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Re-entering the Hobby: Previewing 2019 Bowman Baseball

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A new, fairly important set releases tomorrow. Here are my initial thoughts that we will look back on later and laugh at.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

For those that are not aware, this is a series I started a few weeks ago about my foray into the baseball card collecting world after a long absence. If you want to read about my decision to do this and why, you can look at this link right here. Also, this post is a bit lengthy as it has some primer elements to it. Subsequent updates won’t be nearly as wordy.

Normally, these articles are accompanied by a video where I give updates on my collecting and talk about releases in the past tense where I talk about what I DID get in a set. Such things are fun because, at the end of the day, what most folks that collect care the most about is what is actually in their possession and what IS opened.

However, at least for me, part of the catharsis that this hobby gives me is the research beforehand. See, I can’t just buy whatever I want and spend money on this hobby left and right. I have a family and bills and all of that stuff and I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but writing here is not making me rich even when combined with my day job. I am as middle class as they come.

As a result, I need to be judicious with my spending habits. While this can be seen as a burden for those that just want all the Ronald Acuna autographs their hearts desire, doing the work to find where value lies and the best bang for one’s buck is actually a good bit of the fun for me. One, it keeps me from doing unusually stupid things with my hobby money (I have still managed to make a couple of poor decisions fwiw), but also because it helps with my understanding of how the hobby works and trying to game the system to my favor as much as I can with a hobby that can have as much RNG as baseball card collecting can have.

To that end, this is going to be a primer on a set that I have been saving and preparing for in 2019 Bowman Baseball which releases this Wednesday (4/17/19). While this primer is going to be Braves-centric in a lot of ways because that is who I personally collect, it will cover the other parts of this set that I am taking into consideration when I am making my decisions. Hopefully this gives you a window into how I prepare for set releases (in particular big sets) and help make some sense of a complex, but rewarding part of the hobby.

Bowman 1sts are a player’s true rookie card and that matters the most

This was a hard part for me (and a lot of people who have come back to the hobby for that matter) to wrap my head around. We all can understand what a player’s rookie card is because it has the RC stamp on the front and it is printed usually during the year that they debut. For a long time, a player’s rookie card was the most sought after amongst base cards because it is only printed for that specific year which added to the appeal and value of the card.

However, in recent years, Bowman has turned that paradigm on it’s head a bit...kind of. Bowman has, for some time now, been the set which heavily features prospects and Topps made the smart decision to denote when a player gets there first Bowman card (in most cases, that player’s first card in a licensed product period) with a big “1st” on the card itself. Things get a little weird when a player has a Bowman 1st in one set but doesn’t have an autograph until a later set, but that is the gist.

Bowman’s 1st have skyrocketed in value in recent years as more and more collectors treat them as a player’s true rookie card even though it was from before their major league debuts. If you can get past that, it really isn’t that dissimilar than some rookie cards historically having significantly more value than others. Ken Griffey Jr. has a few rookie cards, but the one that has the most value and is the most desirability by a mile is his 1989 Upper Deck rookie which is one of the more iconic cards from the last 40 years or so. The same principle applies here even though one has to get past the fact that these guys are prospects at the time the card is printed.

For 2019 Bowman, the two big Bowman 1sts that everyone is chasing after are Wander Franco and Joey Bart. Franco is already among the top prospects in the game after being a high profile international free agent signing for the Rays. He does have some autographs in some unlicensed products like Elite Extra Edition, but this is his first licensed Topps autograph. As a result, the Rays are going for CRAZY prices in group breaks right off the rip. Bart was the 2nd overall pick in the draft last year, but was not included in the 2018 Bowman Draft set (another important source of Bowman 1sts) other than as a box topper. Since he has a Bowman 1st auto in this product, the Giants are getting bought up with the quickness as well. Other guys are showing early signs of being chased after as well including Marco Luciano (another Giant), Julio Pablo Martinez, Julio Rodriguez, Victor Victor Mesa, and Seuly Matias....but Bart and Franco are definitely the big two.

Doing research

But Eric, where does one find all of this information? I’m glad you asked, faithful reader, because honestly this was the biggest learning curve for me. Finding good and useful information on the internets is always tough especially starting out because there is so much information out there and a lot of it is either hard to parse/find and a lot of it is, well, bad. Here is what I generally used.

Cardboard Connection is a super easy resource to find out not only when sets are being released and to get a general idea of what the cards will look like and what to expect, but when the set’s checklist does come out (typically a couple days to a week before the set is released), CC will generally have it on their site fairly quickly. Sometimes the info is a little bit off, but for the most part it is correct and organized reasonable well to where I can at least Control+F to find what I am looking for.

For this particular set, I was made aware of a huge 22 case (there has since be an additional 50 caser as well) player break which used the Blowout Cards forum as an auction for each specific player in the set. While I did not participate (I don’t have much interest in collecting on that scale right now and some of the prices were frankly crazy), the results of that break gave me an idea of who is highly desired by the hobby right now. Case in point: the right to all Wander Franco autographs (the non-autographs were a separate listing) out of those 22 cases went for a staggering $6,850. That tells you all you need to know about how highly sought after his cards from this set are right now. You can few the results of the auction and the thread overall right here.

Finally, we have Groupbreak Checklists which has been a more recent addition to the sites I look at when sets are about to come out. It isn’t as quickly updated as Cardboard Connection is when checklists come out, but they are still fairly quick and the one thing they do better than anyone I have found is sort the relevant information. Each set will have spreadsheet that organize a set’s checklist by team in various formats that are easy to navigate and look at. For someone like me that first wants to see the strength of a given team in a product and know what is possible and what to look for, this has been invaluable. For the 2019 Bowman checklist from them, you can view it right here.

After a set releases, more and more useful resources become available especially when it comes to recognizing photo variations and unnumbered short prints, in particular from Beckett. However, since this is more of a preview than anything, we will cover that stuff later.

So what about the Braves in 2019 Bowman?

This was the million dollar question for me. I didn’t expect the Braves to be super strong in this product because most of the Braves’ top prospects already have Bowman 1st autos from previous sets. I was hopeful that guys like Tristan Beck, C.J. Alexander, and Freddy Tarnok would have Bowman’s 1st autos. More importantly from a price perspective for group breaks, I was also expecting that Ronald Acuna Jr. would not be in the product in a significant way as that leads to a big difference in price.

Unfortunately, that isn’t exactly what happened. None of the Bowman 1sts I was coveting were included as the only Bowman 1st autographs for the Braves in this set are Derian Cruz and Isranel Wilson. Derian is currently still in extended spring training and has yet to play above low-A and Izzy is a player we like a lot still, but has a long way to go before he is a prospect worth hanging your hat on. There are also two Braves rookie autographs in Kyle Wright and Kolby Allard with Wright being the best of the four base autographs for the Braves in the entire set. A large swath of the Braves’ top prospects do have base cards in this set without autographs, so if you are just wanting to buy a few packs and pick up some Braves players...you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Where things get weird, though, is with the insert autographs (autographs of cards that are generally of special insert cards in packs). These generally occur far less frequently in products than the base card autographs and are usually numbered. However, the Braves have over a dozen different insert autographs in this set with a bunch of their top pitching prospects, Cristian Pache, AND Ronald Acuna Jr. being included. This adds some value to the Braves overall in the product, but is a risky proposition given the cards’ rarity. This could change drastically if we see insert autographs occur more frequently than usual, but generally speaking that won’t happen.

So what is the plan?

Well despite the Braves’ lack of strength in the base cards, I will be buying the Braves in a few group breaks with hobby boxes and jumbo boxes being represented. I want to see if insert autos occur in jumbos or hobby boxes more frequently in one or the other anyways and trying to get at least one each of the four base autos that the Braves have in this product has some appeal for me. If history is any indicator, I will for sure hit a Kolby Allard rookie autograph as I have hit one in literally every 2019 product I have bought into this year except for 2019 Donruss.

However, I don’t expect the chase to last for very long after release. Autographs of Derian and Izzy are not likely to be super sought after so if I miss, I can pick them up after the fact without breaking the bank and picking up parallels of the top prospects’ base cards doesn’t hold a ton of appeal for me unless the pictures are particularly good/interesting.

One thing I do plan on doing is looking to invest a bit to try and get autographs that I can flip to turn into more Braves cards. I cannot see a world where I enter a random teams break (where everyone pays the same flat entry and then a list of teams is randomized and you get whoever you draw) because this product is not cheap this year so you going to be paying $90-$100 per slot starting out and likely to get more expensive after that. The Rays and Giants are also likely out for yours truly as they are just too expensive for me. However, there are some teams that may end up being interesting value plays with the Rangers, Mariners, and Marlins currently on my list of teams I am looking at.

The next article you see from me will be the results of all of this work. In addition to some group breaks, I do also plan on buying some Bowman retail product. While the odds of getting anything particularly good are greatly diminished in retail products, there are also some retail exclusive autographs (such as paper autographs of Joey Bart, Jarred Kelenic, and others) that will be desirable....plus I just love opening packs. Until next time...