Contributor: John Dudley
Spring Training is upon us. All of your favorite players still have the chance of a career season ahead of them and even the lowliest teams are still dreaming of divisional titles. Hope abounds. It is, put simply, my favorite time of the year. From Spring Training to the first month of the season, my interest in baseball is as high as it is during the playoffs. It’s also a great time to take stock and decide which players to target, hold, or ditch this year.
There are thousands of articles written predicting how the season will go, but I’m going to restrict myself to how the hobby fate of players will unfold. So, consider this your baseball hobby preview. Last year, this column gave you some great gems with Alejandro Kirk, and Luis Arraez, and predicted big things for Aaron Judge. Of course, I was also incredibly high on Ian Anderson so they won’t all be winners.
I’m going to focus on one player on each team whose hobby future I am intrigued by. These might not be the best players on their team (they might be) but they are the ones whose 2023 I am most intrigued by. Let’s start with the western divisions. They always get put last in articles so it is time to put them at the front for once. Look for the central and eastern clubs to get their turn in the next few weeks. This year I am including predictions for each player so I can score how I did at the end of the season. I’ll note that these are predictions so we can judge me and make fun of me at the end of the year and NOT financial advice.
Houston Astros- It’s hard to choose just one Astro as there are multiple hobby-relevant guys. Will Yordan Alvarez continue to make everyone forget he is a DH with his otherworldly hitting? Will Kyle Tucker put together a full season of MVP-caliber ball? The biggest hobby questions though are about Jeremy Pena. Pena did the unthinkable and made the Astros fans forget all about Carlos Correa. Pena didn’t have the pedigree of Wader Franco and Spencer Torkelson, but he had the better rookie season. Collectors have remained skeptical even with his postseason heroics and it makes sense. Pena alternated between an MVP-type player and a borderline utility player last year. It will be interesting to see which Pena shows up or if he keeps up the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine. I’m betting he’ll be more consistent but won’t reach that All-Star level of production. My prediction is that his cards will be cheaper at the end of the season. Currently, his Topps Gold RC /2022 is going for about $40.
Los Angeles Angels- Mike Trout was quietly having a great season when an injury derailed him last year. He’ll need to be a world-beater this year to keep teammate Shohei Ohtani from being traded. My prediction is that I think we get superhuman Mike Trout for the first half of the season and that his cards will be up at the All-Star break and then there will be a correction or an injury, and his cards end the season roughly where they are now.
Oakland Athletics- I’m tempted to give the A’s roster as much thought as their front office and say nothing. I do think that they’ve become the Hallmark Channel of the MLB as once promising young stars wind up there to practice their trade and get to say they are professionals. My prediction is that there will not be a breakout hobby star on the A’s and that Pache, Langeliers, and Bleday cards end up the season priced lower than they are now.
Seattle Mariners- I didn’t highlight Julio Rodriguez last year, but I did nail staying away from Jared Kelenic as my Mariners prediction so not all bad. I won’t make that mistake twice as Julio Rodriguez begins his sophomore campaign squarely in the mix of players vying to be the face of the league. It’s not hyperbole to suggest J.Rod has a decent shot at an MVP award at only 22. He improved as the season went along and got better in the middle of a playoff race. The only concern in Seattle is how he’ll handle being the face of the franchise, but given his work with Topps, I think it is safe to say he is ready for it.
With other rookies or young players, you are projecting that they might become great. With J.Rod, he’s already there. His cards are pricy but I think they’ve got room to grow. My prediction is that he ends up with higher prices by the end of the season barring injuries. I kind of selfishly hope that he starts with a two-week slump so that I can buy some more J. Rod cards before they go nuclear.
Texas Rangers- Corey Seager is the player thought to be most affected by the shift. Given that it is banned, 2023 seems like a good year for Seager to bounce back to All-Star form. I expect Seager to perform well, but it might be too little too late. Seager needs a second peak to get back into the HOF career path. Barring a top-five MVP-type season I don’t see him getting much hobby love even with strong numbers. The prediction is that Seager cards continue to drop despite improved numbers.
Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks have a wealth of young hitters all of a sudden. Gabriel Moreno is on my sleeper list for hobby relevancy, but Corbin Carroll is the main attraction in the desert. He’s destined to headline Topps Series 2 and I fully expect him to be in the mix for most valuable hobby rookie at the end of the year. That’s saying a lot as the class includes a long list of touted prospects looking to be on top. The thing is, this is a popular opinion. Carroll’s cards are already priced highly with Bowman Chrome autos hitting $400-$500 in gem grades. I think his prices will hover around there all year but I do predict that a lot of Series 2 will be ripped as collectors go hunting for Carroll rookies.
Colorado Rockies- Ezequiel Tovar is a 21-year-old that has a reasonable shot at a 20-20 season. Toss in the fact that he plays in Colorado and the rule changes that will boost stolen bases and a 30-30 season is not that much of a pipe dream. It’s a tall ask, but it would make Tovar the first rookie to ever put up a 30-30 season. Even with collectors ignoring the Rockies, they’d take notice of that. I think Tovar’s cards end up higher than their current prices with Bowman Chrome autos still going for under $100.
Los Angeles Dodgers- The Dodgers have strangely become a black hole for the hobby. Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, and Freddie Freeman all have put up good numbers for them and all have seen their cards met with a resounding and deafening meh. They’ve become the later 90s Yankees without the likability and built-in fanbase. It’s an odd statement, but I think signing with the Dodgers might negatively affect hobby value.
The question for me is what will it take for Mookie Betts to get more hobby love? He’s had three straight All-Star seasons with two top-five MVP finishes in his stint with the Dodgers. My guess is it’ll take an actual MVP win for fans to wake up out of their slumber and realize that they are watching an all-time great. My prediction is that I think he finishes in the top five but doesn’t win and his cards stay stubbornly flat. I’ll use that time to snap up some more Betts cards.
San Diego Padres- The three-headed monster of Soto, Tatis, and Machado is sure to terrify pitchers, but it is also going to mean San Diego is the epicenter of the collecting world. Juan Soto is widely considered to have had a disappointing 2022. The thing to remember about Soto is that he is younger than the hyped rookie on all the packaging of 2023 products. He has been hampered in part due to getting pitched around, but that should be less of an issue in the stacked Padres lineup. I’m expecting to see Soto unleashed in the Padres lineup and am expecting multiple top-five MVP seasons. So is everyone else though so even All-Star seasons can be viewed as disappointing with him. He seems well set on a HOF path, but collectors want him to prove that he is truly the standout of his generation and not just another All-Star. I’m predicting he proves his worth and we’ll see an increase in Soto prices by this time next year.
San Francisco Giants- It’s hard for a pitcher to break out in terms of hobby value. Logan Webb is young enough and has performed well enough to merit attention. I featured him as my pick here last year and he met expectations. The problem is his cards barely moved in price. You can still get Topps Chrome auto rookies for under $20. I think the buying window for Webb will be long as only Cy Youngs will get his prices moving much. I’m predicting a strong season met with apathy from collectors and his prices will be steady.
That’s it for the West divisions. We’ll check in on the Central teams in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, 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.