Wednesday, April 26, 2017

2014 Jake Lamb

Every week when I look through my Inception cards to pick out who to research, I struggle with the decision.  There are some guys that I know much better than others - like Carlos Correa and Byron Buxton - some guys I am just flat intrigued by (Jorge Soler) and others I know or care nothing about.  I want to get to know all of these players and cards, so I will get to them eventually.  But I know I need to start choosing some cards of guys who have not made much headway or don’t look like they will ever make. 
But this week is not one of those players!
Jake Lamb is in the spotlight this week, and not just because he has an awesome first name!  Rake Lamb, as some fantasy baseball podcasts are known to call him, was really fun to learn about this week! 

Player History:

I will have to go back and check, but I think that to this point, Jake Lamb may be the lowest drafted player I have profiled. Brett Phillips was in the same round, but he was 189th overall, while Lamb came in at 213th overall from the University of Washington.  Lamb was a Freshman All-American and All-Pac 12 at UW, then followed that up by being All-Pac 12 for the next two years.  

That’s the kind of pedigree that makes me wonder why I guy doesn’t get taken until the sixth round.  

It was honestly kind of difficult to find a lot of in-depth scouting on Lamb from his college years or near the draft.  Could this be because of the lack of national exposure the Northwest has for college baseball?I don’t know.  But I left with the impression that Lamb “came out of nowhere,” which is odd for a guy who was obviously a top notch college ballplayer. 

Some scouts takes on Lamb from early on and more recent comments:

  • Prototypical pull hitter.  But what's a bit different about Jake is his ability to pull the ball pitched on the outer half of the plate with reasonable success.
  • Probably one of the shortest swings executed in the league.  Shorter swings = longer time to react.
  • Lamb is a legitimate plus defender at third base with excellent range, soft hands and above-average arm strength as well as the agility and athleticism to stick at the position long term.
  • Has monster power and pretty decent plate patience, too. Owns a very strong arm at the hot corner and is generally a sound defender.
  • Strikes out way too much, so he will need to curb his penchant for swinging and missing in order to maximize output in MLB.
My takeaway from this?  He is a typical major league player in this day and age.  Plays good defense, strikes out too much but has a ton of power.  How many teams have that kind of profile as their default search term?  I imagine he would fit right in with the Astros!  
In looking at his short Minor League stint, it’s obviously that Lamb was going to get a shot at the MLB from the very first few weeks into his career.  In 2012, Lamb was among the league leaders in hits, doubles, RBI, slugging pct., OPS, homers and average; he finished 8th or above in all of those categories. 
In 2013 Lamb continued his rise through Rookie and Advanced A, leading to his being named the No. 9 or No. 10 prospect in all of baseball depending on who you asked at the time (Baseball America or  In 2014 he spent time in AA then AAA before making his debut with the Diamondbacks on September 7, going 1-4 with a strikeout.  
Since then, he has amassed 274 hits, 43 HRs, 11 SBs, a .255 avg, and a .326 obp.  Not numbers that stand out as eye-popping or astronomical, but solid and absolutely worthy of the acclaim he has received to this point as a 26 year old.  

Look of the Card:

I have been wondering lately what the thought process is like for choosing the photos for Inception cards.  Obviously there has to be a reason for all of these decisions, but to me, the choice to show guys on the follow through of a swing is somewhat confusing.   I am sitting here trying to imagine who looks good on the follow through, and really the good example that comes to mind is Griffey Jr.  I know there are others, but so far I do not think the follow-through-on-the-swing photo is very good with Inception.  

I guess it’s cool to see his name on the jersey, that part of this card is fairly unique.  And the color of the DBacks old uniforms and helmets looks really good against the woodgrain background of the 2014 set.  

One detail that draws my attention is how the barrel of his bat covers up the second “i” in Inception.  It’s just a little bit of the card that I find fun and fascinating.  Maybe someday I can have a chat with someone involved in this process and find out why stuff like that happens.  

As always, I can’t help but notice the look on Lamb’s face in this swing.  I really wish I could see his eyes, because then I would have a stronger indication of whether or not this ended up being a good hit or not.  The look on his face could be either a grimace - that instantaneous realization that it was not a good hit - or just the result of the strain of the swing (especially considering his power potential).  Either way, it’s something that makes me smile every time I look closely.  

As much as I would love to be able to number similarities between myself and Jake Lamb, the only one I will focus on is the fact that we both tend to highlight the first letter of our first name with a big cursive J.  Lamb, however, flourishes the bottom half of the J, whereas I flourish the top half.  I’ll bet you are glad to have that little bit of trivia on hand now!  I also like how the L and B of Lamb are solid bookends to his last night.  Overall a strong signature in my opinion!  

Card Value:

Jake Lamb’s Inception card has felt for a long while that it could absolutely explode in value.  Because Lamb can be prone to streaks of absolutely mashing the ball, his Inception card’s value tends to fluctuate a good deal.  

Currently the base card has a listing range that begins at $4.73 and goes all the way up to $19.95.  Definitely not as egregious a range as some of these cards can get, but still a significant difference.  There is a /25 Green Parallel available for $57.50 if anyone is interested! 
And listings on are not much different, ranging from $4.73-$15.50.  All of this gives  pretty solid look at what the hobby community expects from Lamb’s value. 

As for sales of the card, there have been 13 sales on ebay in the last three months.  Sellers have made as little as $0.99 up to $4.79 from the card.  There are some outliers on, with there being 62 sales since the release of the card, with the highest purchase being $10.72.  

Quick update on eBay sales: since the original research for this card was done, one base card was sold for $7.25 with five people bidding on it.  Maybe Lamb has gotten an in-season bump?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

2015 and 2016 Brett Phillips


Brett Phillips will always be of interest to me because he was considered the centerpiece of the trade the Astros made for Carlos Gomez 2 years ago.  As a quick recap of how that trade turned out: huge bust for the Astros!  The Astros sent Phillips, Josh Hader, Domingo Santana and Adrian Houser for Gomez and Mike Fiers. 
Of note in the trade, the USA Today quoted the Brewers as saying “they would not have done the trade without the inclusion of Phillips.” So obviously, there was high hope for the development of Phillips within their system. 
Through 14 games this year, his Average, Slugging Percentage and On-Base-Plus-Slugging are all above his career averages in the minors.  Hopefully this bodes well for his chance to see Big League action this year!

Player History:

Let’s just jump right into the breakdown of Phillips as a player.
Here are some takes from scouting reports about Phillips from before and around the trade:
  • Phillips has the tools to be a quality defensive center fielder with good enough offense to be a regular in the lineup.Phillips in a word: Balance
  • Basically, Phillips does everything well. It's possible he won't be great at any one thing, but having balance to be good at so many aspect of the game is extremely valuable, especially in center field. 
  • The one question mark people have had was whether he would hit for enough power.
  • At 6-foot, 175 pounds, Phillips has a prototypical center fielder's build. He plays outstanding defense, with quick and correct reads of the ball off the bat, good range and speed to chase down balls hit to all directions.
  • Phillips is truly a "captain of the outfield." His arm strength is well above-average, making him capable of playing right field. However, I believe Phillips' skills fit best as the outfield general taking charge in center. 
  • Phillips has always had a good on-base percentage, making him an excellent candidate for a top-of-the-order position. He makes things happen. 
It is interesting to me that Phillips did not seem to be a prospect of note until the 2015 season.  He was drafted 189th overall, in the 6th round, out of Seminole, Florida. He did not seem to gather much attention as a prospect until 2015; he was not a top 10 Prospect for the Astros from what I saw until the Baseball America Mid-Season update when he jumped to the #2 prospect in the system.  That was even after he was dubbed the Astros Minor League Player of the year in 2014.  
Though it appears that the trade for Gomez was an absolute bust for the Astros (even given the inclusion of Fiers), Phillips has yet to come through on the promise of his breakout 2014 and 2015 seasons.  He was the Brewers No. 4 ranked prospect going into 2016 (after debuting as No. 2 after the trade) but droped to No. 11 coming into 2017.  His stats in the minor leagues coming into this season look like this:
Games: 468 
At Bats: 1738 
H: 806 
2B: 93 
3B: 41 
HR: 49 
SO: 449 
Avg: .278 
OBP: .360
I am no baseball statician, but my response to these numbers: “good not great.”  But from everything I have heard about Phillips, he is an excellent teammate and great clubhouse guy.  His defense is lauded and his personality is magnetic.  It stands to reason that if he gets the right opportunity (maybe if the Brewers sell off their remaining valuable pieces as part of a rebuild?), that Phillips will make the most of it.  
As an Astros fan, I don’t want to be reminded of this trade by seeing Phillips make a name for himself at the Major League level with another team.  But as a baseball fan, I am absolutely rooting for this guy! 

Look of the Card:

When I look at the 2015 Phillips Inception, the first thing I think of now is the new statue of Ken Griffey Jr. outside of Safeco Field.  The kicker is the way Phillips’ hand comes up in front of his chest just like Griffey in the statue.  The positioning of his face is pretty intriguing to me; I think the intended effect is that he is watching a home run, but the upward tilt of his face makes me think it was more likely a pop-up! 

The second thing I notice really is geometrical line created from the front tip of his helmet that extends down to his hand that is still holding the bat.  It’s a very unique position for an Inception card as far as I can tell.  It centers the Astros of his jersey very well and creates a balance to the card that I think is very cool.  I wish the orange of the Astros jersey looked better against this background, but I also wish he was still in the organization…

This card just fires random connections in my brain, because when I look at his signature, I immediately think of the heart monitor used in hospitals; the one that always flat lines in movies and TV when people die.  The contrast of the tall letters to the small letters just gives a very “up and down” effect.  

The word that comes to mind for the 2016 version is “awkward.”  Again, there is an interesting balance to the card created by his outstretched arms, but that’s where the fun begins.  

The twist of his right arm holding the bat captures a moment that will forever look like he about to break his arm.  And of course, he has a blue sleeve on his left arm (set against a black and purple background).

The best part of the card is his face.  I am not one to judge, because I am about 99% I have made similar faces when batting or throwing, but my face was never immortalized on a baseball card.  I love the concentrated look on his face, but the folds of his jaw and cheek skin just make me chuckle every single time I look.  

At least the white and blue Brewers jersey looks very good against the background; much more pleasing to see than the Astros orange against the baseball look of the 2015 card.  

Card Value:

As stated above, I decided to go with a player that has been featured in two different years of Inception.  Whenever I have two cards to look at, I like to put them in a table instead of listing them out or keeping them in paragraph form.  Its just looks so much cleaner and easy to understand to me.  So here are the numbers for the 2015 Phillips base card and 2016 Purple Parallel for Phillips.  The numbers in parentheses are the total number of listings at the time of my research. 

Current Listings eBay
Sales on eBay
Listings on COMC
Sales on COMC
2015 Base
$3-$35 (13)
$3-$10.99 (18)
51 total sales
2016 Purple Parallel
$4.75-$5.25 (2)
$4.75-$5.25 (2)
2 total sales

The conclusion from this data is pretty simple and similar to other studies I have done with Inception: there is not a ton of hope in Phillips becoming a star and the earlier version is slightly more valuable.  Obviously the listing for $35 for the 2015 base is pretty ridiculous in light of the rest of the listings and the sales, but it’s worth noting that SOMEBODY thought to do that.  Sometimes I wonder if outliers like that are the result of typos.  Maybe that person mean to make it $3.50 but did not double check their work?

Regardless, I like Phillips a lot and I like his Inception cards.  Thanks for hanging with me!  

Monday, April 17, 2017

2015 Henry Owens

A few weeks ago, I asked on Twitter for suggestions of players/teams that I should profile.  The only response I got was from @shanesalmonson for his beloved Red Sox. Well the only Inception I have of a player who is currently still with the organization is Henry Owens, so that’s who we are going with this week!  If anyone else has any suggestions, let me know!  

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Owens going into the research for this article, so I had a lot to learn!  

At the bottom of the post, be sure to check out who the winner of the 10 Week Inception card giveaway was! Thanks to all who entered! 

Player History:

Two years ago, I started playing fantasy baseball for the first time in a very long time, and it was the first time I felt like I had an actual clue as to what I was doing.  I remember having seen the 2015 Henry Owens Inception card and then getting excited when I heard he was getting called up in August that year.  It was one of the first times I was able to connect a player I knew nothing about with these cards (guys like Buxton and Correa don’t count because I knew a lot more about them long before I saw their cards).  

In the 2015 season, Owens made his debut in Yankee Stadium (the youngest Red Sox pitcher to debut in Yankee Stadium since 1967…thank you to the baseball world’s obsession with history for that one!).  He gave up 3 runs in 5 innings and the Sox lost the game 13-3.  The only reason I threw in the score was for my buddy Shane.  You’re welcome!  

Owens went on to make 11 starts for the rest of the season, followed by 5 starts in 2016.  Thus far, he has pitched 16 times for a 4-6 record with a 5.19 ERA, 1.52 WHIP and a K-per-inning rate of .84 (71 Strikeouts in 85 innings). Definitely not exciting numbers for a guy who was the No. 5 ranked prospect heading into 2013, No. 4 beginning the 2014 season and No. 2 prospect to start the 2015 season when he eventually made his debut.  

So how did he get there and what is the outlook like for him?

Owens is from Huntington Beach, CA where he was named named the Cal-Hi Sports Mr. Baseball State Player of the Year, Sunset League Pitcher of the year and Louisville Slugger High School All-American in 2011.  These accolades propelled him to be drafted 36th overall by the Red Sox that year.

Over the next few seasons, Owens would pitch in 120 games in the Minors as he progressed through the system, amassing 53 Wins and 31 Losses with a 3.35 ERA and 1.23 WHIP.  His K-per-inning rate was an impressive 1.08. In 2013, he was the Minor League leader in holding opponent batting average to .177 and had an ERA of 1.78 (his best of his career).  His two best strikeout totals were in 2014 with 126 in AA, and in 2016 with 135 in AAA.  
What have the scouting reports been for Henry Owens?  I am glad you asked:
  • Profiles as a back end starter with a chance for more if he improves his fastball command and curveball. Development of curveball is key; relies heavily on fastball/changeup combination. Advanced feel for pitching.
  • Very deceptive delivery; the ball comes out from behind his head and jumps on hitters due to the extension from his long limbs. Can struggle to repeat his mechanics from pitch-to pitch, leading to control issues. 
  • While the stuff is certainly where it needs to be to get big league hitters out right now, the control and command are not…Fastball command is below-average, and the change and curveball are pitches that are much better when he’s ahead in the count

I find it so fascinating that someone with the success and pedigree of Henry Owens is seen as someone only able to fill the back end of a rotation.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s more than the vast majority of people who have ever picked up a baseball could hope for.  It’s more about where he started and where he is projected to end.  Very interesting to me. 

As for 2017, Owens is listed on the Red Sox 40-man roster, but not the active 25-man roster.  So he is starting the year at AAA Pawtucket, but is not scheduled to start any of their first five games as of the time of this writing.  Who knows what this season holds in store for the former California State player of the year? Maybe he finally solidifies his spot in a Major League rotation, maybe he jumps from being the seeming AAAA player and makes his name more widely known. 

Look of the Card:

The very first thing that sticks out on this card is the fact that there is a baseball in mid-flight after being released.  This is definitely a rare addition to Inception cards that I have seen so far in my research.  Honestly, I go back and forth with whether or not I like it’s presence there.  On one hand, it’s a little unique compared to the cards of other pitchers, but on the other hand it is a bit jarring/awkward to have this orb floating in the upper half of the card.  I don’t know.  I guess it’s at least interesting to take not of.

I can tell by the position of Owen’s hand in the picture that he appears to have just thrown a change-up, as evidenced by the extension of his pinky, ring and middle fingers and the close grip of the thumb and pointer finger.  I think that’s pretty cool since the scouting reports show that his change-up is really his money pitch; that’s something I would not have picked up on or cared about without this research!  Pay attention in school kids, you might learn something!

In truth, I crack up every time I look at this card.  The look on Owen’s face is just comical to me.  It’s not the intensity of De Leon or Berriors, it’s not the more relaxed look of some other guys.  His eyes are WIDE open.  It’s awesome, almost as if he is trying to distract the batter with an extra bit of whiteness while the ball travels to the plate.  

I have gone on record multiple times about enjoying the big initials in a signature, and Owens does not disappoint.  It’s easy to see the though process behind the big H that leads into the loopy Y at the end of Henry, which then leads into the big O that stands in for his whole last name.  It’s kind of a beautiful mess in my opinion.  It all fits nice and neat into the space created by his throwing hand, glove and front leg in the picture.  Well done by the artist of the card and by Henry for recognizing a perfect spot for his autograph!  

Card Value:

I tend to look at the market value of these Inception cards as glimpses into the overall belief in a player’s future.  It’s not hard to understand why guys like Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Kris Bryant all have held such high value with their Inception cards while guys like Matt Olson (see the post about him from a few weeks ago) do not.  Owens is another interesting case to me, sort of like Alen Hanson, because he has had an opportunity to make the Major League team. Here is the breakdown that I have seen:

Currently, there are nine listings of the base card for Owens on eBay, ranging from $1.99 to $11.99 for just the base.  There is a /99 parallel listed for $20, /25 parallel for $29.95 and a /150 parallel for an astounding $40.74 (note the /150 parallel is the easy outlier).

As far as sales go, there have been three total sales in last few months (admittedly all during the baseball off season), ranging from $1.50-$1.99.  Of note, a /99 parallel sold for $2.99 (compared to the one current listing of $20) and a /159 parallel sold for a whopping $0.99 (a little lower than the $40.74 asking price currently on eBay!).  The kicker, though, is that a base version relic/auto (similar to the George Springer cards I profiled last week) sold for 1 cent!  Crazy! shows pretty similar market values with 11 base cards listed from $2.75-$5.  There is at least one card listed from the /150, /99 and /25 parallels.  Sales of the base card have been relatively limited compared to other cards I have looked at recently, with only 25 sold on the site since it’s release. 

And now for the winner of the Week 10 Inception Giveaway!  Thanks to everyone who RTed on Twitter on posted comments on the blog!  Since It was Week 10, I took the 10th name that I pulled out the hat.  That ended up being:

Jacob Stephens of @jstephens2482 fame!  Tune in next week for Brett Phillips!

Monday, April 10, 2017

2014 George Springer Relic/Auto

Welcome to the 10th edition of A Very Simple Idea!  What started out as a chance for me to get to know my cards better has turned into a very fun project that has really given me new insight into the world of baseball prospects!  It’s been a blast and I hope to grow as a researcher and writer as I continue to profile my cards and the players they showcase!

This week I am taking a break from the base versions that I normally highlight to look at one of my personal favorite players: George Springer!  Springer has been featured in the 2013 and 2014 Bowman Inception sets, but never on the base version.  His Inception cards have been part of subsets that I do not normally collect, but I make an exception for him!  

At the bottom of the post, check out the opportunity to WIN a few Inception cards for yourself!  

Player History:

There is not much to be said about Springer that hasn’t already been written, so I am going to try to keep this short and sweet. He was drafted out of UCONN by the Astros with the 11th overall pick and was really the first prospect leading the charge of change for the organization. 

In 2012, Springer entered the season as the Astros No. 3 prospect.  According to Baseball America, that year he was ranked as having the Best Outfield Arm, and as being the Best Athlete and Best Defensive Outfielder in the Astros system.  Obviously there was a lot to be excited about with Springer from the very beginning. 

The following year, he again entered the season as the No. 3 prospect in the organization.   By year’s end, he was named Minor League Baseball's 2013 Offensive Player of the Year and the Astros Minor League Player of the Year.  Here is what scouts were saying about Springer by this time: 

  • Springer immediately stands out on a baseball field with his athletic ability.
  • He’s easily a plus runner and those wheels make him a constant threat to steal bases.
  • He’s largely a patient hitter, but when he gets ahead in the count he can be fooled by both fastballs up and breaking balls low
  • Strikeouts are always going to be a problem for Springer
  • If things ever really click for him he has tools and ability that compare favorably with some of the best players in baseball. If they don’t, he’s still a five tool center fielder that’s a constant speed and power threat while providing value with his glove.
The consistent description of Springer is pretty simple: way above average defender that combines speed and power at the plate.  Other prophecies of his Major League career proclaimed his approach as most likely to hold a low batting average and struggles with pitchers who can control the outer half of the strike zone. But by the time the 2014 season rolled around, Springer was now the No. 2 prospect for the Astros and the No. 18 ranked prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America. 
He made his debut for the Astros on April 16, 2014, going 1-5 with 2 strikeouts and a walk against the Royals.  Since then, Springer has struggle with strikeouts (401 so far) and a not-so-amazing .258 Batting Average.  He only has 33 stolen bases in the Majors, compared to 88 in the Minors, but has managed 65 Home Runs as well as a long highlight reel of astounding defensive plays.  All in all, he has continued to show growth as a Major League ballplayer and still tantalizes fans and scouts with the potential to put all of his skills together consistently.  

Look of the Card:

I am fortunate enough to own three different Parallels of this 2014 Bowman Inception card:

The base version has a very strong connection to the base set, even though there are some very distinct differences.  Obviously the first difference is that the card is horizontal, instead of vertical like the base set, and the background is split into three sections.  

The upper left portion and most of the lower half of the card are set off with a curved border and have an apparent light brown leather look them.  It’s hard not to want to rub your finger along the bottom and see if the leather has actual texture to it!  

The middle section closely resembles the wood grain coloring and texturing of the base cards. The middle section of the Parallels helps differentiate them: pink for the /50 Parallel and a light (almost mint) green for the /25 Parallel.  I am not a huge fan of the Pink Parallel but I love the Green Parallel! In truth, though, I am stoked that I own all three of these together!  

Also of major note is that this set of cards comes with a relic (piece of jersey that at some point was in Springer’s possession) and that the autograph was signed on a sticker to be placed on the card, instead of being directly signed by the player like the base set.  I absolutely love the orange fabric of the jersey on the cards that I own.  It is just such a unique and eye-popping color!  

As much as I love Springer the player, his signature leaves a lot to be desired!  It’s almost always just a hastily scribbled capital G and capital S.  Granted, I don’t fault anyone who has to sign so many autographs for wanting to keep it simple, but this almost has the feeling of “I don’t care about this at all” or “I really hate doing this.”  I have no idea if that’s really how he feels, but it’s the vibe I get from his signature.  

The picture of Springer is not the most exciting Inception photo I have seen, but it is far from the worst!  Springer looks to be jogging in from the outfield with the easy grace and athleticism that has made him so special.  Oddly, this is a similar position - albeit from a different angle - of the 2013 Jorge Soler card, but the Soler card really has much more powerful of an impact.
The dark blue of Astros jersey coupled with the dark orange of his sleeves and hat are a really solid combination for the look of these cards.  And I really like the silver medallion printed next to the orange jersey.  I can’t exactly say why, but my eyes are always drawn to it with the leather background.

Card Value:

When Springer was tearing up the Minor Leagues and made his debut with the Astros, prices for his cards were skyrocketing!  But because he has been good, and not the next coming of Mickey Mantle or even Mike Trout, his value has come down to a very affordable level!  

I was able to buy the base version of this card recently for only $5 before shipping!  The Pink Parallel I have had for a while, and purchased that for about $10 including shipping.  Just a few weeks ago, the I bought Green Parallel on ebay for just $15 before shipping!  A would say averaging $10 per card for these three is a pretty awesome value!  

Here are the next three I would love to acquire if anyone wants to donate them or start a Go Fund Me to help out (just kidding!):

I am confident that all three can and should be purchased for less than they are listed for, but odds are that I am done collecting this particular set of Springer cards!  

Ok, now for the giveaway!  I have a small stack of Inception cards that are either doubles of cards I already own or are the relic/auto versions similar to the Springer cards shown above.  And I want to give them away!  There are two ways to enter: 

  1. Leave a comment on this blog post about: Inception cards, or George Springer or any of the cards that have been profiled so far in the first ten posts of A Very Simple Idea. 
  2. Retweet the tweet with the link for this post on Twitter!  

That’s all there is to it!  If you RT and leave a comment, you will be entered twice!  Just leave your Twitter handle on your post so that I know who it is!  

The drawing will be done out of a hat (because I like to be old fashioned occasionally) a week from today and announced on the next blog post. 

Thanks so much for hanging with me through the first 10 weeks of this blog!