Monday, March 27, 2017

2013 and 2104 Alen Hanson


I have really enjoyed the opportunity to research and write about these cards over the last couple of months!  Admittedly it’s difficult to find time to fit in the research and the writing, but every time I finish and post an entry it’s a really awesome feeling!

That having been said, I am always looking for ways to improve this blog.  I am trying to make the entries a bit shorter and more readable, and also changing up some of the ways I approach each entry.  For instance, this week I chose a player who has cards in both the 2013 and 2014 set.

I also think that next week I will deviate from the base sets and profile a player from a sub-set of the Inception brand…stay tuned for that! 

Player History:

One of the most interesting things about my research lately has been looking at the International Signings from the same year that the player I am profiling signed.  Alen Hanson signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates out of the Dominican Republic on July 14, 2009.  Here is a list of guys you may have heard of who also were signed from the International Pool that same calendar year: Aroldis Chapman, Miguel Sano, Jurickson Profar, Jorge Alfaro, Max Kepler and Gary Sanchez.  That’s a crazy good top of the crop of International Signings!  

Among those players signed that year, Alen Hanson was far from the most heralded but also has not been a major disappointment.  He was 16 years old when he signed and has slowly progressed his way through the Pirates’ system, earning his shot at the Major Leagues in May of last year.  In 27 games, he batted .226 (with a .273 BOP) only striking out five times and stealing 2 bases.  It was not a sizzling debut (like his International Signing classmate Gary Sanchez), but it was progression enough to keep him moving forward.  This spring, Hanson has hit .373 with a .404 OBP and 3 stolen bases.  Spring Training stats are what they are, but obviously he is showing continued signs of growth.  

These are all great things about a guy who has mostly been known for his speed (“speed is clearly his main offensive weapon” according to one report).  In 2012, when Hanson finally began to realize some potential in Class A ball, one publication proclaimed him “the best prospect no one knows about.”  Here are some other things that were said about Hanson leading up to the 2013 season:

  • Undersized at 5’11”, 152 pounds, the switch-hitter’s bat is incredibly developed for his age, as he’s already demonstrated potential for above-average power and a plus hit tool by the time he reaches the major leagues. 
  • With loose, whippy wrists and plus bat speed, the ball jumps off Hanson’s bat with ease, as he’s adept to driving to the ball to all fields from both sides of the plate. 
  • Furthermore, his long arms and superb hand-eye coordination aid his excellent plate coverage. 
  • Part of what makes Hanson so projectable is his outstanding athleticism, which, when combined with his tools, has made him nearly a unanimous top-50 overall prospect headed into the 2013 season.
Indeed, going into the 2013 season, Hanson was the Pirates’ #5 ranked prospect in their system.  Even though he dropped slightly in succeeding seasons (down to #6 going into 2014, then #7, then #9 as the 2016 season started), it is hard not to attribute a good portion of the fall to the rise of other prospects in the system as opposed to lackluster play on his part.  

Some other facts of note for Hanson: 

  • After a short stint in May, Hanson was recalled on 8/30 and remained with the Pirates for the rest of the season…
  • Made first Major League start (second base) on 9/17 at Cincinnati (game 1) and went 1-for-2 with two walks while also collecting first big league RBI
  • Produced first career two-hit and two-run game on 9/23 vs. Washington
  • Went 3-for-15 with an RBI in his five starts with the Pirates (all at second base).
  • In 2015 he “entered season rated by the same publication as the "Best Athlete" and "Fastest Baserunner" in the Pirates minor league system”

Here are some of the numbers that Hanson accumulated during his time in the minors:

  • 2010 Rookie: 68 G, 244 AB, 7 3B, 2 HR, 37 SO, 20 SB, .324 Avg, .383 OBP
  • 2011 Rookie/Ashort: 5G, 208 AB, 7 3B, 2 HR, 36 SO, 24 SB, .260 Avg, .349
  • 2012 Afull: 124 G, 489 AB, 13 3B, 16 HR, 105 SO, 35 SB, .309 Avg, .381 OBP
  • 2013 Aadv/AA: 127 G, 504 AB, 13 3B, 8 HR, 96 SO, 30 SB, .274 Avg, .329 OBP
  • 2014 AA: 118 G, 482 AB, 12 3B, 11 HR, 88 SO, 25 SB, .280 Avg, .326 OPB
  • 2015 AAA: 117 G, 475 AB, 12 3B, 6 HR, 91 SO, 35 SB, .263 Avg, .313 OBP
  • 2016 AAA: 110 G, 432 AB, 7 3B, 8 HR, 78 SO, 36 SB, .318 Avg, .389 OBP
  • Overall Minors: 719 G, 2834 AB, 71 3B, 53 HR, 531 SO, 205 SB, .281 Avg., .340 OBP

If you are like me and gloss over chunks of statistics like this, note that he stole 205 bases in his Minor League Career.  It’s not exactly Billy Hamilton numbers, but definitely a skill that will help him stick around in the Big Leagues.  The career .281 batting average is not exactly eye-popping, but if it can translate to the Majors then I imagine it won’t be hard for him to end up as a mainstay in a lineup.

It appears that Hanson has performed well enough to merit a spot on the Active Roster for the Pirates coming out Spring Training.  Hopefully he continues his growth and progression and becomes a useful player for them for a number of years!

Look of the Card:

One of the more exciting opportunities of profiling two cards of the same guy is that this time around, the cards show different  aspects of his game.  The 2013 Inception shows Hanson in his follow through of a swing and the 2014 cards depicts a play in the field.  Excellent!

To begin, the yellow Pirates jersey just looks awesome against the cobalt background of the 2013 card. The folds down his shirt created by the twisting of his torso provide some awesome contrast of light and dark that really just make this card pop.  And even though the helmet he is wearing isn’t actually reflecting the background of the card, its not hard to feel like it is.  In short, the color scheme of this card really fits together well!  

As for Hanson himself, there are really three things I notice when I look over this card.  The first is - unsurprisingly - his eyes.  I love how they are obviously tracking the ball after he has gotten a hit.  It’s hard to imagine a card where I player is captured after swinging and missing - so I am going to assume that’s not the case here - and I just really like seeing the calculations going in his mind by how he is tracking the path of the ball.  Knowing his speed, that leads to the second thing I notice: how his body is transitioning from the swing to running.  The body mechanics it takes to do that smoothly have always been fascinating to me, and in this picture I can see a glimmer of the speed that scouts have raved about for years.  

And finally, I notice his cheeks.  I am not sure what the word is for the involuntary motions that go on during something as complicated as hitting a baseball, but they have always been interesting to me.  Full disclosure, I know that I blow out my cheeks with my lips pursed just like Hanson is in this picture when I throw the ball.  I have no idea if I do it when I swing, but that’s a major reason that feature jumped out at me. 

In the 2014 card, Hanson is still wearing a yellow Pirates jersey that still manages to look good on the wood grain background, but definitely not as cool as it did for the 2013 card. One random thing I notice is the slight peek we get as the number on his back.  It’s a small detail that I think helps make this card look good because it enhances the realism of the player on a card that seeks to capitalize on an ethereal effect (good luck figuring that sentence out!).  

The position that Hanson is captured in for this card really intrigues me.  Obviously he has just made a throw, but so much about his body position seems odd.  His hand is turned outward and his elbow is torqued upward, almost as if he has thrown a screwball.  It seems that the picture was taken very late in the follow through when most of the arm has rolled through, but it just seems off.  And his glove is up by his face, which seems an unnatural place for it to be at this point in the play.  My best guess is that this picture was taken on a double-play execution, instead of a play on a grounder or other possible defensive play.  Maybe someone who has played Second and Shortstop can enlighten me a bit on this!  

Finally, Hanson’s signature for both years is pretty consistent.  As I said before, I am a big fan of the big first initial for the first and last names, and Hanson does this to perfection.  The flourish at the end of his name, the loop back over the last few letters is fun.  It’s not efficient and doesn’t exactly seem to flow naturally from the final “n” if I was writing the name, but it’s fun that he does it and is consistent with it! 

Card Value:

As I said above, I am always looking for ways to improve on how I present the information that I find.  Since I am going two cards this week, I thought I would try to show it a little differently.  Here are the figures on both cards - the current set of listings and sales information at my disposal:

2013 Ebay Figures
2013 COMC Figures
2014 Ebay Figures
2014 COMC Figures
Base Range: $1.95-$20 OBO
22 listed: $1.95-$22.25
Base Range: $2-$10
1/1 Printing plate: $124.99
/10: $49.24
18 listed: $2.25-$9.99
2 sales $.99-$2.92
110 since release
5 sales $.99-$4.24
101 since release
/5 listed at $139.99
/25 listed st $99.99

/50 sold for $.99
/10 listed at $45.25

Of note for me is that, in my experience, when a player has cards in multiple years, his earliest card is almost always more valuable.  This would not appear to be the case with Hanson.  Even though the cheapest sale was his 2014 card, the highest sale was ALSO his 2014 card.  Fascinating.  Granted, it’s not like anyone is breaking the bank for his Inception card - the 1 of 1 printing plate could probably be had for less than $100 with the right negotiation.  

Overall, Hanson is a very intriguing up and coming baseball player and I am very happy to have secured both his 2013 and 2014 Inception cards already!

Monday, March 20, 2017

2013 Ronald Guzman

Ronald Guzman (2013)

I had a lot of fun reading up on and writing about Jose Abreu last week!  I have been thinking about some other ways to change up the format in small ways to keep it interesting for the five or so of you who take the time to read this!  So please, stay tuned!  

This week I went with a guy whose name I have heard a lot over the last couple of years with the Rangers, but never knew why.  The only thing I knew about Ronald Guzman was that he was big.  At 6’5, over 200 pounds, he definitely sticks out!  And as someone who was (almost) always put on first base because I was the big kid growing up (although one year in particular I remember playing with older kids and got put in right field most games…), I can imagine Guzman probably dealt with the same scenario.  After researching him, I am even more convinced that he has been a first base stalwart since little league! 

Player History:

Ronald Guzman was part of a banner class of International Signees back in 2011.  Some of the names you might recognize from that year: Darvish, Mazara, Cespedes, and Leonys Martin.  At the time, Guzman was a 16 year old high school graduate with a body that scouts were hoping would fill out and become a mainstay in the middle of someone’s lineup.  

It is now Spring Training of the 2017 season and Guzman has not yet made his Major League debut, although there has been serious discussion on whether or not he deserves a chance to play first base for the Texas Rangers.  With Mike Napoli signing this offseason and Joey Gallo still looming ahead of him in the pecking order, it seems Guzman is destined to be stuck in Round Rock for the foreseeable future. 

In all honesty, the only thing that scouts saw as a real plus for Guzman coming out of the Dominican Republic was power.  The following quote was the common refrain I saw about him:

  • As far as game power goes, Guzman’s hitting ability will allow for much of the raw power to play. He tempts a 70 game power grade, but is a sure bet for 65 game power with the chance for more. Home runs will be plentiful to the pull side, but he projects with plus opposite field power as well.

The one other are where Guzman is above average is his plate discipline.  Even after 5 years in the Minors, this is a common description of Guzman:

  • He's got a really good feel for the zone, and the power is developing.

So what gives with Guzman?  Power is always valued in the MLB, so if he grades so high with power, why not give him a shot?  Here are his basic stats since joining the Ranger’s system:

2012: AZ Rookie: 52 G, 212 AB, 68 H, 1 HR, 42 SO, .321 Avg, . 374 OBP
2013: Full A: 49 G, 173 AB, 47 H, 4 HR, 27 SO, .325 Avg, .387 OBP
2014: Full A: 118 G, 445 AB,  97 H, 6 HR, 107 SO, .218 Avg, .283 OBP
2015: Aadv/Afull: 131 G, 519 AB, 147 H, 12 HR, 116 SO, .283 AVG, .324 OBP
2016: AA/AAA: 127 G, 463 AB, 127 H, 16 HR, 105 SO, .274 AVG, .333 OBP
As you can see, Guzman has just been very slow to develop.  It took essentially three full seasons of Single A ball for him to start making true progress as a player.  Going into the 2013 season (the year he was featured in Inception), Guzman was the #13 ranked prospect for the Rangers, and in 2014 he was #10 going in.  With 2014 being described as pretty much “a disaster,” he droped to the #24 prospect in 2015 and then not even a top-30 player heading into last season.
The numbers show that he has rebounded when given opportunities in higher levels of play; he was a Rangers Organization All-Star for 2015 and 2016, and was a Future’s Game selection in 2016.  There are any number of factors that could have played into his improved production, but overall it seems like he is just someone taking a long time to figure out who he is. 
In the end, though, the baseball world sees Guzman with a limited future.  Here are two comments about Guzman from fairly recently:

  • still learning to tap power in 6-5, 205 frame; strike zone judgment has shown some improvement and swing mechanics more consistent but a full year of Triple-A is still needed; mediocre at first base and doesn’t run well enough for the outfield so bat has to carry him; has made progress but not enough to guarantee a regular 1B job just yet. ETA late 2017. 
  • His best case projection is as a slow, defensively limited player likely confined to first base, but who can hit for some power and draw walks while hitting .300...basically, Guzman's ceiling is Adrian Gonzalez. More realistically, you're hoping he turns into someone like Brandon Belt, or the 2013 version of James Loney. 

Having a ceiling of turning into Adrian Gonzalez (another guy who could not get his career going until AFTER leaving Texas…) is nothing to sniff at.  One can only hope that Guzman will continue to improve and give us all the opportunity to see that raw power develop at the Major League level!

Look of the Card:

Knowing that most Inception cards try to get the player’s profile down to their knees - and given that Guzman is 6’5” - it makes sense that the card depicts him playing defense, bending forward in preparation for a pitch being thrown.  In my opinion, this was a poor choice for displaying Guzman for a number of reasons.
First, Guzman is known for his power and the overall impact of his size. The bent over position highlights the leanness of his frame (notice the jersey hanging loosely around his mid-section and how narrow his legs are in the light-gray-pants-on-light-gray-background).  Nothing about this picture connects with the scouting report of a raw power hitter.  

Second, the only thing Guzman is known for is his bat!  Again, I understand some of the physical dynamics of putting such a tall player on a card like this, but it makes no sense to me to highlight a guy for his bat but put him on a card with a glove in his hand.  

And to come back to his legs, the left leg is at such an awkward angle due to the lighting and the fading into the bottom of the card.  It really looks like his legs are two different sizes.  Just not a fan of this decision at all on the part of the card designers.

I have no problem with, and honestly even like, how Guzman only used the “R” of his first name then went straight to his last name with a quality “G.”  And I love the addition of his jersey number with the signature (just a personal quirk that I like).  I wish I knew was the big looping flourish was at the end, though.  I can’t imagine that it’s an “n.”  Maybe it is supposed to be the “z” in the middle of his last name?  Curious. 

As much as I like ballplayers and sunglasses (what kid playing baseball in the late 90s didn’t want a cool pair of Oakley’s to wear out on the field), the fact that his mouth is hanging partially open just cracks me up.  It gives the opposite impression of the focus and intensity of so many of the cards I have looked at so far.  That’s not to say he isn’t focusing or isn’t fully locked in, but the appearance just does not have the same effect. 

All-in-all, while I with Ronald Guzman all the best with his career, I cannot say that I am a huge fan of the way he is presented on this Bowman Inception card.

Card Value:

The landscape of Ronald Guzman’s Inception card is very much consistent with his projections as a player: limited but with a glimmer of hope.  For the most part, asking prices and sales prices are low, though by no means is his card a bottom of the barrel Inception.   

The Ebay listings range is as follows: 
    • Base: listings from $5-$13.99 OBO
    • /25 parallel listed at $24.99
    • There is a lot of 2 of the Orange Parallel (/50) for $10
  • eBay Sales: 
    • The highest sale for ungraded base cards was $10.80 for a lot of three, and  $4.90 for a single.
    • The lowest sale was $2.25 with free shipping
    • 7 sales of ungraded copies going back to Dec. 19.
  • COMC Listings: 
    • Base - 32 listed from $3.50-$15.20
    • /99: 1 listed at $29.99
    • Sales:135 since release

One thing stood out, was that since it’s release, there have been 135 sales of the card on  No doubt that many of these were sales of a small number of copies that were bought and relisted without ever going into the possession of the buyer, but it’s still the highest number of sales of any of the cards I have looked at thus far for this project.  And I have no idea why other than the small glimmer of hope that Guzman unlocks his power and finds his way onto an MLB roster soon.

Monday, March 13, 2017

2014 Jose Abreu /99 Gold Parallel

My apologies for missing last week to the three of you that read the entry two weeks ago!  I imagine you were incredibly disappointed!  Now that I have that off my chest, I’m going to try and make it up to you with some thoughts on this week’s card: the 2014 Jose Abreu Gold Parallel.  

I went with Abreu because, as a player he intrigues me with his potential power and average combination, and as a person he fascinates me because of what he has gone through.  More on that in a bit.  

Another reason for choosing this card is because he never set foot in the minor leagues.  So my normal narrative of a player’s march through the Minors as they reach for the Majors will not suffice here.  Instead, the plan is to look at Abreu’s impressive Cuban League (Serie Nacional) career, which landed him a very nice MLB ready contract to play with the White Sox in 2014.  There is quite a lot of information from Abreu’s time in Cuba, but I’m going to try and filter it down to what is most interesting to me.  

So without further rambling, let’s get to it! 

Player History:

Abreu’s baseball story begins in 2009, where at age 21 he ranked eighth in Serie Nacional in home runs (19) and slugging percentage (.630). It was during this time that Abreu was teammates with another well known Cuban player (and Inception veteran) Yasiel Puig.

2010 saw Abreu continue to move up that statistical leaderboard of the league.  He led Serie Nacional in slugging percentage (.822), HBPs (30) and intentional walks (32).  When he wasn’t leading a category, he was typically ranked among the leaders: average (2nd at .399), home runs (2nd with 30), total bases (3rd with 235), doubles (Tied for 3rd with 25), walks (4th with 74) and runs scored (6th with 82).

 The next three seasons all proved over and over the legitimacy of Abreu as a all-around excellent ballplayer.  At the plate he did much more than mash home runs (he was first or second in the league all three years in batting average), even when he missed 1/3 of the regular season with a shoulder injury!  For the sake of name-dropping, 2012 was also the year he became teammates with the now Number One overall prospect in the MLB (and current White Sox prospect): Yoan Moncada.  

During all of those years, Abreu was a consistent and constant force for the Cuban National Team in tournaments all over the world, including the World Baseball Classic, Baseball World Cup and Pan American Games.  It was not uncommon to see his name listed as a finalist of, if not winner of, MVP for all of those tournaments. 

By this time, Abreu had drawn massive amounts of attention from the MLB, and on October 29, signed an amazing six-year, $68 million contract with the Chicago White Sox.  If only it was as cut and dried as that!  

In August of that year, Baseball America reported that Abreu had left Cuba and would eventually make a major impact on the MLB free-agent market.  Why eventually?

“Abreu will have to establish residency in another country, have Major League Baseball declare him a free agent and the U.S. government’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) clear him to sign…”

Also according to BA, scouts from the MLB were “extremely familiar with Abreu.”  These are the types of things that were written about him at the time:
  • At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Abreu is a physically imposing righthanded hitter with tremendous raw power to all fields, with astounding numbers in Cuba
  • Abreu is an intelligent hitter without a lot of effort in in his swing and the power to hit 30-plus homers in a season
  • Abreu showed he could handle curveballs in the strike zone but he was prone to chasing sliders off the plate, 
  • He’s limited athletically, but any team that signs Abreu will be banking on his bat and tremendous power profiling in the middle of the lineup.
  • While some scouts are divided about how his average bat speed will translate at the major league level, he does an excellent job of getting the barrel on the ball and uses his strength to drive it with authority from line-to-line.
  • Abreu showed the ability to punish mediocre breaking balls within the strike zone but also the propensity to chase better offerings off the plate.
  • The back of his Inception card states: Scouted to won plus-plus power with effortless swing.
Obviously, there is no question as to why Abreu’s arriving in the Majors was causing big time excitement!  And that, to me, is where the story gets most interesting.  Without going too much into the weeds, the idea that I am sitting at my kitchen table on a laptop computer typing a blog about pieces of cardboard seems absolutely absurd when juxtaposed with what the rest of the world deals with on a typical Monday.  I bring this up because of the recent headlines surrounding Abreu when was called to testify in the case of Bartolo Hernandez and Julio Estrada being charged with smuggling players out of Cuba to play internationally. 

The headlines all focused on the fact that Abreu decided the safest way to dispose of the fake Haitian passport was to consume it with a beer.  The details are all a part of the case, but the charge is that Hernandez and Estrada (along with Amin Latouff) helped Cuban ballplayers defect from the country (via smuggling) and establish residency in Haiti before they can legally sign elsewhere. 
Once Abreu was able to board a flight to the United States, he was informed that the fake passport would not pass the test to get him into the United States, so he needed to get rid of it.  He was foiled in his plan to put it in the airplane trash and thus ended up eating enough of the passport to avoid it being detected as fake.  

All of this because he had to sign the contract with the White Sox by October 29th.  All of this to go from making $20 per month playing baseball, to over $10 per year playing baseball.  The details of the story and his journey are just astounding.  I won’t go further now, but the point is that the fact that we get to see Abreu play just about any day on MLB tv is a fact we should not take for granted!  

To wrap up, Abreu has been far from a disappointment in the Major Leagues.  His accumulated stats are as follows:

In 458 games, he has wracked up 537 hits, 91 home runs, 101 doubles, 308 RBI, 137 walks with a .299 batting average and a .360 on base percentage.  Not exactly the Ruthian-type numbers he put up  in Cuba, but definitely impressive for a guy who didn’t step into the Majors until he was 27 years old. I could list his many awards, acknowledgements and honors, but in the end, it’s enough to admit that Abreu is just simply and excellent baseball player.  

Look of the Card:

Of the parallels in this set, the Gold Parallel is not my favorite, but also not my least favorite.  I admit I have not inspected many other examples of the Gold Parallel outside of Abreu, but I do believe the dark colors of the White Sox jersey really stand in a nice contrast to the bright pop of the Gold coloring on the background.

When I look at the photo of Abreu, my eyes are drawn to two spots immediately: the forearm muscle on the his left arm running up to his elbow and the muscle of the right shoulder bulging up through the jersey.  As someone who spent countless hours trying to develop those two areas in high school weight rooms, I can appreciate the beauty of his raw power and strength in this photo. 

If you have read more than one of these profiles, you know that one of my favorite things to look at in the pictures is the eyes of the player.  Even though Abreu’s eyes are not exactly visible, the downward scope of his face and the rigidity of the facial muscles suggests a player locked in on the ball hitting his bat.  Everything about this picture screams “solid contact” to me.  And even though his muscles are tense and obviously twitching to achieve their purpose, the photo does capture the sense of “effortless swing” described on the back of the card. 

As for the autograph, I am honestly not sure what to make of it.  The first thing I like is that he took the time to write “#79.”  When a player takes the time to write anything in addition to their name, it suggests to me that they care about it more than as just an obligation.  The name itself though, is quite the puzzle.  Maybe there is something I am missing, but I can hardly pick out any part of his name other than what I believe is the “breu” in Abreu.  But I could be wrong.  Regardless, I think it looks cool! 

Card Value:

The valuation of this card is another curious thing.  Because Abreu came into the league with such hype and delivered (by being Rookie of the Year), his card value was at one time extremely high.  But since he has not been as hot of a commodity in the last two seasons, there has been a major drop in demand and thus overall sales.  Yet, some of the prices of this card, both the Gold Parallel and the base version remain absolutely astounding!  

Here is the breakdown:

  • Ebay listings range: 
    • Base: $19.99- $179.00
    • /10 Red Parallel $299
    • /99 Gold Parallel $29.99-$49.99
  • eBay Sales: 
    • 1 /99 for $13 (only sale listed on ebay)
    • /50 for $29.99
    • Highest sale $25.00 Best Offer accepted
    • Lowest sale $8.55 
    • 12 sales of ungraded back to Dec. 19
  • COMC Listings: 
    • Base - 3 listed from $24.75-$100
    • /99: 1 listed at $29.99
    • Sales: 8 (base) 7 (/99)
So it’s really amazing the vast difference between listed prices and actual sales ($179 for a card that sells for under $25?!?).  Obviously this could be attributed to someone just not managing their inventory much, or simply someone believing that the card will indeed be worth this much some day.  Good luck with that buddy!  

Once again, I leave my time of research and writing filled with high hopes and expectations.  I think Jose Abreu still has more to show us, though whether that is with the White Sox or as a commodity traded to a contender for prospects remains to be seen!