Listen to Episode 3 of the Rookie Card Review Sports Card Podcast at Anchor.FM
2020 Bowman is the most anticipated baseball hobby product of the year. 2019 Bowman was one of the most successful sets of all time, and 2018 Bowman is full of strong cards as well. But when you look at preorder prices for 2020 Bowman, you may be surprised just how close the 2018 and 2019 Bowman sealed product still is in price. Will the sealed products of any of these sets end up doubling - or even tripling - in price like 2017 Bowman sealed product has thanks to Cody Bellinger's MVP season?
Listen to Episode 3 of the Rookie Card Review Sports Card Podcast at Anchor.FM
The Rookie Card Review sports card podcast talks about perhaps the best Topps Opening Day set ever in the 2020 release. Of course, we talk the Luis Robert rookie card and much more in this in-depth look at the 2020 Topps Opening Day card market.
In our first #RookieCardReview Podcast episode, we take a look at the March 2020 release of 2020 Donruss Baseball. It's a set chock full of rookie cards and rookie autograph cards, but are they going to hold up in the long run?
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While Jonathan Villar is better remembered as an Astro, Brewer, and Oriole, his career began as a Philadelphia Phillie. That much is obvious from his 1st Bowman Chrome card from 2010. But, the speedy Villar who had a little pop never played a regular season game for the Phillies. He was traded along with Anthony Gose and J.A. Happ for Roy Oswalt.
That trade worked out OK for both sides. But, while he looked just as ready to contribute from the look of his 2011 Bowman Chrome card with the Astros, Villar got off to a slow start with his new team in his first two stints in 2013 and 2014. But, he started putting things together in 2015, when he was traded after the season to the Milwaukee Brewers for pitcher Cy Sneed.
It wouldn’t exactly be a trade the Astros would regret. Of course, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman would shine for the Astros. While Cy Sneed had a decent 2019 MLB debut and is still part of the Astros plans, Villar exploded in 2016 for the Brewers. But Villar put up impressive numbers for the Brew Crew: 19 HR and 62 SB with a decent 285.369.457 slash line. Unfortunately, Villar stumbled in 2017 and wasn’t much better in 2018 until the Trade Deadline.
In one of the best trades the Orioles made in a long time, the Brewers and O’s swapped second baseman in a classic “change-of-scenery” trade. The guy the Orioles gave up, Jonathan Schoop, was a disaster in Milwaukee before becoming a free agent at season’s end. Schoop would turn things around in Minnesota in 2019, but of course, that still left the Brewers on the losing end of this trade.
Villar would finish 2018 well for the Orioles and turn in a career year with the O’s in 2019. It wasn’t completely out of nowhere. Villar had a strong breakout year in 2016 with the Brewers with 19 HR and 62 SB (77.55% success rate.) He has just the 2020 season left to play before reaching free agency. The question was how much of it will he spend with the Orioles? It turns out it will be none of it.
Jonathan Villar Goes to Miami
Steamer 2020 Projection .261/.330/.422, 20 HR, 82 R, 70 RBI, 32 SB
The Marlins made a shrewd move, giving up just a potential backend starter for the rights to Villar in 2020. While at first glance it seems like a strange move, there’s a lot of sense in it. It was a clearly spendthrift move by the Orioles, but the Marlins clearly saw his value. Not only is he instantly one of the Marlins best players, but he helps solidify an uncertain second base and shortstop situation. It’s also likely he plays some third base for Miami, as well.
Being that it’s a walk year for the infielder with a great power/speed skill set, many teams would be happy to have him. It would certainly be good for his “hobby cred” to go to a contender. It’s likely the Marlins are taking this into account - thinking they can get someone better than who they gave up in this deal at the Trade Deadline.
In the meantime, the Marlins get a good player and don’t really mind his salary to keep an improving team respectable. The Marlins also picked up Jesus Aguilar, so this is a team that may not be trying to contend, but it is trying to move forward. Also, while it may seem cliche, Villar and Aguilar could serve as mentors for the Marlins’ young talent like Isan Diaz, Harold Ramirez, Lewis Brinson, and others.
While Villar’s first rookie was the aforementioned 2010 Bowman Chrome, his first auto - with the Astros - was in 2011 Bowman Chrome. You can get the autos for under $5, and even graded ones under $20. He’s a nice potential mid-season flip, if he can put up another 20 HR/30 SB-plus season worth of production.
If Villar continues to put up his 2019 level of production, that would be helpful in getting the Marlins to trade him to a contender. As it stands, if they hold him all year, they probably won’t offer him a qualifying offer after the 2020 season, meaning no draft pick compensation. So, whatever they get in return at this point is a bonus. But for Villar, a move to a contender would be good for both him and his cards. As it is, he’s probably better off in Miami anyway, where he’s definitely wanted.
If you’ve been following Major League Baseball top prospects for even just a few years, you will know the name of Jurickson Profar. He was a highly touted prospect for a reason. On his 2011 Bowman Chrome Prospects card, you could see Jurickson simply oozing with talent. The smile on his face as he takes a practice swing in the photo screams a guy that just loves to play some baseball.
But, Profar didn’t get to play nearly as much baseball as he, the Rangers, baseball fans, and card collectors would’ve liked. Injury after injury kept eating into his playing time. When he would try to get a chance in the majors, he just couldn’t put things together before yet again losing a chunk of the season to some injury. Eventually, he finally got to play a full season, even if it took until 2018...
So, when he finally broke out with the Texas Rangers in 2018, it still felt like a disappointment. To hit .254 with 20 HR and 77 RBI - and stealing 10 bases WITHOUT being caught - would be a pretty nice season for most players. After years of getting hurt and not really establishing himself in his limited chances, 2018 was a nice break for Profar. He played all over the diamond, while mostly at third base and shortstop. Unfortunately, he didn’t rate well at any position on defense.
A Second Chance for Jurickson Profar?
The Rangers decided that they would sell high on Profar’s decent success with the bat and on the bases. They let him go to the Oakland A’s in a three team trade that netted them pitchers Kyle Bird and Brock Burke, as well as minor league infielder Eli White. Ironically, White is somewhat similar to what Profar has become - a guy without a position who’s useful enough with the bat and on the bases to have a role with some MLB team. Bird and Burke each had lousy MLB debuts, but both showed promise in the high minors.
The A’s were certainly disappointed in their return. They ended up trading Emilio Pagan and a competitive balance round draft pick to the Rays in the complex three team swap. Profar hit only .218/.301/.410 and was "worth" minus 10 runs at second base. Meanwhile, Emilio Pagan was one of the best relievers in baseball for the Rays. The Rangers are probably thrilled that they got what they did.
There were some positives. Profar still hit 20 HR. He stole 9 bases and was only caught once. The switch-hitter murdered left handed pitching. His batting average on balls in play was a piddly .218. Surely, you’d expect Profar to have a bit of positive regression, right?
A Third Chance for Profar with the Padres?
Being one of the most cost-conscious organizations in the league - to put it nicely - the A’s decided that they would cut bait on Profar. While a projection arbitration salary of $5.8 million is hardly awful for a guy who will likely perform closer to his 2018 than his 2019 results, the A’s decided to move on. They decided to swap their struggling infielder for catcher Austin Allen and a player to be named later.
After their trade of Luis Urias to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Padres had a three-way fight for playing time at second. Ian Kinsler was terrible in 2019. Greg Garcia is a useful utility Infielder quite likely stretched in full time duty. Ty France had monster AAA numbers and was the guy with the most upside. But, you can't blame the Padres for wanting somebody with Profar's pedigree.
Padres GM A.J. Preller is quite familiar with Profar from his days in the Texas front office. While the familiarity is certainly a factor, it's not like there wasn't a use for him. His Steamer projection for 2020 alone makes him a clear starter at second base even with his fielding difficulties.
Steamer 2020 Projection (125 games): .250/.331/.431, 18 HR, 67 R, 64 RBI, 7 SB
Because of his propensity for injury, his projection accounts for at least some missed time. But even if that time, FanGraphs has him bring worth 2.2 WAR. That's a slightly above average player. Going into his age 27 season and being projected to earn $5.8 million through arbitration is fine for the Padres. The A's just wanted to move on.
What did the Padres give up? Austin Allen didn’t impress in his major league debut, but scouts project him to grow into more of his raw power. He could be a nice find for the A’s, for sure, even if he’s just their third catcher at the moment. He’s not nothing, although a very underwhelming return considering what a star Profar was expected to be.
The good news for Profar is that he definitely has a starting job with the Padres. If he can get his throwing issues under control, he could be at least a passable defensive second baseman. As even a slightly below average fielder, his bat and speed are still good enough tools to make him a 3 WAR player. It would be good to see him hit the ball harder with more consistency. But, in just 2019, his expected wOBA was .323 VS his actual .301 wOBA was enough of a gap to show he was unlucky.
Will Profar reemerge in the baseball card hobby? Right now, it doesn’t seem like he will. It's highly unlikely he suddenly becomes a 30 HR & 100 RBI stud out of nowhere. Could he finally have some good batted ball luck and put together a really nice year, though? There may be some untapped potential there yet. In any case, it’s easy to like this trade for the Padres.
When Chone Figgins was announced for the 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot, his name immediately trended on Twitter. Of course, Figgins was a popular player for the then Anaheim Angels, who he won the World Series with in 2002. But, no one has really ever thought of Figgins as a Hall of Fame player, and it will be quite funny if he gets even one vote from a Baseball Writers Association of America member.
Still, despite probably not being a so-called “Mariners legend” - outside of the obvious overpay the Seattle Mariners made for his services - Chone Figgins was a good ballplayer. It should be noted that Figgins hit for the cycle on September 16, 2006 - hit a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game - making him forever a part of the PSA “Hit for the Cycle Club” Set Registry.
The Chone Figgins rookie card mentioned in that registry is the key focus of this Rookie Card Review, 2002 Bowman Chrome #249. Considering that a mere 11 examples of the base card and 9 examples of the refractor have been graded by PSA, it’s safe to say that hobbyists didn’t think of him as a future Hall of Fame “hopeful.” But since the announcement of him simply appearing on the ballot, interest has spiked in this rookie card and its refractor. It’s a nice looking card, featuring Figgins in an old style Anaheim Angels uniform in the follow-through of a successful swing, watching the ball likely hitting a gap somewhere.
Chone Figgins’ Angels Success
The 5-foot-8 switch-hitting utility player hit a lot of gaps, hitting .291/.363/.388 for a 99 OPS+ in his 8 years with the Angels, being an above-league average hitter 4 out of 8 seasons. His offensive value was boosted by his stolen base ability, averaging over 40 plus steals a season. Figgins also played second base, third base, shortstop, center field, right field, and left field in his career. Defensive Runs Saved sees Figgins as a disaster in the outfield, below average at second base, and significantly below average at shortstop. But at third base, which became Figgins’ best position, Figgins was above average.
In fact, Figgins had one of the best contract walk years you could imagine in 2009. Not only did he have a solid .298/.395/.393 slash line (110 OPS+) with 42 steals, he had a career high 101 walks and an absurd 29 Defensive Runs Saved at third base. These numbers helped Figgins secure a 4-year, $36 million contract with the Seattle Mariners. That contract would turn out to be a disaster.
The “Mariners Legend” Chone Figgins...
Seattle didn’t treat Figgins well. Not only did he get moved to second base full-time where he was below average (-10 DRS in 2010 alone), but his bat just never really got going. He played in 161 games, but mustered only a pitiful .259/.340/.306 slash line. His only saving grace was 42 stolen bases against only 15 times caught.
The 2011 and 2012 seasons were even worse. Not only did Figgins suddenly become extremely injury prone, but when he did play, he couldn’t even hit .200. After hitting around .180 - .190 in limited action in those years, the Mariners released him after the 2012 season, eating his $8 million salary for 2013.
Figgins wouldn’t even make his way back to the Major Leagues in 2013, although he catch on as a bench player with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014. It wasn’t a great final stint in 38 games, and he was released by the Dodgers in mid-August. He did manage 0.7 WAR though, so he wasn’t a total negative. While Figgins retired a rich man, and did sign a one-day contract to retire as an Angel, I’m sure that’s not the way he wanted to spend the second half of his career.
But, to be fair to Figgins, he was an All-Star caliber player for several years. He could steal bases with the best of them and had great on-base percentages. If there was any knock against him, it was his misadventures in the outfield - not entirely his fault. While Figgins is never going to be more hobby relevant than in the wake of this news, his Angels career and his rookie card are worth remembering.
In the baseball off-season, one of my favorite activities is checking out the various player projections for 2020. One of my new favorites which started in the past couple of years was Steamer/600 at FanGraphs. It takes the existing Steamer projections and prorates them to 600 Plate Appearances for hitters (425 PA for catchers). For pitchers, it prorates to 200 innings for starters and 65 innings for relievers.
When I was checking the projections for each position, I saw some names that stood out to me with projections as league average hitters. Those names will warrant future features on the Rookie Card Review. When it comes to the Hobby, league average is the cutoff if you're looking for cardboard gold. In some of my Rookie Card Reviews, you will see me mention these Steamer projections. While obviously most may not get the playing time in the near future to rack up the projected counting stats in MLB, many of them are knocking on the door.
Today, we take a look at a Padres Infielder who has possessed an above average bat. But, it hasn't yet broken out at the MLB level. The projections seen to believe 2020 holds good things for this young ballplayer.
A Nice Diamond in the Rough Infielder: Ty France
When I was looking at those 2020 projections for second basemen, I found that nestled in between Asdrubal Cabrera and Brian Dozier for a projected 100 wRC+ is Ty France. No longer really considered a prospect, the 25 year old France has seen some major league action for his hometown San Diego Padres. It hasn't really been that glorious for the infielder, whose natural position of third base is currently occupied by $300 million man Manny Machado. Because he can also play second decently enough and is a bat-first player anyway, France is intriguing from a hobby perspective, regardless of where the Padres find a place to stick his bat.
Ty France Has Hit in the Minor Leagues
It's not like this projection for France comes out of nowhere. He's been a well above-average player in the minor leagues, with an incredible explosion in AAA - thanks in part to the "rabbit ball" - in 2019. France posted a video game slash line of .399/.477/.770 that led to a ridiculous wRC+ mark of 196 - or 96 percent above league average.
While that absurd unsustainable power surge does inform that projection, France has been a 20 to 30 percent above league average hitter in his career. But in his first major league action, France mustered just a .234/.294/.402 slash line. His walk rate slipped to 4.5 percent and his strikeout rate jumped to 24.4 percent as he chased some bad pitches (30% outside swing rate).
Of course, there were good signs from his 69 game stint. He did hit 7 home runs in 201 plate appearances. His hard hit percentage was 41.9 percent, well above the league average of 34.5. But, StatCast didn't show anything else encouraging in his profile other than he is doing what he can to lift the ball - 15.1 degree average launch angle. Interestingly, France actually hit breaking balls much better than fastballs. It's possible that he just hadn't yet adjusted to major league fastballs. If he can, watch out…
That brings us to our Ty France rookie card review.
Ty France Rookie Cards Offer Few Choices But Significant Upside
As of this writing, there are only two rookie autos for Ty France. The bad news is that they are both Panini - whose lack of full MLB licensing despite high quality cards greatly hurts their appeal. But, Panini did see fit to include France as low number autos in both the high-end National Treasures and Chronicles sets.
The National Treasures is the better card of the two, having both a patch and an autograph. There are two versions of the card, one numbered to 99, and the other - a gold parallel - numbered to 49. The Chronicles autograph, part of the Obsidian Autographs subset, is limited to several colored parallels, each numbered to 99 copies, 50 copies, 25 copies, 10 copies, 5 copies, and a one-of-one. But relic auto combos win. Understandably, these two cards haven't yet sold for much, but they do have interest.
For our exercise, though, we'll focus on his "true" rookie card, the 2019 Topps Update #US129 - his first ever Topps card. It's sold on eBay for around $0.75. however, the parallels have fared much better. In particular the Walgreens Exclusive Yellow, Gold, Black #'d to /67, Vintage Stock #'d to /99, and Independence Day #'d to /76 have all been selling. The Independence Day card sold for as much as $13 in early November 2019. So, there's a demand for this guy's true rookie.
Will Ty France Get Consistent At-Bats in 2020?
The real issue for France is his path to playing time. On the official Padres depth chart, he's behind Machado at third base and is buried behind Luis Urias, Greg Garcia, and Ian Kinsler at second base. However, he's also listed as Eric Hosmer's backup at first base.
Of course, Eric Hosmer's projection is quite similar to France. In fact, were it not for his albatross of a contract, it wouldn't be hard to see France replace him at first. Their Steamer 600 projections are so remarkably similar. But the Padres are paying Hosmer $18 million a year to be a replacement level player without much upside in sight.
For Ty France to gain much more hobby relevance, he needs to find a route to playing time. But, if he does and hits consistently enough, his Topps Update card could get interesting in a hurry. Because it's his only true rookie card, it will have a large amount of demand if he delivers on that projection.
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