The sports card market is always in flux. How the players perform on the field almost always has an impact on their sports cards, creating buying and selling opportunities for savvy investors.
The market tends to move the most in-season, and we’re approximately one-third of the way through the baseball calendar. That makes this a nice opportunity to check in on some of the biggest risers and fallers.
“Buy low and sell high” is a common phrase that gets thrown around, but it isn’t always the best course. For example, if you “sold high” on Mike Trout during his rookie campaign, you are almost certainly kicking yourself in 2022. There are also countless examples of “buying low” on talented players who never figure things out.
Will the same be said for some of the following risers and fallers? Let’s dive in.
Kahlil Watson, Miami Marlins
Baseball card investors love a good longshot, and Watson is the newest target. He was the No. 16 pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, and he got his “First Bowman” rookie card in the 2022 Bowman set.
While 15 players went ahead of him in that draft, Watson was considered a top-10 talent in last year’s class. Signability concerns caused him to slide to the Marlins, and they were able to secure his signature with a $4.54M signing bonus. That is the largest figure ever paid to a high school position player.
Since then, Watson has shot up the prospect rankings. He dominated in rookie ball last year, posting an 1.130 OPS with three doubles, two triples, and four stolen bases in nine games. He’s struggled a bit in Single-A this season, but his combination of power and speed remains tantalizing. He’s racked up six homers and nine steals in 41 games, despite being just 19 years old.
Overall, Watson has risen to No. 21 in the MLB prospect rankings, and he has the talent to rise up the ladder further with age. Only two other 19-year-olds are above him currently: Marcelo Mayer and Jordan Lawlar.
His cards have lost a little steam recently, but he remains a player in desire. The good news is, that there are a variety of different parallels to potentially get your hands on. A raw First Bowman Chrome will cost you just a couple of bucks, while a base refractor serial-numbered to 499 will cost you about $40. That’s not nothing, but if he turns into a top prospect over the next few years, there will be plenty of opportunities to profit.
Joey Bart, San Francisco Giants
Bart was previously considered one of the best catching prospects in baseball, but he struggled to find consistent playing time in 2021. That will happen when your team wins 107 games and employs Buster Posey.
Now that the future Hall of Famer has retired, Bart has taken on most of the Giants’ catching responsibilities in 2022. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Bart has posted a ridiculously bad 45.4% strikeout rate, which has had a massive impact on his batting average. Bart is well below the Mendoza line at .156, and he boasts just a .596 OPS.
However, Bart still grades out somewhat well in his advanced metrics. He’s posted a 13.9% walk rate, which has helped salvage his on-base percentage. He’s also clubbed four homers in 108 plate appearances, so he’s displayed a bit of pop. Overall, his 81 wRC+ isn’t all that bad considering his abysmal strikeout rate. He also has solid defensive metrics, which is important for a catcher.
Bart wasn’t a strikeout-heavy player in the minors, so there are reasons to believe he can improve in that department. With that in mind, it’s not all that surprising that some people are taking a flyer on Bart. Despite his struggles, his First Bowman has seen a slight increase in value over the past month:
The value on Alt – which is a sports trading card database – has increased by $7 over the past 30 days, which represents an increase of about 25%. I’m not in love with that price tag for a base First Bowman chrome, but it wouldn’t shock me if he makes a leap in the near future.
Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Alonso is another player trending upwards. The slugging first baseman just suffered an injury, but it appears as though he avoided disaster. He was hit by a pitch on the hand, but it’s not broken so he should be able to return to the lineup soon.
That’s great news for the Mets and Alonso investors. He’s off to a phenomenal start this season, slugging 16 homers with 54 RBIs through 58 games. That puts him on pace for more than 40 homers and 150 RBIs over a full season. His 152 wRC+ is also the top mark of his career.
The fact that Alonso plays for the Mets doesn’t hurt. New York is a massive market, and the Mets are good for seemingly the first time in my lifetime. Add in two HR Derby titles, and Alonso has plenty of name value.
Over the past three months, a PSA 10 for his First Bowman Chrome has increased from $69 to $83 on Alt:
There are plenty of reasons to believe that price will increase even further. If the Mets are really in this for the long haul – and their payroll suggests they will be – Alonso should stay on the radar into the postseason.
Yordan Alvarez, Houston Astros
Alvarez was rewarded with a big contract by the Astros, who extended him for six years and $115M. He’s a very similar player to Alonso, possessing one of the biggest bats in the entire league. He doesn’t provide any fielding value – he’s used exclusively as a DH – but that doesn’t stop him from providing significant value.
As good as Alonso is at the dish, Alvarez is better. He’s already launched 17 homers this season, and his 190 wRC+ trails only Aaron Judge. He’s provided elite hitting numbers ever since breaking onto the scene in 2019, owning a career wRC+ of 160.
Alvarez’s rookie card market is a bit different than some of the other players on this list. He has an extensive collection of rookie cards, but he doesn’t have a true First Bowman. His autograph first appeared in 2018 Bowman, but he did not have a base rookie card in that set.
His 2020 Topps Chrome rookie card is abundant. There are more than 5,600 PSA 10s, so it’s not that difficult to get your hands on one. Still, his price tag has ticked up steadily over the past three months:
All Alvarez has done in his MLB career is hit, and there’s no reason to expect that to change moving forward.
Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals
Goldschmidt is the oldest player on this list, so his inclusion might be the most surprising. He’s already 34-years-old, and it’s rare to see a player spike in value at such an advanced age.
Of course, Goldschmidt is in the midst of a career year. He would likely be the NL MVP if the season ended today, and he’s posted a career-best 188 wRC+ through his first 54 games. His 25-game hitting streak came to an end recently, but he has reached base in 43 consecutive contests. He’s approaching the club record of 50 held by Vince Coleman, but he still has a while before threatening Ted Williams’ record of 84.
Goldschmidt is another player without a true First Bowman, so his 2011 Topps Update is his flagship rookie card. Unsurprisingly, he’s seen a big spike in value since the start of the season:
Among the risers, he’s the one I’d be least interested in purchasing. Goldschmidt is a great player and could be headed to Cooperstown, but it’s too late in his career for him to become an all-time great. I would be willing to bet that this is the absolute peak for a non-premium Goldschmidt rookie. It may not happen tomorrow, but this card is coming back to reality eventually.
Jasson Dominguez, New York Yankees
Before Wander Franco took over the hobby last year, Dominguez was the name on card collector’s lips. Dominguez is one of the most hyped international prospects in history, signing with the Yankees for $5.1M in 2019. He’s drawn comparisons to a host of Hall of Famers thanks to his otherworldly combination of power and speed, and he’s been fittingly nicknamed “The Martian.”
That said, The Martian is still very much a work in progress. He’s just 19-years-old, and he’s still playing baseball in Single-A. It will still be years before he reaches the major leagues, but collectors have pursued him in a frenzy. Parallels of his First Bowman routinely fetch five figures, including a $15k sale for an orange First Bowman auto serial-numbered to 25:
However, his base First Bowman is one of the most graded cards in recent memory. There are more than 8,600 PSA 10s and around 6,675 PSA 9s, plus however many copies are graded by the other major companies.
All that volume has posed a problem for his non-numbered cards: it’s simply too abundant to possess much value. Alt valued a PSA 10 for his First Bowman at $113 in March, but that number is down to just $59. That is a massive decrease for a prospect who continues to generate buzz.
He remains a tantalizing prospect, but similarly to Franco, I would rather pony up for a numbered parallel than a base card if I was looking to invest.
Adley Rutschman, Baltimore Orioles
Rutschman entered the year as the No. 1 prospect in baseball, and he was recently promoted to the majors. That call-up was good news for investors, with his prices peaking across the board.
Unfortunately, the downside of a top prospect getting called to the big stage is that now they have to perform. It’s early for Rutschman, but he has not lived up to the billing so far.
He’s managed just a 27 wRC+ through his first 14 games, which is definitely a bit concerning. Rutschman is not the first rookie to struggle at the MLB level – Mike Trout famously hit .220 in his first taste of big-league action – but there’s a major difference between Rutschman and other top prospects. Rutschman is 24 years old, which puts him on the older side for his rookie season. Trout’s MLB struggles came as a 19-year-old. In his age-20 season, he swatted 30 homers with 49 steals and finished second in the AL MVP voting. Fernando Tatis and Juan Soto have still yet to turn 24, while Ronald Acuna will play his fifth professional season at 24. In short, Rutschman is behind the eight-ball when compared to other blue-chip youngsters.
With that in mind, it’s not surprising that his price has tumbled over the past month:
I’m certainly not writing Rutschman off at this point, but he’s got some serious work to do to get back into collector’s good graces.
Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Bellinger is an example of when “buying low” goes wrong. He won the MVP award as a 23-year-old in 2019, but he has struggled mightily since then. His numbers plummeted in the shortened 2020 season, so it was easy to tell yourself he’d rebound in 2021.
Unfortunately, his struggles were even worse the following year, posting a .165 batting average with just 10 homers. He became an afterthought on a loaded Dodgers roster, routinely batting in the bottom third of the order.
Things have gotten a bit better for Bellinger in 2022, but he remains a below-average hitter by most metrics. With each passing year, it becomes harder and harder to believe in a Bellinger bounce back.
If you are one of the few remaining believers, his rookie cards are available at a massive discount. Look at how much his 2017 Topps Update rookie has dipped over the past year:
That graph starts with an Alt valuation of $129 and finishes at $29 for a PSA 10.
Can Bellinger ever recapture his former glory? That remains to be seen, and it would take someone much smarter than me to answer. His Statcast data remains slightly above average, but he’s making far worse contact than he did during his MVP season. I will say that if I owned any Bellinger cards, I would cut bait while I still could.