2017 Biggest Pulls: 6-12

So many big hits, but we’re far from finished

38 cards in, you might be feeling some fatigue. But these last 12 are worth the wait. In a normal year, any one of them could be a legitimate best card of the year. But in 2017, 11 of them fell short. If you’ve ever followed a big case breaker, you would know that hits like this typically fall much less than one per case. Prior to 2017, I had pulled a total of 15 cards that would fit in this range. And while only one of 2017’s hits would (barely) crack my top 5, the sheer quantity of this level of quality is unprecedented in my decades of collecting. And that has me worried.

So what is responsible for this explosion of big hits? Part of it comes down to luck, which, as it turns out, is part skill and part random chance. There’s not much you can do about random chance, but picking the products with the right hits at the right time sure helps. Part of it is the strength of certain players in the hobby, which was a bit lopsided in 2017 (and worked against me on some of the lesser hits). And part is due to how cards are seeded into packs, with autographs of big-name players more common than ever and low-numbered parallels popping up everywhere. That last bit is cause for concern; much like how overproduction of individual cards in the ’80s and over production of different products and inserts in the ’90s undermined value in those decades, dozens of autographs, each with several parallels, from every hot player every year can’t be good for the hobby’s long-term prospects. Instead of driving prices down though as it did with memorabilia in 2005 before the MLBPA stepped in, this trend seems to be driving prices up for a select group of players. It’s completely irrational and unsustainable, right?

Putting these prices into context, I bought a Willie Mays autograph card in 2017 for $115 shipped. I bought a Mike Piazza autograph numbered to 25 for $80 in 2016. And my last Nolan Ryan autograph, from 2015 Topps Heritage High Number, cost me less than $120. All three are big name Hall-of-Famers who don’t sign a whole lot. And all three fell in the price range for this 6-12 range. Which would you rather have?

12. 2017 Bowman Mega Brent Honeywell Black Refractor BCP84 1/1
$80.00 (Estimated)

Pulling a superfractor is a dream of many collectors. Even just owning one is tough – I’ve never pulled one and the only one I own is of a guy who hasn’t been in pro ball since the year the card was released and has an active drug suspension that was issued after he was released. Topps keeps coming up with new 1/1s though, so the next best thing isn’t quite as far out of reach (or, given the overproduction, as appealing…). In the 2017 Bowman Mega Boxes, 1/1s took the form of black patterned refractors. And, for my 5th 1/1 pull ever (after two printing plates, a Topps Heritage Minor League parallel, and a Polar Vortex parallel from Allen & Ginter), I got this one.

So what do I do with this thing? For a lesser prospect or veteran, I would just dump it on eBay and take whatever I can get. But Brent Honeywell was Baseball America’s #30 prospect coming into the 2017 season. That’s a risky spot, likely for either breakout or flameout. So I chose to wait it out and see if he had a shot to make it big.

By the end of the year, he was the top Rays prospect and a top 20 prospect in all of baseball. And there wasn’t a heck of a lot of interest in his cards. I tried to gauge the market by listing it for a month with Best Offer active. Similar cards had sold for about $80, so that was the baseline I was expecting if his market was heating up. Instead, all I got were lowball offers in the $40-60 range. If I was desperate to sell, $60 wouldn’t be that bad. But given that he’s due to debut next year as one of baseball’s top prospects? Might as well roll the dice on this one and try for a big score. Makes about as much sense as buying a box of cards these days.

11. 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic Frank Thomas Reprint Autograph CARAU-FT 105/135
$80.00 (Estimated)

I wasn’t going to buy any boxes of this stuff. These one card per box $50-60 autograph products are a total scam. At least Clearly Authentic had enough big names on the checklist to give you a reasonable chance of making your money back. If you buy it by the case. Single boxes though? Guaranteed loss.

But then Brent Williams announced a group break of three cases. Brent is one of the good guys and I always want to buy into his breaks, but the return on most things just isn’t there. I’ve been lucky to get my money’s worth from his breaks (more or less), but that’s mostly from not buying into many and some dumb luck (see the definition of luck above). But at $50 a pop, with a checklist loaded with hot Rookies and retired greats? Sure, I’ll go in for at least one box. It’ll be entertaining, at least.

And indeed, it was. The first case yielded one card in particular that caught my eye – a Frank Thomas rookie reprint autograph. The original card is impressive enough, but rendered in acetate and autographed, it’s a real beauty. At 135 copies, it’s not all that rare, but it’s a nice version of an iconic card of a Hall-of-Famer. What’s not to like?

After some agonizing minutes watching spreadsheets and randomizations, my name lined up with this card and it was mine. While I would have preferred someone I didn’t already have an autograph from, it was the only card in the case I really would have wanted. After a solid win in Case 1, I bought a slot in Case 2 and came up empty. Should have gone with Case 3 instead, because that one had a Syndergaard and a Nolan Ryan reprint auto. Oh well.

10. 2017 Topps Heritage High Number Real One Autograph ROA-CSE
$81.00 (2 Attempts)

With all of the focus on Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger in 2017, 2016’s NL Rookie of the Year has all but been forgotten. After my first Corey Seager autograph of the year sold for less than $30, I wasn’t too thrilled to pull another one from 2017 Topps Heritage High Number. Still, this was a nice card and should be worth something. A quick search showed that it should bring in at least $100. You’ve gotta love that Heritage premium… But Seager had an autograph in 2017 Heritage (you’ve gotta love Topps churning out autographs of the same guys over and over…), so nothing was guaranteed. A last second bid brought the price to $80. I’ll take it, I guess.

Or not. Immediately after the auction ended, the high bidder sent me a request to cancel the sale. It turns out that he had intended to bid a hair below $60 and missed the decimal point. So he ended up getting $20 less of a great deal than he was expecting and wanted out. I just let it go and sent out some second chance offers. No dice. Much like the beautiful Clayton Kershaw autograph I tried to sell in 2014, nobody wanted this thing unless I was willing to practically give it away. I still have the Kershaw (taking that one to my grave out of spite), but the Seager still had sales over $100 after mine ended. What gives?

So I gave it another chance with an opening bid of $80. And it sold for $81. At least it’s gone.

9. 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League Clint Frazier Real One Autograph Gray Parallel ROA-CF 04/25

What a year for Yankees autographs… Without Aaron Judge on the checklist, prices for 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League were surprisingly low, dropping below $50/box. That made it a great deal and a good opportunity to get some nice cards from other players for a change. So after all the Judge cards, this Clint Frazier was a refreshing change of pace. Even better was how it sold for more than the Seager without the buyer backing out. Yankees fans get a bad rap, but Dodgers and Rays fans could learn a thing or two from them.

7-8. 2017 Bowman Mega Shohei Otani BCP31 x2
$100.00 each (Estimated)

Previously relegated to Topps Update/Topps Chrome Update, the Target exclusive Mega Box concept was expanded to Bowman for the first time in 2017. $15 would get you 5 packs of 2017 Bowman (without inserts of parallels) and two packs of Bowman Mega refractors, all featuring a new pattern. Key hits were color parallels, image variation autographs, and the first US card of Shohei O(h)tani. Ohtani was expected to play in the World Baseball Classic, but an injury took him off of Japan’s roster. After a roller coaster of speculation, intrigue, rulemaking, and wooing from teams, Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels. But before that happened, this card had a wild ride of its own.

Base Bowman is usually a tough set to build with three separate components (base, base prospect, and chrome prospect) combining to form, in 2017 at least, a 400-card set. Getting just two Mega packs for $15 is less than ideal, but the other packs made decent set filler, if nothing else. And who doesn’t need a few more Aaron Judge RCs? The Mega packs themselves were absolutely loaded with big hits; the first 7 boxes I bought had two autographs (Szapucki and Groome) and one 1/1 (Honeywell). I found boxes twice and both times opted to leave some behind for the next guy. Big mistake.

Bowman Mega had disappeared. Rumors of a recall spread and Topps announced at the national convention that it would be back. Sightings were reported in September as the release of Bowman Chrome neared. Supposedly, large quantities were out there, but where they would end up was anyone’s guess. Entire cases of them were available online (at an inflated price), which was a bit odd for a store exclusive. Someone in the distribution chain was shafting Target and, by extension, collectors. This sort of thing was already commonplace in the hobby market, as orders placed (usually several months in advance of even a checklist) by hobby shops are frequently shorted by distributors if someone else is willing to pay more on launch day. In 2017, this spread to retail ($22+ wholesale prices for $19.99 Topps Archives blasters) and even store exclusives. Nothing was safe.

I was lucky. In early October, I found 7 freshly stocked Mega Boxes. This time, I bought every last one of them. Never Leave a Mega Box Behind. The first one yielded a Shohei Otani short print and the purple Cody Bellinger. The next day, a different Target presented me with a conundrum in the form of 14 Mega Boxes. I took 4 and went with two $70 Topps Fire boxes in place of the other 10. I broke my own rule and paid dearly for it. Luckily, someone else followed suit and left two of the remaining Mega Boxes behind. Three days later, I grabbed them and pulled another Otani. And that was the end of 2017 Bowman Mega Boxes.

Nailing down a price for these is tricky. They had been selling for about $80 early on, but the price was down to $50 by the time I got mine. I briefly considered selling my extra, but was glad I didn’t when the prices jumped to $160 as the race to sign him reached maximum intensity. After the Angels signing, the price has cooled off to about $100, which is what we’ll go with here. As with Ohtani’s destination early on, where the price goes from here is anyone’s guess. But this card is at least unique, which you can’t say about much in this hobby anymore.

6. 2017 Bowman Eloy Jimenez Chrome Prospect Autograph CPA-EJ

Base autograph. Damn. That’s what I thought when I pulled this because I haven’t been following other teams’ prospects. A quick search however brought up dollar signs. $120 isn’t bad, but even with the Moncada autograph, I barely broke even on the box. It was enough to encourage me to try another jumbo box, which kicked off my Aaron Judge spree. But that’s a story for another day…

2017 Biggest Pulls: 13-20

2017 Biggest Pulls: 21-32

2017 Biggest Pulls: 33-50

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