Product Spotlight: 2017 Bowman

Too much of a good thing or just too much?

The base Bowman franchise is one of the cornerstones of the Topps product line. As such, it is a rock, always there, yet always changing in subtle ways. It’s frustrating sometimes, refreshing sometimes, but always there. 2017 Bowman is no exception – it’s there, there’s a lot to like, and there’s a lot that just makes no sense.

In 2015, Topps seemed to be headed in the right direction. 2014’s excess of confusing and unnecessary parallels yielded to the order of 2015 Bowman’s sensible parallel structure. 2016 Bowman did away with the ice parallels and wave refractors introduced in 2012, which was probably due, but it introduced full-size shimmer parallels in green and gold, numbered the same as their non-shimmer counterparts. 2016 Bowman Draft turned this concept into blue and gold wave refractor autographs. And 2017 Bowman combined both ideas and cranked it up to 10 – 10 shimmer refractor parallels, 5 base and 5 autographed. Double the autographs, double the fun?

Card Design

2017 Bowman inches closer and closer to being borderless. This year’s edition does away with the partial white border and goes with a grayish fade around the edges, which is replaced by a color in the parallels for a sort of spray paint look. It makes sense for the parallels but serves no purpose in the base version. Base and silver parallels are nearly indistinguishable with this treatment. The design itself works well enough, though it is a bit busy around the Bowman and team logos and the player name can be hard to read because of the small size and choice of font. Overall, it’s not exactly a balanced look. But at least the photo cropping is better.

Mets Selection

Topps went with a 5-5-5 plan for the Mets in 2017 Bowman, so at least there’s balance somewhere. For the base set, that meant the default Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes plus Jacob deGrom and Rookies Robert Gsellman and Gavin Cecchini. But the base set only exists to take up space, Bowman is all about the prospects.

It’s a lot of familiar faces this time around for the Mets, with P.J. Conlon being the only newcomer (and, in the old terms from the before time in the long long ago, the only rookie card). Wuilmer Becerra (2014 Bowman) and Thomas Szapucki (2015 Bowman Draft) make their second base Bowman appearances while Dominic Smith and Amed Rosario appear one last (?) time as prospects after a multitude of prior Bowman cards (2013, 2014, and 2016 Bowman Draft for Smith and 2015 Bowman Chrome, 2015 Bowman Draft, 2016 Bowman, and 2016 Bowman Draft for Rosario).

Autographs! It’s about time… After only getting the usual (2014 excepted) two Bowman Draft prospect autographs in 2016, Bowman has a lot of catching up to do. This is a good start. Conlon, Becerra, and Szapucki are joined by Luis Carpio and David Thompson in what is by far the biggest crop of Mets Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs to appear in a single product. These are the first licensed autographs for all five; only Szapucki and Thompson had previously appeared in Panini products. However, I’m not about to call 2017 a success until we see Ali Sanchez, Tomas Nido, Andres Gimenez, and maybe Champ Stuart, or at least their 2017 equivalents. Or how about Tim Tebow? It will take a strong showing from 2017 Bowman Chrome to truly get things back on track.

Inserts

Amed Rosario, Dominic Smith, and Justin Dunn appear in the usual Bowman Scouts Top 100 Prospects set (no Gsellman?) and Dunn and Rosario join Brandon Nimmo on a Talent Pipeline insert (Nimmo and Rosario were also paired up on an insert in 2016 Bowman). Sadly, no Mets appear in the 1948 or 1951 Bowman insert sets, but Syndergaard and Cespedes have 1992 Bowman inserts. Syndergaard even dressed for the occasion. Hard to believe it’s been 25 years… And finally, there’s no escaping stamped buybacks these days. Have to do something with those old cards, I guess…

Syndergaard and Steven Matz are also back again with insert autographs, following up 2016 Bowman’s Sophomore Standouts with Bowman Ascent autographs. Syndergaard also had an insert autograph in 2015 Bowman. It’s almost like they pick the theme for these things based on the players they want to feature.

Parallels

And now, this. Let me just go on record to say that I hate unnecessary parallels. I don’t mind the occasional experiment or a random retail-only parallel, but let’s try to keep things simple. Back when they were introduced in 2012, the ice parallels and wave refractors were fine. Two of each, one of each numbered to 25, and the wave refractors were just wrapper redemption bonuses. 2015’s standardization of colors and numbering fixed a lot of problems, but new problems just emerged elsewhere. Different shades of blue, some numbered to 10 and some essentially commons. Asian exclusives. And full-size shimmers…

So now here we are with a standard set of paper parallels (silver through black with a 6-color rainbow in between) and refractor parallels (refractor through superfractor with the same 6-color rainbow in between). Fine. And a yellow retail hanger pack parallel. Not sure what to do with that, but whatever. And a 5-color shimmer rainbow numbered the same as the non-shimmer varieties. Um… For prospects and prospect autographs. Now that’s a bit much. And red paper and blue refractor 70th Anniversary parallels that are the exact same color as their numbered equivalents but aren’t serial numbered and are as common as the purple parallels. Oh, for fuck’s sake…

2017 Bowman is a veritable golden shower of parallels.

Just stop it already. Paper rainbow. Refractor rainbow. And stop. I can live with the silliness with making green parallels retail exclusive and orange parallels hobby exclusive, but as someone who remembers the sheer idiocy of products with dozens of different 1/1 parallels, I have to call bullshit on this new configuration. We’re back up to 22 parallels plus 10 1/1s for every base prospect card. That’s only one short on each count from the madness of 2014 Bowman. Patterns? 2014 Bowman Chrome killed that one, maybe it’s time to go in a different direction. At best, the non-standard parallels will be ignored by collectors and will hold little value. At worst, these parallels will divide the market and devalue everything. Making it easier to pull low-numbered cards by making more of them reduces their value. See also: hyperinflation.

Mega Mega MegaBut wait, there’s more! Just found in Target stores. After four years of Topps Update mega boxes, Bowman gets the mega box treatment in 2017. Each $15 Bowman mega box includes five packs of 2017 Bowman and two exclusive 5-card packs of patterned refractors. This is the same pattern that has been used in the past as an asian exclusive. All that for just $15? There has to be some kind of a catch. And there is – the base Bowman packs are base cards (base, base prospects, and base chrome prospects) only. No parallels, no inserts, no autographs, nothing. Good if you need fills for a set, but not exactly packed with value. If you’re the kind of person who gives out packs of cards at Halloween, these are the packs you’ll want to use. But those refractor packs… Inside you’ll find patterned refractor parallels of the 150-card chrome prospect set (with five Mets) plus the Rookie of the Year Favorites and Talent Pipeline insert sets (with just the one Talent Pipeline insert for the Mets) and a Shohei Otani short print. Inserts include colored parallels (purple, green, orange, and black) of all of these cards plus select autographs (with green, orange, and black parallels). For the Mets, only two of the five chrome prospect autographs have mega box versions: Thomas Szapucki (sticker) and Wuilmer Becerra (redemption). It’s more for the sake of being more, but the autographs have different photos at least.

The Verdict

2017 Bowman had me at “5 Mets Chrome Prospect Autographs.” And lost me at “5 shimmer parallels of everything.” And confused the hell out of me with the 70th Anniversary parallels. And then the mega boxes… Parallels aside, it was a decent showing for the Mets after a dismal 2016. But with 37 different ones for each prospect card, it’s impossible to set parallels aside. Bowman is something that I could be content to spend time collecting the parallels of, if they weren’t completely insane. But with the steady stream of new releases from here on out, you can’t really focus on it for more than a couple of weeks and that’s not enough time to even track down the gold refractors. So who is collecting these things? It’s just more lesser hits to throw on the pile of cards someone else might want but aren’t worth enough to spend the time to deal with. 2017 Bowman: the Arby’s of baseball cards.

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