Monday, May 21, 2018

Prospecting?

In the hobby, prospecting is often used as a catch-all term for the act of hoarding baseball cards of a minor leaguer who shows lots of promise. Then selling off those cards for (ideally) more than what you spent on them. But what really goes into prospecting? Does it work? Can you really make money doing it? I've never done it myself but I can at least offer a small nothing of a post on how it kind of works based on second hand accounts.



DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.


So let’s start from the beginning.

What kind of cards do you hoard in order to #prospect?

BOWMAN CHROME PROSPECT AUTOGRAPHS

Unless you’re dealing with the rare type of prospect who just signs for one product/company that's not the Bowman Chrome brand, you’re going to want to go after the Bowman Chrome autographs. Why? Well over the years these have earned the title and prestige of being the card people use as investments. A lot of the time they are the very first card of the prospect in a big league uniform (although they are likely badly photoshopped) and they tend to also be the very first certified autograph of that player. For a while there, their value was held up by how other options were often cards depicting the players in minor league uniforms (which hurts the value) or were cards that were unlicensed (which is worse). Eventually Chrome being king just became the status quo and it is kept and protected to this very day.



Keep in mind that even if you have an autographed card of a good prospect that was issued by Bowman, if it’s not Chrome, it’ll never going to be worth as much as you wish it would be. This is why other Bowman brands/titles like Sterling, Inception and Platinum as well as the insert autographs will NEVER be as worthwhile as Chrome. Chrome is king.

Anyway, you want to hoard as many of the Bowman Chrome prospect autographs as you can. Based on pre-sale info accumulated throughout the years, oversupply seems to be a problem with a lot of the Bowman Chromes, but the more of them you can acquire, the more well off you'll be. Getting the colored refractor autographs limited to a certain number of copies is even better.

DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.

How to buy?

So how should you go about buying these cards? Do you go after them individually on eBay? No. Well okay, you could but buying singles on eBay is a good way to really burn out your budget before you get to build a big enough inventory.

One way you can acquire them is to participate in as many group breaks as possible. Most online retailers organize group breaks where they open up cases upon cases of card products and people can pay ahead of the break to have all of the cards of a team or player (depending on what type of break it is) pulled from the break sent to them. So if you want, say, the first rounder of the Chicago Cubs from 2027 Bowman Draft, you enter as many group breaks as your budget will allow you to join where you can sign up for the Cubs or the player’s slots. Then pray that you manage to hit something good in the breaks you managed to join.

DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.

When To Buy?

The sooner the better. We live in the information age, most prospects will have every little detail of their development available on the internet in real time. So much so that a lot of the hardcore prospectors already have their eyes set on prospects before they're even drafted. Once a player starts getting higher in status, their prices will go up as well, so it's best to start early.

Obviously there is significant risk. Do you really want to pay hundreds of dollars on a player who may never even sniff the majors, let alone get on a 40 man roster? That is one of the many many questions you'll have to ask yourself before you invest hundreds upon thousands of your hard earned dollars into these cards over other investments like stocks and bonds.

DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.

What's A Decent Stock?


In a perfect world you want to have around 20+ Bowman Chrome base autographs, 5-20 refractor autographs that have triple digit serial numbers, 2-5 refractor autographs that have double digit serial numbers, and maybe around 1-3 refractor autographs that have single digit serial numbers. But we live in a crazy imperfect world so you may not end up with that kind of inventory. Bowman keeps pumping out new parallel refractors every year so I won't bother to list the parallels individually (sometimes they change the serial number limit anyway). The point is, grab as much as you can.


DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.


When To Sell?

"When should I start selling my cards?" is the big question. My troll answer is that you can sell whenever you want to. But w
hat people really mean when they ask this question is, "when is the optimal time for me sell these cards in order to make a profit?"

The sad truth is that there is no perfect timing to start selling what you've got. Prospecting isn't the get rich quick scheme people think it is. Because the reality is that it's not very quick. Not if you're doing it thoroughly at least.


You're banking on the development of teenagers and early twenty-somethings. There will be ups and downs, and for all any of us know there could be no ups to speak of outside of the balance amount on your credit card. These things can take years unless you're dealing with wonderkin like Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant.


You need to periodically check in on how the prospect you've chosen to invest in is doing. Like maybe 3-4 times a week. Follow beat writers who cover the MiLB teams your player(s) play for on social media sites for any notable updates. Favorite the player(s') MiLB and Fangraphs pages to check for any spikes in performances. Keep track of what baseball publications like MLB.com, Baseball America and Scout.com have to say about the player(s). Yes, you will need to dish out money for the good subscriber only content.

You also need to periodically check what the cards you've got are going for on eBay. Yes eBay fluctuates and isn't always reliable, but when you have virtually zero alternatives, just go ahead and click on the "Sold Listings" box right now.




I guess there are moments when you can try selling off maybe a few of your base autographs when the player is still in the minors. If a player does something notable in the minors like perhaps hitting for the cycle or throwing a no-hitter, you may find that their value goes up a bit by a few dollars. If a player starts getting some hype and fans are just clamoring for their callup (like Gleyber Torres with the Yankees before his surgery), that's a good time to test how well some of your stock can move for too. There might also be the rare case where some super obsessed collector just offers you a fortune for your collection. Don't bet on it though. In every scenario, chances are you're just going to get a lot of disappointing low ball offers because people want something for nothing (just look at yourself when you assembled your own stock).

Maybe move some stuff when the players start getting promoted to the higher levels too. This isn't always the case but often when a prospect starts getting closer and closer to the big leagues, their value starts to tick up with more and more people starting to think he's the real deal.

Of course when the prospect is promoted to the big leagues is probably the best time to see what your stuff can go for. I don't recommend putting all of your inventory out at once, but maybe put some of it up and see what happens. The newness factor can drive prices up momentarily, and if they go on to have a monster MLB debut or have a monster first week or month in the MLB (ala Judge and Bellinger), you'll be getting some nice returns on your investments. Although don't get your hopes up.

After that you're probably left with a bit of your initial stock. Keep tabs on where the player's value is going and make your own calls on when to put the rest of them up (if you want to at all).

I guess I should also point out that trying to sell of things in desperation is a tough call to make. I often hear people giving up on a prospect after a poor season in the minors or a poor rookie season in the MLB. Some of the time they're correct to just cut bait and sell of what they have before the value really plummets. Other times, the player goes on to be a late bloomer or just really good and the value goes up even higher. The first example can be seen in guys like Jacob Turner. The latter example can be seen in guys like Jose Bautista.

If you've studied the player(s) for years like the steps until this point have demanded of you, you should be able to make a reasonable conclusion on how their talent level will or will not translate at the big league level. Even then it might not work out, but that's life and that's the risk you should have acknowledged you were taking on when you started this whole thing.

DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.


Reasonable Expectations For Your Returns

So assume this all goes well. After all of this work, all of this effort, all this money, all of this time, how much money can you expect to make? My best guess is, maybe a couple hundred.

Look, the sad truth is that you will not break the bank by prospecting. If you get super lucky with a superfractor or some Mike Trout-esque miracle you might make a grand and have enough to get yourself a new refrigerator, but it's not paying off your kids' college tuition, your college loans, your downpayment on the dream house, your mortgage, none of that.

It's important to keep in perspective that you're investing time and money into glossy rectangles. I know we all get a "the T206 Honus Wagner sold for millions!" article every other year but these aren't T206 Wagners, they're Bowman Chrome autograph cards with higher print runs and significantly less demand and no cultural significance to speak of.

Honestly I'd say "expect to lose money in the process" but I've heard that some people manage to break just even if they're shrewd enough. That said if we were to bring opportunity cost into the picture, then yeah you're losing a lot.

All in all, please take full precaution when thinking of going into prospecting. There's no guarantee for success and the higher the guarantee is, the more likely you're going to have to cough up the big bucks to keep up.

Also keep in mind that this was all just a mere glimpse of the prospecting world. I've never been a reseller so I have no idea what the journey is like, so the actual story the prospectors have to tell might differ from every individual. Actually I'm sure of that since every player is different after all.

So there you have it. Prospecting (as I see it) in a nutshell.

As always thanks for stopping by and,
DISCLAIMER: Keep in mind that this is NOT an instruction guide on how to go about prospecting/investing. Do not look at this post hoping for a set of steps to make you money. I am NOT an investment/financial advisor and will not be held liable for any losses you bring upon yourself. Prospect at your own risk.

Take care.

9 comments:

  1. I've always been curious at the process that goes into accumulation of the cards. Being that I'm on eBay a good bit looking at Pirates cards I can get a glimpse of the selling process. When Nick Kingham and Austin Meadows made their debuts people dumped a ton of their high end autos. The sell prices were high so if they got in cheap some pretty good money was made.

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    1. I think I need to rewrite the post. The only sensible way to accumulate the cards is through group breaks. Buying singles is for chumps.

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  2. This is great. So you're telling me to take my kids' 529 college accounts and buy Bowman Chrome prospect autographs?!

    Just kidding. Enjoyed the post though!

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    1. You could but you will get taxed on that.

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  3. You should have a tv show like that one that prospect for gold.

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  4. Replies
    1. I don't think I can compete with the shows about morons chasing bigfoot and aliens.

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  5. Dude. This is the best instruction guide ever! You straight up laid everything out for me. I can't wait to use these steps to make BIG money! Is it possible to hire you as my investment advisor or at the very least my financial advisor?

    P.S. You might consider writing six or seven disclaimers to prevent idiots like myself who might try to blame you when I sell all of my assets, invest in Kevin Maas Bowman Chrome autographs, and end up living in a van down by the river.

    :D

    ReplyDelete