Contributor: John Dudley
The Central teams are stuck in the middle in my 2023 baseball preview. Last week was the Western teams’ turn and if you haven’t seen it you can check it out here. While they are in the middle, I’ll make sure to give them the full attention they deserve. I’m highlighting one player for each team that I am interested in from a hobby perspective this year. These might not be the best players on these teams but they are the ones with the most compelling hobby storylines. I’ll also use my crystal ball to predict if these players’ cards will go up, down, or just stay the same during the season. Remember, these predictions are for fun and not any kind of investment advice.
Chicago White Sox
The Sox are full of players that have the word “if” attached to them. Basically, they have hobby value if they can stay healthy. Luis Robert might be king of the ifs. He has the talent to be mentioned amongst the Acunas, Devers, and Guerreros of the world if he can stay on the field. Collectors have taken a wait-and-see approach to Robert as his cards remain reasonably priced with 2020 Topps Chrome autos going for around $115. If he plays more than 140 games this year, I think that will look like a bargain.
Andres Gimenez put together the quietest MVP-caliber season of a 23-year-old in the history of baseball. He finished 6th in MVP voting and yet you can still find rookie autos of his for under $20. With the Guardian’s lineup suddenly looking feisty, I wouldn’t count on the secret not getting out much longer. My prediction is that you absolutely will not be able to find Gimenez rookie autos for under $20 by the time the season ends.
Riley Greene is the newest potential Tiger savior. He struggled last year against MLB pitching but almost everyone is writing that off due to his recovery from an injury. Before the injury, he looked like one of the most impressive hitters in the minors and I’d bet on him returning to form. He’s not completely overlooked in the deep 2023 class, but his prices might be higher if he weren’t surrounded by such a strong class. His 2023 Topps Gold Rookie /2023 has dipped under $30 and I expect it to keep dropping for a bit. My prediction is that you’ll still be able to pick up this card for around the same price at the end of the year. Greene will have to put a strong season for that to be the case and I think that he will.
Kansas City Royals
Vinnie Pasquantino is the most discussed underrated rookie in quite some time. He’s not a true sleeper when he’s on everyone’s sleeper list for the hobby and fantasy baseball. Still, it’s not too late to jump on the Vinnie bandwagon. Even with a decent amount of publicity, his cards are more affordable than some others in the 2023 class and you can still find great BIN deals from folks who just don’t know yet. His Topps Gold Rookie /2023 is selling between $10 and $20 but a few have gone for even less. If you are patient, there are deals to be had. My prediction is that all collectors will know Pasquantino by the end of the year and that this card will be worth a bit more than $20.
Carlos Correa’s offseason was topsy-turvy, but I like where he ended up. I think he’ll produce well and continue his march straight to the Hall of Fame. That said, I’m not sure he’ll get much hobby love playing on this Twins team barring sparking them to a postseason appearance. That’s certainly plausible but I’m predicting another All-Star season for Correa that will get largely ignored. His 2015 Topps Chrome Refractor Auto (released in 2016) goes for around $100. My guess is that it will still be around that price at the end of the season.
As a Braves fan, I hate writing about Dansby Swanson on any other team. Swanson should have a chance to standout on the Cubs roster. He seemed destined to be a fan favorite with the Braves but never a top three player on the team. The Cubs are also one of the better landing spots in terms of adding hobby attention so along with a chance to be the guy in Chicago, Swanson should see some added attention from Cubs fans. My prediction is that Swanson’s cards will finish the year up from their current prices as he establishes himself with the Cubs.
The Reds most interesting hitters will likely start the season in the minors. They do have a trio of young pitchers they are counting on to lead them to the postseason maybe not this season, but soon. Hunter Greene had a very brief moment in the hobby sun but has returned to pitcher pricing (low). Outside of throwing the ball really really fast, Greene did not have a great rookie season. Nick Lodolo had more success and I think is more likely to outshine Greene again this year. My prediction here is that Lodolo cards will end the year valued more than Greene’s.
Is this the year the hobby realizes that the Brewers have three amazing starters? Probably not, but Corbin Burnes is way overdue for some hobby love. Last year he proved that he is the rarest of all players: a Cy Young-caliber pitcher who can put up 200 innings. If Burnes can do that again, he moves into the discussion for best pitcher in the generation after the one with Greinke, Kershaw, Scherzer, and Verlander. I think he does but I also think it will take another season to really move the hobby needle. The bias against pitchers is strong and I expect slow gains for Burnes this year.
The Pirates aren’t given much hobby attention, and rightfully so. Ke’Bryan Hayes is doing his best to get noticed though. He’s going to put up WAR for sure. The question is if he can put up enough to get noticed in Pittsburgh. His age is also not doing him any favors in the hobby. Auto rookies sell for around $25 but they are not plentiful suggesting that many are sitting on their Hayes cards waiting for a new team or undeniably awesome performances. My prediction is that we’ve hit the floor for Hayes pricing but I don’t think we’ll see much uptick this year. I’m predicting Hayes prices to be flat.
The Cardinals are stacked with outfielders that could break out. The question is if one of them will finally do it or will the Cardinals give up and turn one of the roster spots over to Jordan Walker. In a not too hard prediction, I am going to say Walker ends the year as a starting Cardinals outfielder and as the most valuable one hobby wise. Walker is another poorly kept secret and his performance in Spring Training means everyone knows about him. As a bonus prediction, I predict he’ll be the face of 2024 Topps Series 1 and we won’t see true rookies until then. That’ll give his Bowman cards more time to take off.
That’s it for the Central divisions. We’ll wrap up the MLB Preview with the Eastern teams next week. 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.