Contributor: John Dudley
2023 Topps Series 1 is out which means a new rookie class to evaluate. Luckily, this might be the deepest rookie class since 2018. Note I said deepest, not the best, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Topps did everyone a favor and did not reserve many players for their debut in Series 2 (looking at you Corbin Carroll and Francisco Alvarez). The result is a product that is being ripped at prodigious rates with collectors who are overwhelmingly positive about the release. Everyone is buzzing about this class, including the Card Shop Live Instagram account, wondering who will be the top rookie.
Since release, 14!!! different rookies have had their Topps Gold parallels sell for over $30. Last year, that list would’ve been maybe four or five players long. This year Michael Harris, Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman, Riley Greene, Nolan Gorman, Miguel Vargas, Vaughn Grissom, Brayan Bello, Oswald Peraza, Triston Casas, Christopher Morel, Brett Baty, Vinnie Pasquantino, Hunter Brown have all seen decent sales. That’s a deep list and several others warrant attention too.
Unlike last year, the rookies in Series 1 are young (not many 26-year-olds here), primarily hitters, and much more heralded overall. It’s an embarrassment of riches that poses a wonderful question: with so many rookies to choose from, who is the best? That’s where this week’s column lends a hand as I set out to choose my Top 10 Topps Series 1 Rookies. Importantly rookies had to have base rookies in Series 1 to be considered.
Honorable Mention: Brett Baty, Brayan Bello, Hunter Brown, Shea Langeliers, Christopher Morel, Gabriel Moreno, Liover Peguero, Nick Pratto, Lenyn Sosa, Travis Swaggerty, Miguel Vargas
The honorable mention list is strong in and of itself. This class is 20 deep and some outside my top 20 still wouldn’t shock me if they became well-known. With a class this deep, the odds of getting a parallel of a decent rookie are higher than it’s been in recent memory. Let’s check in on the ten I want to find in my breaks.
Top 10 Potential
10. Vaughn Grissom- Grissom had to fight off Brett Baty for this spot but it was a tough one. I try to keep my Braves fandom out of rankings, but it might’ve helped settle the tie here. What set Grissom slightly ahead is the fact that he has quickly established himself as a Braves fan favorite. That means he can retain hobby relevancy with slightly lower levels of production.
9. Gabriel Moreno- Moreno’s got a great bat and seems likely to flirt with .300 every year. The questions are if his power will develop and if he sticks at catcher. Throw in playing for the Diamondbacks and I can’t rank Moreno higher than ninth, but he’d be in my top three for most likely to win a batting title.
8. Triston Casas- The man with the swankiest nails in the game, has the fans in Boston chomping at the bit. He’s hit at every level of the minors and I wouldn’t bet against him in the majors. The one downside that he shares with the next entrant on the list is he might get pulled early if he struggles initially. Remember, there were lots of calls to send Julio Rodriguez down to the minors last year after his slow start. A more impatient team like the Red Sox or Yankees might have done so.
7. Oswald Peraza- The hobby is always on the lookout for the next big Yankee star and Peraza looks like he has a shot at that moniker. The big question with him is if he can win the shortstop position. The Yankees are flooded with young infield prospects and not enough spots for them all. Peraza is the frontrunner but a strong spring training from Anthony Volpe could have him looking for playing time at a new position. He’s a top 5 talent, but the uncertainty around his playing time has him on the outside looking in.
6. Nolan Gorman- I was surprised to put Gorman here but it is more a sign of the interest I have in the seven guys above him than a slight on him. He’s got a great situation in St. Louis and if he produces, being a Cardinal mainstay has long been a path to hobby relevance. I could see this pick being used to mock me in the future easily. Gorman was a bit pedestrian overall in his MLB action last year but he had flashes of brilliance and 14 HR in under 300 at-bats as a 22-year-old is a compelling reason to snag some Gorman cards. He’s also got a lot of buzz as 2023’s potential breakout player.
5. Vinnie Pasquantino- Pasquantino is bound to be the most controversial placement in any rookie list this year with the true believers wanting him ranked first and the naysayers not wanting him in the top 20. The Vice President put up numbers last season that can’t be ignored or written off as a fluke. He’s one of the keys to a young Royals lineup that has the potential to be surprisingly relevant. I believe the production and am hoarding all the Pasquantino cards I hit.
4. Riley Greene- Greene is on a ton of Fantasy Baseball sleeper lists. In fact, he’s on so many that it makes one question the meaning of the word sleeper. I’d argue that any of the top six guys on this list should not be on any sleeper lists but Greene is still poised to break out this year with a full MLB campaign. The big question is if his weak performance in the majors was the product of injury (I think so) or indicative of his true talent. I’m betting on his past performance in the minors where he was considered one of the very top hitting prospects. Some might think Greene is ranked too high at number four but I’m betting he bounces back fully from his broken foot and becomes the star the Tigers need.
3. Adley Rutschman- If Rutschman were an average fielding first baseman, I’d rate him higher, but one has to take into account the uncertainty around how Rutschman will be used in the future. Will he be a catcher long-term or will he switch to another position and extend his career a bit? Getting more years in will be key for Rutschman as his late start (due as much to Covid as service-time manipulation) will also hurt his long-term value. It’s not his fault, but he’ll be rightly compared to Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Ronald Acuna Jr. as players around the same age. He’s talented enough that he’s got high value despite the reasonable hobby knocks against him.
2. Gunnar Henderson- Adley is on the packaging for Series 1 but collectors have chosen Gunnar as the most valuable young Orioles star. It makes sense. Gunnar is four years younger and is not saddled with potential career-shortening catcher duties. He had a strong call-up last year after smashing minor-league pitching all year. The only real knock on him as a prospect is that he’s on the Orioles but with their fun young lineup that might not even be a burden anymore.
1. Michael Harris- The only stat that matters for me with Harris is barely-held chuckles. The Braves execs are well-versed in talking about highly rated prospects, but every time Harris gets mentioned they all struggle not to break like Jimmy Fallon on SNL The brass look like a third grader getting away with something in school every time they are asked about Harris. Simply put, they think he is special in a way that I’ve never seen before. Given that they’ve had Albies, Acuna, Riley, and Swanson among others recently and you realize how special Harris must be to be the only one to inspire such mirth. I’m a believer and judging by early pricing it looks like I’m not the only one.
The class is deep enough that I wouldn’t think it strange for others to have players from my honorable mention section in their top five or even at the top. Baty, for example, makes sense to me anywhere from one to fifteen depending on the day and my mood. With a class this solid with other blue-chippers coming soon, this should make for a fun year. Also, if you haven’t checked out the insanely useful Card Shop Live app, what are you waiting for? It’s great for breaks, personal rips, singles, and hobby info. The breakers are all heavily vetted so no shenanigans here.
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