Product Spotlight: 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League

Who needs Aaron Judge when you have Tim Tebow?

I’m never really sure what to make of the minor league edition of Topps Heritage. I love seeing the variety of team names that can be found in the minors and there are always a few interesting oddities that show up, but the nostalgia factor doesn’t quite work as well as it does for the big league product. It’s not like the Binghamton Rumble Ponies had any vintage 1968 cards (or even 2016 cards). Retro style cards of players with little or no major league experience seems a tad bit presumptuous, especially considering how many of them will go on to careers in the big leagues of scouting, coaching, car sales, or plumbing rather than baseball. Minor league baseball toys with your expectations to the point of cruelty sometimes, as does this incarnation of Heritage. Every once in a while though, things pan out.

The Elephant in Columbia

Thus far, Topps has resisted the urge to go big on this season’s feel-good redemption story. Fresh off a disappointing end to his football career, Tim Tebow returned to his first love and signed a minor league deal with the New York Mets. Most assumed that this was little more than a publicity stunt, and while that is likely true from the team perspective (minor league attendance has risen sharply wherever Tebow showed up), Tebow’s interest in the sport sure seems legit. His talent on the other hand… In the pantheon of baseball gimmicks and cash grabs, Tebow is mostly harmless. People like to see him and he’s only really taking the spot of someone who would be on the chopping block at the end of the season anyway. Might as well give the people what they want.

And boy, do they ever want Tim Tebow baseball cards. The first offerings from Leaf in their short-lived Leaf Live program went under the radar but are worth big bucks now. Autographs from Leaf and Panini have also been big sellers, but the first hint at Tebow’s true power came when Topps released the first (MiLB) licensed Tebow card as a short print in 2017 Topps Pro Debut. That card was quickly past the $200 point and continues to sell for well over $100 despite being an otherwise ordinary card. One can only imagine what a Tim Tebow Bowman Chrome Autograph would sell for. I’m actually rather thankful we haven’t found out, I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. I’m still trying to land that Pro Debut SP…

Tebow returns in the other 2017 Topps MiLB product, once more without a base card but now with a few inserts in addition to a much more common SP. Among them is his first piece of game-used baseball memorabilia (the memorabilia from Panini to date has all been player-worn). Prices have been surprisingly reasonable – only about $10-20 for the relic. But this is just the beginning. Tebow was promoted to St. Lucie midseason and will be back next year, so a promotion to Binghamton and maybe even Syracuse in 2019 could be in the works, regardless of how well he performs. At some point, Topps will have to address the elephant in the room and put out a card showing Tebow in a proper Mets uniform. But for now, the Fireflies will have to do.

Mets Selection

We can skip the card design because it’s the same 1968 design we saw in 2017 Topps Heritage and Heritage High Number. For the first time since 2013, the base Mets team set has reached double digits. The 11 Mets in the base set sets a new record for Heritage Minor League and the total of 12 across the base set and SPs ties the mark set in 2012. The names are all mostly familiar from Pro Debut, with Dash Winningham (in his professional card debut) and Tomas Nido taking the place of Luis Carpio (who made his pro debut in last year’s edition). Amed Rosario is the obvious standout (other than Tebow), but there are plenty of early draft picks and intriguing names here. If there are any snubs, they would have to be guys like Luis Guillorme and Andres Gimenez, who haven’t gotten much (or any) attention from Topps in recent years. With Gimenez now ranking as the #1 Mets prospect (MLB.com’s nonsensical rankings aside), we should see plenty of him in 2018.

Inserts and Variations

There are only two base Mets inserts in 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League, a Tim Tebow disc and a Mason (Columbia Fireflies mascot) game card. There’s also an Amed Rosario facsimile signature variant, featuring the signature only previously seen in 2016 Bowman’s Best.

Parallels

While those inserts are versions of inserts seen in the other Heritage products, the parallels are something new. Heritage and Heritage High Number only had one base color parallel, an unnumbered blue limited to 50 copies (in addition to several chrome parallels). Heritage Minor League switched it up with blue (numbered to 99), green (numbered to 50), gray/grey (numbered to 25), and orange (numbered 1/1), with no chrome parallels or minis. Colored parallels fall about two per box. Also included are missing first name parallels that fall about one every 3 boxes (while they might seem like an error variant, they are actually a common parallel of the full set). I’m not sure what Topps was thinking with the gray parallels, using a color that doesn’t stand out from the base design and has a name with two different common spellings seems like a bad idea.

Memorabilia

Yes, there’s more here than just the piece of wood from Tebow. For the last two years, the Clubhouse Collection Relics in Heritage Minor League have been from an unspecified source, likely MLB uniforms worn during spring training. Prior to that, most had been from the previous year’s Futures Game. The switch made finding material from the 2014 and 2015 Futures Games quite the challenge, an impossible one in many cases. 2017 puts us back on track with yellow and brown swatches from jerseys worn by Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith in the 2016 Futures Game. Dilson Herrera, who played in the 2016 Futures Game despite significant MLB service time, is obviously not here. It remains to be seen whether his memorabilia will surface at some point. Or if anyone even remembers that he exists.

The cards themselves follow the recent Topps trend of making the cards unnecessarily thick. While they may look the same as their Heritage and Heritage High Number equivalents, they are more than twice as thick. If you were hoping for some consistency between Heritage products, you’re obviously new to Topps. The first parallel, while still numbered to 99 like the other products, is now green as opposed to the different golds used in Heritage and Heritage High Number. Blue (numbered to 50) and gray/grey (numbered to 25) and black (numbered 1/1) parallels also exist, with the gray and black versions featuring patch swatches in some cases.

Also considered as “relics” are the 68 Mint cards that feature actual coins from 1968. Amed Rosario and Tim Tebow have cards here with nickels in the base version (numbered to 99) and quarters in the gray (numbered to 25) and black (numbered 1/1) parallels. Amed Rosario also has an autographed parallel numbered to 10.

Autographs

Heritage Minor League has never been a particularly good source of Mets autographs. The first six years of the product produced just five Real One Autographs and one dual autograph, all sticker autos and none since 2014. As with the relics (which had previously featured a total of just four single relic and one dual relic cards), the autographs were plentiful in 2017. Amed Rosario is the biggest name, with both a Real One Autograph and a Fantastic Feats Autograph (numbered to 30). Also included are autographs from Peter Alonso and P.J. Conlon. Best of all, the signatures are all on-card, just like the big league versions. Parallels are similar to the base card parallels with blue (numbered to 75), gray (numbered to 25), and orange (numbered 1/1) parallels for the Real One Autographs and just the gray and orange parallels (for obvious reasons) for the Fantastic Feats Autographs.

The Verdict

2017 Heritage Minor League sure seems like a turning point for the brand. With Futures Game relics, on-card autographs, and lots of Tim Tebow, it’s hard to fault Topps for much of anything here. And while it lacks two of the biggest draws of 2017 products (Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger), the checklist is still loaded with prospects who could be some of the big names of 2018. I always like to see a checklist loaded with new players (especially since Pro Debut rarely lives up to its name), but having guys who are on the brink of stardom is pretty good too. As 2017 winds down, 2017 Topps Heritage Minor League is a great way to get up to speed on what’s coming up in 2018. Also, did I mention Tim Tebow?

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