Finding Futures Game Memorabilia

The future is not now

Every year since 1999, MLB rounds up a few dozen top prospects to face off in the <sponsor name> All-Star Futures Game. And every year since 2000, Topps has cut up the jerseys worn during that game and used them in cards released in its multitude of prospect-focused products. Two years ago, Topps was churning out more Futures Game material than ever before, so much so that I had to put together a guide just to sort out what was where. Four Mets prospects participated in the 2013 game (though one was in the Pirates system at the time), including both starting pitchers. With three different fabric types on each jersey, plus patches, there was a lot to collect and a lot of places to find it. Since then though, Futures Game material has almost completely disappeared from the collecting landscape.

This year, the Mets had three representatives at the Futures Game in San Diego: Dominic Smith on the USA team and Amed Rosario and Dilson Herrera (who was once again traded shortly afterward) on the World Team. With distinctive brown and yellow jerseys, the material from this game should stand out. If we ever see it. So far, only a few hundred swatches of material have made it out to the collecting public from the four Mats-worn Futures Game jerseys from 2014 and 2015 combined. What happened?

As we near the 20th anniversary of the first memorabilia cards, the novelty of such things seems to have worn off. Once memorabilia cards became guaranteed hits, the quality and the player selection went downhill fast. Today, many of the cards from obligatory memorabilia sets sell for little more than $1. Once big hits worth hundreds of dollars, they’re little more than junk now. Things have gotten so bad that Topps has started phasing them out of several products over the last few years. At the end of 2013, Topps revamped Bowman Sterling without any relics on the checklist. Bowman’s Best replaced it in 2015, still without relics. Bowman Platinum, which was filled with Futures Game material in 2014, was dropped in 2015 and came back in 2016 minus the relics. Topps Pro Debut dropped its standard relic set in 2015 and Topps Heritage Minor League Edition has featured a small relic set with memorabilia from unspecified sources since 2015.

The only insert sets that have consistently featured Futures Game material over the last few years have been in base Bowman/Bowman Chrome/Bowman Draft. Relics were dropped from Bowman Chrome in 2013 (and returned with Arizona Fall League material in 2016) and from Bowman and Bowman Draft in 2016. 2014 Bowman Draft had a 20-card Futures Game Relic insert set (out of more than 50 players on the 2014 Futures Game roster). 2015 Bowman had another 20-card Futures Game Relic insert set, but 10 cards featured players who had been in the previous set and all cards were numbered to just 25. Kevin Plawecki appears here with his only Topps relic card featuring 2014 Futures Game material (a small number of auto relics from 2015 Bowman Inception also exist). 2015 Bowman Draft cut the Futures Game Relic set down to 15 cards, numbered to 99 with lower-numbered parallels; Brandon Nimmo has his only 2015 Futures Game material here. And that was the last Futures Game relic set in a base Bowman product.

The last hope here is Bowman Inception, but that too has failed to deliver. After having a huge variety of memorabilia cards in 2014, 2015 Bowman Inception cut back to just a few very limited autographed relic sets, including one card featuring Kevin Plawecki. 2016 was more of the same, this time with the only Futures Game memorabilia cards to date from Michael Conforto, all autographed and very limited. That all adds up to just four cards numbered to at least 25 for three of the four Mets Futures Game jerseys from 2014 and 2015. And what happened to Noah Syndergaard?

Noah Syndergaard’s 2014 Futures Game material is out there, but it showed up in strange places. After sporadic appearances in 2015, a few dark blue swatches in Syndergaard’s 2016 Topps Series 1 Postseason Performance Relics set and at least one in 2016 Topps Triple Threads were the last pieces of his 2014 Futures Game to be released. As far as I can tell, no red swatches were ever released. Syndergaard, Plawecki, and Conforto have all had numerous MLB-worn jersey cards released and Nimmo can’t be far behind (his memorabilia in 2016 Panini products is all of the dreaded “player-worn” variety). So what happened to all of the remaining Futures Game material?

A strange thing happened in early 2015 – swatches of Kevin Plawecki’s 2014 Futures Game jersey were showing up in 2015 Panini Diamond Kings, including red, blue, and patch swatches. How could that be? Did Panini get the remaining fabric from Topps? Probably not. As it turns out, players in the Futures Game wear separate batting practice jerseys that are identical to their Futures Game jerseys (which are themselves made in the style of the next year’s batting practice jerseys, just like the All-Star workout jerseys). These batting practice jerseys are auctioned off after the game, so it is entirely possible for Topps and Panini to each have an authentic game-worn Kevin Plawecki 2014 Futures Game jersey. Strangely, swatches from 2015 Panini National Treasures called the material “player-used,” but Panini has a history of mislabeling its game-worn material. The same cards also feature swatches of a Royal Giants jersey, which I can’t imagine would be anything other than game-worn (or at least team-issued).

And that’s all of the Futures Game material we’ve gotten in the last two years. After 16 years worth of memorabilia from the game’s top prospects (and other assorted minor leaguers), it would seem that this once-reliable hobby staple is all but gone. Somewhere, there’s a big warehouse filled with ancient mystical relics and cut-up baseball jerseys. At least, that’s the only way I can make any sense out of this.

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