April 26th, 2017 and Acuña autographs have been rapidly increasing ever since. This isn’t completely unprecedented as we have seen autograph values skyrocket overnight with other players such as Yasiel Puig, Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, and most recently Shohei Ohtani.
Thanks to Terapeak, I was able to look back and find the very first Acuña raw Chrome auto sale, which was $80 fixed on Ebay. Compared to other player’s 1st Chrome autos, this is already a strong price (I just bought a Drew Waters raw base auto for $7 yesterday).
Other first sale prices for variations included $97 for a refractor auto /499, $110 for a purple auto /250, $200 for a blue auto /150, $300 for a green (retail only) auto /99, $451 for a gold auto /50, and $800 for an orange auto /25. While all of these sales occurred the first day or two of release week, a red auto /5 was not discovered and sold until 5/12/17 for $1450!
Here is an example of a blue autograph /150.
The effects were also noticeable on the grade card market. There are several benefits to grading a card. The most obvious reason is to increase the value of the card by establishing its current condition. Although some of us don’t consider an 8 to be bad on a 1-10 scale in any other format, in the grading world anything below a BGS 9 overall card grade will hurt the value. A BGS 9 card grade is similar value to a raw version of the same card. Anything below a 10 autograph grade can also hurt the card’s value. Another benefit to card grading is to protect the actual card by putting it in what is called a slab (the plastic exterior). Once the Acuña Chrome autographs were sent to Beckett to be graded, BGS 9.5/10 and BGS 10/10 autos started popping up on Ebay. On May 11th the first BGS 9.5/10 auto sold for $135, then on May 30th the first BGS 10/10 auto sold for $270.
I spoke with Laurence Daggett, who is the owner of Frisco Sportscards and a well-known Acuña chrome auto buyer/seller within the hobby. When asked what he remembers initial prices being upon release he said,
“We purchased raw base autos for $60, refractors for $100, purples for $140-160, Blues 160-250. There were a few golds here and there that we found for 700 or less”.
Laurence has been selling as prices continue to rise, but he shared this photo during the peak of his collection. Very impressive!
Acuña initially started the 2017 season in high A with the Florida Fire Frogs, but only spent 4 weeks there before being called up to Double-A Mississippi on May 9th, 2017. At this time, we witnessed the first increase in Acuña Chrome prices. As pointed out by Terry Dulin, another Acuña collector based out of the Atlanta area, everyone was buying Nick Senzel and Kevin Maitan 1st Chrome autos out of the same product initially. As Acuña moved into the spotlight, so did his cards.
Remember that $80 raw base auto that was first to sell? By June 1st raw base sales were averaging $130. His next call-up came July 13th, 2017 when he was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett. During his first game in AAA, he went 3 for 5 with a homerun, a walk, and 2 RBIs. By July 21st, Acuña raw Chrome autos were getting $190-$200. BGS 10/10 autos jumped from $270 in May to $536 in July.
Terry Dulin confirmed this significant increase, “It seems that the biggest jump came when he got called up to Gwinnett because everyone was anticipating a possible September call up by the way he was tearing the cover off the ball.”
As we all know, he was not called up to Atlanta in September and finished out his 2017 season in Gwinnett. His card prices continued to steadily increase and a raw sold for $277 on 9/1/17. Arizona Fall League didn’t do much for his sales numbers. The next large increase came at the end of Jan/beginning of Feb, which I assume coincided with the announcement that he would be joining big league camp again as a non-roster invitee in spring training 2018. By then, you couldn’t get a raw Acuña base auto for less than $380.
During 2018 spring training, he once again excelled and Acuña hype was in full swing. On 3/17/18 there was a $425 sale and on 3/19/18 there was a $435 sale, both for a raw base auto. This is already 5 times the cost from release week pricing!
Most of us anticipated his call up in the middle of April rather than Opening Day due to major league rules. Terry pointed out that typically players who are not included on the Opening Day roster after spring training see a minor decline, but that was not the case for Acuña. As of April 3rd, the last 3 raw Acuña chrome autos sold for $565, $608, and $585!
As for graded Acuña base autos, BGS 9.5/10 went from $135 to currently $850. Similarly BGS 10/10 autos increased to $966 from $270 back in May 2017. The last black label BGS 10/10 base auto sold for a whopping $2846 just this week!
Where will prices go once he is called up to Atlanta? Although it’s hard to say for sure, both Laurence and Terry agree that there will be an initial jump between 10%-20%, but for prices to continue to go up he will need to blow everyone’s mind on the field (which we hope he does!).
Some of the craziest sales are BGS 10/10 black label colored refractors (essentially a card in perfect condition). While attending NSCC (National Sports Collector’s Convention) this past August in Chicago, IL Terry had a gold shimmer (/50) black label for sale that I was able to see in person (photo below). The only gold shimmer black label Ebay sale was on January 28th, 2018 for $7200 via auction!
I asked which player Laurence and Terry would compare Acuña’s 1st Bowman chrome auto sales to and here is what they had to say.
“Oscar Taveras is the best parallel of how their prices started and eventually went crazy in the same season. Taveras started at about half because cards were cheaper then and there were more base autos.” -Laurence Daggett
“Based on MLB writers comparisons and what I’ve seen thus far his cards and hype is that of Mike Trout even. If he is anywhere near the type player Trout is then look for his cards to continue to climb a little more as the season progresses. “ -Terry Dulin
For my avid card collectors, the Superfractor auto 1/1 was graded a 9/10 on September 1st, 2017 by Beckett, however I have never seen it for sale. I can’t even imagine what that would sell for in today’s market!
Looking for a more affordable Acuña autograph?
*Note* All sales data was collected via Terapeak.com or Ebay.com
Chrome- A baseball card with a shiny coating
Refractor- A baseball card with a reflective shiny coating that presents a rainbow when held in light
Base auto- Non-numbered autograph
Raw- A card that has not been graded
BGS- Beckett Grading Services
1st Bowman Chrome Auto- The very first Bowman autograph of a player/prospect, considered the true rookie autograph
9.5/10- A card that has been graded a 9.5 with a 10 autograph grade, considered Gem Mint
10/10- A card that has been graded a 10 with a 10 autograph grade, considered Pristine
Black Label- A graded card that is considered perfect in which all 4 subgrades (edges, corners, centering, and surface) and the autograph grade are all a 10
Fixed- A card that was sold via a “Buy It Now” listing on Ebay
Auction- A card that was sold via an auction listing on Ebay
Print run- the number of cards for that variation (Ex. gold /50 means there are 50 total gold autographs in existence)