I'm going to change up "Five to Collect" this week and feature a different card for five different players. This year, the Atlanta Braves placed five players on MLB's Top-100 Prospect list for 2012. I'll show you one great card for each player that would make a terrific addition to any collection.
Has Julio Teheran's time arrived? MLB has rated him as the number 4 prospect in all of baseball. He dominated AAA last year. Still, even with the departure of Derek Lowe, the Braves have a lot of quality starting pitching. There's a chance that Teheran will start the season back in Gwinnett. I think there's little doubt that at some point this season, you will see Teheran on the mound every fifth day for the Braves. I can't wait.
If you need just a single card of Teheran for your collection, it would be easy to recommend his 2010 Bowman Chrome auto. A player's first Bowman Chrome auto is typically considered the "must buy" for any collection. If you are looking to "invest" rather than collect, then this would also be the card for you. It is already selling at $35.00 on eBay, so it isn't a bargain anymore. Still, if he breaks camp in the rotation, you can expect a solid bump. If he starts racking up quality starts, you can look for the price to increase even more. So, while there's little doubt that his Bowman Chrome card is the best investment, with its posed picture and spring training background it just doesn't hold a candle to the card pictured.
Julio Teheran's 2011 Topps Chrome auto is a nearly perfect baseball card. You won't find better photography of a pitcher. He's captured perfectly in his follow through. I love that the picture is a close enough shot that you can see the determination on his face, but not so close that you can't make out his motion. The photograph's perfection is achieved by the capture of the baseball in mid-air. This is a great looking card and best of all, you can find it on eBay right now in the ten dollar range. It's hard to imagine a better modern baseball card.
Teheran looks poised to become a hobby darling. He has been signing for Topps at a prodigious rate which, while not good for card value, is great for collector's who want to amass a collection is his autographed cards at an affordable price. He had numerous auto cards selling in the eight to twenty dollar range. The time seems right to start that Teheran collection.
How glad are we, as Braves fans, that Melkey Cabrera wasn't the centerpiece of the Javy Vazquez trade? In making that deal, Frank Wren was looking to add Vizy to the farm system's already impressive collection of young arms. Last season, he moved from A ball into the Atlanta bullpen and excited everyone with that live arm of his. I have no idea if the Braves view him as a reliever permanently or whether they plan on sending him back to the rotation once the ranks thin out a bit. Either way, he's fun to watch. (MLB ranked him at 36th in their list.)
Unlike Teheran, Vizcaino is not a darling of the hobby yet. In addition to the card pictured, he has been featured on an auto card available from the 2010 Donruss Elite set, but I can't recommend that card. The set doesn't feature team logos on any of the uniforms since Donruss doesn't have a license. The air brushing looks far better than it did in the old days where it typically looked like someone had used a crayon to replace the logos. Even with the perfected photo doctoring though, there's something about a player not appearing in a true uniform, logos and all, that takes me out of a card. I am not a supporter of MLB allowing but a single card manufacturer, but I typically can't buy a card without recognizable logos.
So, I recommend getting Vizcaino's 2010 Bowman Chrome auto card. I would prefer an action-shot, but that's generally not what you get on the cards of young players in Bowman Chrome. You tend the get the pitcher looking in for the sign in a posed shot. With this card, that's what you get, and fortunately, its a good shot with a good view of the kid's face. Buy it Now auctions on eBay are typically priced in the 25 dollar range for the card, but you can typically win open auctions for the card at around 15 dollars.
If I had told you at the start of the 2011 season that Randall Delgado was going to become one the most important arms on the staff in Atlanta, you would have thought I was crazy. With each season, Delgado's stock has seemed to improve and I think we knew it was only a matter of time before he was an impact arm in Atlanta, but last year was shocking. What wasn't shocking to anyone who had watched the kid pitch in the minors was his mound composure. From the first moment he took the mound, he looked like he belonged in the big leagues. He may start the season in Gwinnett, but like Teheran, it's only a matter of time before the player MLB ranked as the 42nd best prospect in baseball is in the rotation.
Topps swung and miss on Delgado until he made it to the big leagues. Unlike Teheran and Vizcaino, Delgado has never appeared on an autographed Bowman Chrome card. For a kid who made an impact at age 21 in the big leagues, this is a big miss. Topps tried to make up for it by featuring his auto in both Topps Finest and Bowman Platinum. Both are certainly nice cards and can be purchased for less than 15 dollars typically on eBay.
As my recommendation though, I'm going to chose a card that is a bit out there in terms of obscurity. For one thing, the logo has been airbrushed off the hat in the photo. Yes, I just railed against this practice above, but in this photo, it doesn't distract as much. It helps that they chose a shot of Delgado's back so the front logo did not have to be removed. There's also the background. I've never understood why a photo of a baseball player should be superimposed on a strange background like a wheat field. There's also something about the way the light hits Delgado's face on the card. The kid looks old here. Despite all this, there's something about the way the red in the hat and the uniform pops out from the wheat field and the blue sky. The card is vibrant and since it can often be picked up for around a five spot, I'm recommending it.
If, as expected, Tyler Pastornicky wins the starting shortstop job in training camp this year, we will all be pulling hard for the kid. He's another one that I don't think any of us expected to be in the position he's in at the moment. For his own sake, he would be advised to get off to a hot start. After all, MLB's 65th best prospect is right behind him and looks poised to have the type of season that could very well carry him to Atlanta. He is fast on the base path and possesses a cannon arm, and I can't wait for the opportunity to see him play.
Topps has been including Simmons in their minor league sets for the past two seasons, but he has yet to be featured with an autograph. His first Bowman Chrome card from 2010 is better than most, but doesn't feature the most exciting photography. His 2010 Topps Pro Debut card is a nice action shot of Simmons at the plate. Still, I'm going to go in a different direction again for my recommendation.
For Simmons, I'm going to recommend his 2011 Topps Heritage Minor League card. The 2011 Topps Heritage product featured the iconic wood border design from the 1962 Topps set. The design looks as good today as it did in 1962. The photography is a great shot of Simmons fielding a ground ball, and it's hard not to love the Lynchburg Hillcats uniform. This is a beautiful card and it shouldn't set you back any more than a dollar. (Since the Heritage cards are still printed on cardboard, they make a great choice for getting a young player's autograph as well.)
My first favorite baseball player was Gary Carter. As a kid, I loved Johnny Bench and used to watch him on the Baseball Bunch every Saturday morning. Bruce Benedict was a favorite when I first became an Atlanta fan in the early 80s. Like virtually every Atlanta Braves fan in 2012, I count Brian McCann as one of my favorite baseball players of all time. I've always liked catchers and I look forward to watching the progress of MLB's 91st top prospect, Christian Bethancourt, as he progresses though the system. Athletic young catchers with strong arms who can make consistant contact at the plate are in short supply. I think the kid will continue the superb work he showed at Rome last year.
Recommending a Bethancourt card is easy since he's only been featured once by Topps. (He does appear in several minor league card sets put out by the teams.) Fortunately for Bethancourt, it's a fascinating card. The card appears in the Topps Pro Debut set. This is a minor league card set that Topps first released in 2010 and features minor league players on the current Topps design for the season. The players are pictured in their minor league uniforms and the cards include the actual minor league logo. It's certainly an interesting idea for a set and I go back and forth each season on whether the set is worth putting together. I keep landing on no, but I could see that changing at any time.
As for Bethancourt's card, I'm left wondering exactly what he's doing in the picture. It looks, to me, like he's talking on the phone. I have a hard time picturing a player in uniform, with his glove on, speaking on the phone, but that's what it looks like. Hopefully Topps will jump on the Bethancourt (and Simmons) bandwagon this year and get his autographs into packs. You can pick up this card for a dollar or less.