Hobby Hotspot Archive

Research Previous Hobby Trends

Date: May 4, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Length: 1941 Words
Reading Time: ~10 Minutes

March 2024

Welcome to the latest column from RIPPED senior writer Greg Bates. Each month, he examines The Hobby’s current and emerging trends and offers expert opinions on all things collecting.

Opening Day for Major League Baseball is always special.

Every team starts with a clean slate—the eternal optimist baseball fan thinks their favorite club will go 162-0. It’s fun to see the veterans get another season on the diamond to prove their worth. For the prospects who earned a roster spot during spring training, it’s fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Prospects come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Most top prospects were high draft picks or coveted international signees. But there are always some that slip through the cracks. Mike Piazza is one of the best examples. The Los Angeles Dodgers legend went from the 1,390th player selected in the 1988 MLB Draft — six picks from going undrafted — to a Hall of Fame career as one of the best catchers ever.

It’s become a common trend for collectors to latch onto a prospect early in their minor-league career before they’ve even cracked a big-league roster. Collectors amass a bunch of the prospect’s cards at a lower price point and then hope they make a splash in the majors. This approach is referred to as prospecting.

Hobby Hotspot | Prospecting for Gold

Prospecting, to a lesser degree, first became popular in the early 1990s. But it really surged when COVID-19 put a shot in the arms of collectors, investors, and flippers. First Bowman cards of prospects are all the rage.

Unlike 30 years ago, it’s easy these days to find out almost anything about a prospect. Multiple times a year, MLB Pipeline releases its Top 100 list of the best up-and-coming players in baseball. There are also Top 30 prospect lists for every MLB organization.

The prognosticators who compile the top 100 prospects lists continue to do better each passing year. Just look at 2022, when Bobby Witt Jr. was the No. 1-ranked prospect, Adley Rutschman was No. 2, Julio Rodriguez was No. 3, and Anthony Volpe was No. 8. These are four young players who are rapidly ascending to be the new faces of the game.

Since 1999, MLB has showcased its best prospects by running the Futures Game every year. Always scheduled a couple of days before the All-Star Game, the game’s top youngsters play against each other on the world stage.

Knowing the popularity of prospects, MLB took it one step further this year. The league unveiled “Spring Breakout” this spring training. Each MLB club was able to select around 25 of its top prospects to compete against another squad’s elite youngsters. Every team got to compete from March 14-17, as some players made a name for themselves. The main event featured the Baltimore Orioles vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates: No. 1 overall pick from the 2022 Draft and top overall prospect Jackson Holliday of the Orioles vs. the No. 1 overall pick from the 2023 Draft and No. 3 prospect, pitcher Paul Skenes of the Pirates. It was a prospectors matchup made in heaven. Skenes won the showdown, striking out the 20-year-old middle infielder. But both players acted the part. They will face off a number of times once they both reach the big leagues. That will be must-watch TV when it goes down.

Holliday and Skenes didn’t make their teams’ respective Opening Day rosters. However, several other top-10 prospects made their MLB debuts on the first day of the season. The Milwaukee Brewers threw 20-year-old Jackson Chourio in center field and let the No. 2 overall prospect do his thing. The Texas Rangers, coming off an impressive World Series run last season, promoted their top two prospects. Outfielders Evan Carter and Wyatt Langford are the Nos. 5 and 6 prospects in baseball, respectively.

I believe the 1st Bowman cards of Chourio, Carter, and Langford will be hot ticket items for quite some time. Keep an eye on these youngsters. You won’t be disappointed.

Hitting a Home Run

Over the years, I’ve dabbled in prospecting. It’s fun to focus on a young player and track his progress. You’re hoping and praying for the kid to be the next Mike Trout or Ken Griffey Jr.

While working on a story for Sports Collectors Digest on prospects to watch entering the 2019 MLB season, I spoke with a prospects guru. He told me about a special 18-year-old in the Seattle Mariners’ organization named Julio Rodriguez. The guru said the Dominican Republic product was impressive on and off the field and was going to be “really, really good.” Rodriguez wasn’t even ranked as a top 150 prospect at that point in his career.

I soaked in this insider insight from the guru like it was gospel, and went on eBay a few months later to look up Rodriguez cards. During a quick search, I realized Rodriguez’s 1st Bowman — a 2019 Bowman Chrome Prospects Auto — was the way to go. I looked up the PSA population report to discover there were only 162 PSA 10s of that card (it’s up to 249 as of this writing). I pulled the trigger on the sale. Fast-forward to April 2022, when the highly-touted Rodriguez made his MLB debut. Collectors were buzzing about his talent.

Hobby Hotspot | From the Mailbag

Thanks to everyone who emailed me to share their stories about my previous column. There was certainly a hodgepodge of topics and information sent my way. Let’s dive in.

“Not a hobby trend, but you should reprint these cards. So cool.”

– K. O’Sullivan

The 1989 Bowman card featuring Ken Griffey Jr. and Sr. was a beautiful design. The father-son duo made a big impact in The Hobby. Mr. O’Sullivan, I’ve passed your request along. So keep an eye out; your wish might just come true.

“I see you like writing articles about collections.”

– J. Lawton

This card collector went on to talk about his Albert Pujols rookie card collection. He said he’s picked up 187 of the known 197 cards. Impressive stuff. At RIPPED, we love talking about collections, collectors, and their PC passions.

Drop me a line at gbates@collectfanatics.com and let me know your tales about prospecting. I’d love to share some collectors’ thoughts in my column next month.

Fanatics Collectibles senior writer Greg Bates writes a monthly column exploring the trends of The Hobby. Prior to joining Fanatics, Bates was a freelance writer for 10 years for Sports Collectors Digest.

February 2024

February was a fun month to be involved in The Hobby.

In particular, it was great to be a baseball fan. With 2024 Topps Series 1 dropping on Valentine’s Day, love filled the air with Elly De La Cruz rookie cards, Shohei Ohtani in a Dodgers uniform, a special insert set of the Kid, and even celebrity Kevin Hart making a “small” appearance.

What really resonated with me over the last few weeks is that the Flagship product release is almost like a second Christmas for baseball card nuts. It’s tradition. It’s Americana. The set holds a special place in collectors’ hearts, especially for father Barry and his son Ryan Alick. I talked to the enthusiastic duo a week and a half before Series 1 was released. You could tell in their voices that the Flagship brings immense joy to their lives. Product release is something the guys anxiously await all year. The Alicks celebrate release day — like it should be recognized as a national holiday, similar to Festivus — every year by getting together and ripping jumbo boxes all day. Man, that sounds pretty sweet.  

Collectors’ habits for Series 1 run a gamut of directions. Some piece together an entire set. Others will patiently wait for the factory set to be released. Some will pick up team sets. Others will go after the players with the coveted “RC” plastered on the front of the card. There’s not a wrong way to collect Series 1. Just have fun.

As a kid embedded in the middle of the card craze of the late 1980s/early 1990s, Topps was always my go-to product. It was a routine I got accustomed to, heading to the grocery store for a couple of packs or making a special trip to a hobby shop after school. The first set I remember hand-collating was 1986 Topps. The black and white borders with the prominent color-matched team name at the top of the card is a fascinating design. It’s burned in my memory. Growing up in Minnesota, I was a diehard fan of the Minnesota Twins and an even bigger Kirby Puckett fan and collector. The ’86 Topps card of Puckett taking a mighty swing while wearing the Twins’ beautiful baby blue uniforms scratched me right where I itched.

My heavy collecting stage stretched until 1993. One set I cherished was ’89 Flagship. The 792-card set was a marathon to hand-collate. But I got it done. The main cards that have stood out to me for 35 years — has it really been that long?!?! — are the Future Stars of Gregg Jefferies and Gary Sheffield, as well as the #1 Draft Picks of Jim Abbott and Robin Ventura. That Ventura has always stuck with me. A few years before Ventura was nearly TKO’d by Nolan Ryan on a pitcher’s mound, he had this iconic card. I think it originally captured my attention because of the flashy, bright orange Oklahoma State University jersey Ventura was wearing.

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Photo of the author’s PC.

That trip down memory lane leads me to this year’s Flagship product. With it being the 35th anniversary of the ’89 release, Topps took advantage of that opportunity. The 2024 Series 1 product includes inserts that use the 1989 design, which features a mix of current players and retired stars. Along with the base cards, there are parallel, Foilboard, and on-card autographed variations. While ripping some Series 1 packs a few days ago, I pulled a Byron Buxton ’89 base card. What a pretty-looking specimen.

I also really like the Celebration of the Kid inserts in Series 1. It’s a 24-card set featuring Ken Griffey Jr. in various action shots from the three teams he played for during his illustrious 22-year MLB career. Of course, Griffey’s first Topps card was in 1989 — acting as the focal point of the Traded set.

New direction in hobby shops

The Hobby is in a great place. That was utterly apparent by the collectors that showed up in droves at their local card shops on Topps Hobby Rip Night on February 24.

Over 400 stores nationwide participated in the second Rip Night event. Two shops showcasing their impressive new digs were CardsHQ in Atlanta and AA Mint Cards in Cooper City, Florida.

These two shops have been open for less than a month. They are the latest to grasp the concept of modernization in The Hobby — modeling their approach after Apple Stores. The shops feature state-of-the-art layout and design with heavy emphasis on customer service and easier customer access to such areas as card prices; this is just what is needed to keep The Hobby moving in the right direction.

Piece of the Game in Wappingers Falls, New York, and MINT Co., Ltd., in Japan are two shops that paved the way in modernizing the look and feel of hobby shops.

I love the new hobby shops. They are clean, easy to maneuver the show floor, and feature cool innovations. It’s the wave of the future.

Drop me a line at gbates@collectfanatics.com and let me know your favorite new hobby trends.

Fanatics Collectibles senior writer Greg Bates will write a monthly column exploring the trends of The Hobby. Prior to joining Fanatics, Bates was a freelance writer for Sports Collectors Digest for 10 years.


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