Wednesday, August 30, 2017

2014 and 2015 Kris Bryant

This post comes to you - much to my delight and surprise - thanks in large part to Palmetto State Sports Cards!  I have tried to start writing about players only when I have all of their Inception cards (which will mean Aaron Judge will have to wait a while…I only have 1 of his 3 base Inception cards!).  The 2014 Bryant was one of the last two I needed to finish the 2014 and was able to acquire one off of eBay.  Then out of nowhere, Josh as Palmetto State Sports Cards up and made sure I had the 2015 Bryant to really get my 2015 set going.  A huge thanks to Josh!  

Having two Kris Bryant autographs is really an awesome thing in my book.  It is guys like Bryant, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper and others (maybe Judge and Bellinger?) that I know I will never really be able to get many cards of (or autographs) because so many collectors are after them.  In general, they are way out my price and range.  So I groaned thinking about going after both the 2014 and 2015 Bryant to complete the sets.  But having them both now is truly an awesome part of my personal collection! 

Since Bryant is such a well-known baseball commodity, I plan on spending a very short amount of time on his stats and focusing more on the section about Bryant as a person.  I have come to really admire Bryant and hope for the best for him. Even if he is a part of one of the biggest “what-ifs” in recent baseball history: What if the Astros had drafted him instead of Mark Appel in 2013?!?

Player History:

A good chunk of today’s profile is inspired by Tom Verducci’s article about Bryant from Sports Illustrated on March 21st: Born To Win: Is the Kris Bryant story too good to be true? No, but the Cubs will take it.

Here is how the article starts off: 

It is true that Kris Bryant was the 2013 College Player of the Year, the 2014 Minor League Player of the Year, the 2015 National League Rookie of the Year and, while playing third base for the first world championship Chicago Cubs team in 108 years,
the 2016 NL Most Valuable Player.

Instead of going into Bryant’s ridiculous record of statistics, I just wanted to give you a timeline of how things have gone for him over the last five years:
    • 2012 - First Team All-American by Baseball America
    • 2013 - First Team All-American by Louisville Slugger, Golden Spikes Award winner, Dick Howser Trophy winner, Player of the Year by Collegiate Baseball
      • July 12, 2013 - signed by Cubs
      • July 21- assigned to AZL Cubs  - Rookie Level
      • July 23 - assigned to Boise Hawks - Short Season A Level
      • August 13 - assigned to Daytona Cubs - Advanced A  Level
    • 2014 -
      • March  assigned to extended Spring Training
      • April 2 - assigned to Tennessee Smokies - AA Level
      • June 18 - assigned to Iowa Cubs - AAA Level
      • End of season: USA Today Minor League Player of the Year, Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year
    • 2015
      • April 17th - brought up to play for the Cubs - Major League
      • May - NL Player of the Month
      • Mid-Season: NL All-Star and HR Derby contestant
      • End of Season: NL Rookie of the Year by just about every publication
    • 2016:
      • Mid-Season: NL All-Star Starter
      • August: NL Player of the Month
      • Nov. 2: World Series Winner
      • End of Season: NL MVP 

Look of the Card:

I would venture to say that these two Inception cards do not capture at all the greatness that is Kris Bryant, elite baseball player.  Both, I believe, were very odd choices for a guy who was very clearly in the fast lane to stardom in Major League Baseball.

The first thing that comes to mind when I look at the 2014 Bryant Inception is “The Sandlot.”  The way that he appears to be straining to look in at the developing play makes me think “Squints” which leads me directly to the movie we all know and love (don’t bother pretending you don’t love “The Sandlot”).  I think it probably has something to do with the position of his mouth in the picture too; it’s not tight lipped but it’s not exactly in full “smile” mode.  It’s sort of half a look, whatever look that may be.  And as for the signature, I don't know how he decided to use what looks like a cursive capital “x” in place of his first name, but it still looks cool.  I love the big B and clearly defined T at the end of his signature.

One note about 2014 Bryant Inception cards.  I do not know specifically why, but it appears that a base version of this card was never released.  I do not know if some were made but had errors, or they were made and never signed or any other possible explanation.  If anyone has any insight, I would greatly appreciate it!  So what I have is essentially the base card, the /75 parallel.  I think it's pretty cool , to be honest, that I have one of only 75 of these made!  

In the 2015 version of the Bryant card, I am again drawn to the shape of his mouth.  That combined with the angle his hand is bent the moment the picture was taken just leaves me with one word: awkward.  It’s hard to actually criticize anything Bryant does on the field, but it’s so strange that both of his Inception cards are just flat out less than flattering.  At least his signature remained obviously the same over the year.

It does not honestly matter what I think or feel about these two cards…I have two Kris Bryant autographed cards!  That’s more than I will ever have of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, possibly combined!

From the Player

One of my favorite parts of the year is the weeks leading up to the beginning of baseball season.  That’s when there are many articles - in magazines like Sports Illustrated or the many other websites with baseball content - that are geared toward getting people excited about the new season when there are no games to report on.  That’s when you start seeing profile pieces about big name players.  

I remember a few years ago, there was a great article in Sports Illustrated about Mike Trout.  Up that point I did not know much about the Mellville Meteor, but that article served to make me a fan of his (even if I cannot afford to buy even one autograph it seems).  The same happened at the beginning of this year with Kris Bryant.  

The article I am referencing was written by Tom Verducci and can be found following this link:

I don’t want to take credit for Verducci’s writing, but I do want to highlight some things about Bryant that he wrote about.

One of the first paragraphs that Verducci writes states the following:

It is true that he earned all A’s in elementary, middle and high schools with the exception of one B—the result of an 89 average in high school precalculus. Such smarts earned Bryant the No. 2 academic ranking in his graduating class, which carried the honor of speaking at graduation as the salutatorian. Bryant instead yielded that honor to a classmate with a similar GPA, because he wanted her to have the recognition.

I laughed when I read that because a) I was the valedictorian in my high school class but did not give up that spot.  In fact, I transferred from Calculus to Statistics to give myself a better chance at securing the sport in the final 9 weeks that grades counted (don’t tell anyone from high school that though!).  Bryant beat me in total number of Bs in high school though; I had two to his one.  In the great scorecard of life, I guess I will cede that one to Kris.

It is also true that two months after he secured the last out to clinch the Holy Grail of sports championships, Bryant, 25, married his high school sweetheart, a girl he met in freshman English class.

Not surprisingly, I met my high-school-sweetheart-turned-wife in English class in high school too!  So we can call that one a tie (though I bet he did not date her his freshman year like I did with my wife).  I did, however, get married to my sweetheart at an earlier age, so I will take that point. 

True, too, is that Bryant does not smoke, drink or use profanity. The Cubs have been known to toast victories in their postgame “party room” at Wrigley Field with shots of whiskey. A clubhouse attendant fills Bryant’s shot glass with apple juice. “Guys,” Bryant told his teammates midway through last season, “let’s win the World Series. And when we do, I’ll have my first sip of alcohol.”

About an hour after Chicago won Game 7 of the World Series, with most of the Cubs wearing only a bit more champagne and beer than they drank, first baseman Anthony Rizzo stood next to a refrigerator in the clubhouse when a thought suddenly occurred to him.

“Kris!” he said. “I’ve got to find out if he drank tonight.”

I bring this up about Bryant not to make any sort of statement about the behaviors he does not participate in, but the type of person it takes to stand up in the face of immense peer pressure.  In high school, I was known as the guy on my teams who did not do those things that other high school guys did.  It became a running joke to try and get me to cuss.  Even during film sessions after football games, coaches would turn and ask me if I cussed when I made a play or had a play made on me.  At the time I thought it was funny.  But looking back I think about dynamics of making choices to be different than other people.  I respect Bryant a lot for his choices. 

As for the truth of what really happened that night after Game 7, let Bryant explain:

“We win the World Series and...” he says, pausing for effect, “I still didn’t do it. I didn’t keep up my end of the bargain.

There are a lot of ways you can interpret that choice, and I’ll let you make up your mind on that.  I, for one, am very impressed with Kris Bryant the person, possibly more so than the ballplayer.

Thanks again to Palmetto State Sports for their continued sponsorship! Please check out their inventory at:

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Thursday, August 24, 2017

2016 AJ Reed

Welcome to the third installment of a three week look at Astros players/prospects!  Colin Moran and Lance McCullers were a lot of fun to learn about, and AJ Reed has been no different!  Admittedly, I knew nothing about AJ Reed except two things before this week: he has the potential to be really, really good…and he has not been good with his opportunities at the professional level.  After spending some time learning about who AJ Reed is and where he comes from, I can honestly say that I am rooting for him even more!  

Reed won the Golden Spikes award in 2014 as the top overall player in college baseball - a year after fellow Bowman Inception alum Kris Bryant won it.  That alone speaks volumes about his talent and potential, but it was the more personal side of Reed that I wanted to know more about.  And it took some digging to get there!  More on that down below! 

A quick word about the sponsor for this blog.  What was formerly Gibson Sports Memorabilia has officially changed to Palmetto State Sports!  Josh has been very gracious in his support of this blog and my collection.  Please give him and his website a look at and on Twitter at @PalmSportsCards.  

Player History:

AJ Reed is the type of player whose accolades and accomplishments have been chronicled time and time again. So for the most part, I am going to let his statistics speak for themselves.  

High School Highlights:
    • 2011 State of Indiana High School Player of the Year
    • Two time First Team All-State selection
    • Career Batting: .425 Avg., 159 Hits, 41 HRs, 150 RBI, 110 R
    • Career Pitching: 26 W, 10 L, 1.86 ERA, 390 Strike Outs, 260 Innings Pitched

College Highlights:
    • Career Batting: .305 Avg, 435 Hits, 40 HR, 168 RBI, 119 R
    • Career Pitching: 19 W, 13 L, 2.83 ERA, 174 Strike Outs, 248 Innings Pitched
    • And the crazy amount of things to know about Reed from his University of Kentucky bio:

Major League and Minor League Statistics:

Note the continued trend of Reed being a solid contributor offensively all the way through the Minor Leagues, but thus far not even coming close to fulfilling his potential in 47 games at the professional level.  

The scouting reports were the same for Reed at any given time, for any given level: excellent bat control and patience at the plate, great power, great arm, great defense, not a threat on the base paths due to size.  The player he was most closely compared with that I saw was Cubs First Baseman Anthony Rizzo.  

This last quote does a pretty accurate job of summing up the AJ Reed we have seen and the AJ Reed we hope to see: “He may be part of a platoon as he enters his first big league season, but at some point soon, if not now, Reed will be ‘the man’ at first base. He has that much to offer. Once he assumes his role at first base, I don’t think he’ll be replaced anytime soon. But there is one caveat: beware the strikeouts. They will occur.”

Look of the Card:

Reed’s 2016 Inception card is another one that does not stand out in any way that I can tell. The only real quirk is his signature, which is legible but definitely on the side of being a “tight scribble.”  I can make out the A, J, R and what I assume to be the final D at the end of Reed.  Just seems to stand out as incongruous with the player and picture on the card. 

Reed’s stance in the photo is very balanced and poised. From the top of the card to the bottom there is good symmetry in his positioning. 

 There is no deep coil or post-swing flexing of muscles in the picture.  His hands are raised high with the bat, fairly relaxed and ready to swing.  I do notice the placement of his front shoulder under his chin; that was where I was taught to put my chin in Little League because I kept opening my hips and shoulders too far and missing too many pitches.  His eyes are fairly squinted, so it’s hard to get a read on what he is feeling or thinking.  

Overall it seems to be a solid card for a solid player.  Nothing that stands out or gives away his immense propensity to hit the baseball; maybe it’s a good symbol of his professional career thus far?

From the Player

Trying to find out more about AJ took a little bit more time than with McCullers or Appel.  It took quite a few articles about Reed before I found one that even had a quote from him.  He does not have a Twitter account as far as I can tell and I have no desire to go check Facebook or any other social media.  

For a while it seemed that all the world knew about AJ Reed was his immense baseball talent.  But as I dug into some articles from the end of his time in college I found out two things about AJ Reed: he is a great teammate and is very close to his mother.  

An interview with his college coach from Kentucky, Reed was described as “someone who is fun to be around,” “willing to listen” and “does what you ask him to do.”  His coach even said he “has a self-deprecating side to him,” which I interpret to mean that Reed does not see himself as above his teammates, or that he has let his success go to his head.  

In another video interview that I saw from the beginning of his junior season (the season he won the Golden Spikes award), Reed admitted that the year before he had tried to do too much on his own.  He had been mostly about pulling the ball and hitting home runs.  Going into his junior year, though, he credited his teammates with being very talented, able to get on base and capable of stringing hits together to form a top notch offense.  There was no hint of "it's all about me.”  

Of the prospect of becoming a high draft pick and earning a huge paycheck, Reed said "I'm really excited about that (but) it's not really about the money for me," Reed said. "It's just about getting a chance to play pro ball and working my way up and making it to the major leagues. That's been a dream my whole life. So, you know, the money is great and having a million dollars is great, but my ultimate goal is to play in the major leagues for an extended period of time.”

That's really good stuff to hear about a guy who has accomplished as much as Reed has.  

More importantly, I feel, is that Reed is very close to his mother - she moved to Lexington when he signed with Kentucky in order to be able to see all of his games.  After draft night, 
Debbie Reed said: "It was very exciting that he did so well, just a pleasure to watch him play," she said. "On the other hand, every game that he played I knew it was getting closer and closer to that time. Once his last game was over, it was a bad night. I cried just about all night long."

She is unable to work due to a severe case of diabetes.   Reed admitted to reporters that even though the money from a big league contract is not a big deal to him, it does mean he has a greater opportunity to take care of his mother. If that’s the person he really is - and I have not seen anything to the contrary - then he is a guy I will root for all the more in the coming years.  I hope he sticks with the Astros and does great things! 

Thanks again to Palmetto State Sports for their continued sponsorship! Please check out their inventory at:

Check them out on Facebook and eBay! 

Thursday, August 17, 2017

2013 Lance McCullers

Another week, another Astro profiled!  This week, it’s everyone’s favorite curveballer, Lance McCullers!  McCullers was one of the very first Inception cards I owned, thanks to @jstephens2482 a little while back!  Little did he know what a journey he was sending me on!  So a big thank you to him!  

When reading up on Lance McCullers, I kept shaking my head as I realized just how much people knew about him long before I did!  Honestly, when I first received the card I had never even heard of McCullers.  He was still a little way from taking his place in the Majors.  But I am so glad he did and so glad I have this card!  

Before I go on, I want to give a huge Thank You to Gibson Sports Memorabilia for their support of this blog!  Because of Josh and what he is building at GSM, I have some great stuff headed your way on this blog!  I am also partnering with them for some opportunities to continue writing and exploring the collecting hobby in brand new ways!

Player History:

Just reading about McCullers’ early accolades was really fun.  Obviously he is the son of a former Major Leaguer, so some of that comes as no surprise. 

 According to, McCullers was the 2012 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year going 13-0 with an 0.18 ERA and 140 strikeouts.  The following organizations all named McCullers as a High School All-American: ESPNHS, Baseball America, Rawlings, Perfect Game, MaxPreps and Louisville Slugger.  And the year before, he had been named the Jackie Robinson Award Winner as the country’s top rising senior.  

 So why was he drafted 41st overall (the same exact spot in the draft that his dad was drafted)  and not higher?

The simple answer is that scouts saw a lot of talent and a really good arm, but they did not know if he had that “It factor”; that something that would put him over the top.  One scout wrote shortly before the draft that McCullers looked to be a No. 3 type starter, or that he could be a bullpen workhorse along the lines of Brad Lidge or Francisco “KRod” Rodgriguez. It’s interesting to note that that same scout added “as long as McCullers stays healthy.”  

Here are a few quotes about McCullers from scouting reports: 

  • Understands nuances of pitching but still shows as more of a thrower than a pitcher. Has depth of arsenal to be tried as a starter.    
  • Mid-rotation potential with more control than command, or closer potential if moved to relief    
  • The fastball and curveball both could settle in as plus-plus pitches with dominating potential. His change-up lacks substance and his command/control are flat out poor right now with only modest projection.

So really it just seems like the baseball world wanted to watch and wait to see if McCullers could pull off being a Major League son of a Major Leaguer.   I’d say the proof is in the pudding.  Despite battling the anticipated injuries, McCullers has flourished since being called up in 2015 (going 4.2 innings, with 1 earned run and five strikeouts against Oakland in his debut) and was an All-Star in 2017.

Here’s a quick look at McCullers’ stats in the Majors. Note that he has averaged over one strikeout per inning in his career.  Not quite Jose Fernandez stuff, but still pretty awesome:

Look of the Card:

There is a lot to like about the look of this card, but one thing in particular I don’t like: his hair.  I know it’s the cool thing for ballplayers to have the long, bushy hair coming out of their hat right now, but I am just not a fan.  Since being called up to the Astros, McCullers has been very clean cut and stylish, so I imagine he probably saw this card and knew he had to change the hairstyle!  

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s look at the good aspects.   One thing I really like about this card is the balance.  If you notice, McCullers is holding the ball up in the air, fairly close to the middle of the top of the card.  And if you draw a line down the card from there, you get a sense of how balanced McCullers is at the moment before he unleashes what appears to be a curveball or some other off speed pitch with movement.  You can see his thumb tucked under the ball and his two fingers straddling the seem; this is not a fastball.  Maybe somebody with a better eye for pitching can correct me if I am wrong. 

The look on his face is another example of what I believe to be collected confidence: McCullers has absolute faith in where this pitch is going to go.  It isn’t an intense, laser focused look, but it’s also not lackadaisical.  It’s what I imagine Greg Maddux probably looked like for most of his pitches.  The strength and force of the upcoming pitch is foreshadowed by the taught muscles in the forearm of his glove hand.  That’s what betrays the violent force of nature known as McCullers’ curveball that’s coming.  

One final note about the card: the style of his signature tells me that this is someone who practiced his signature as a kid.  This is completely surmising, but as a kid with a father who played in the MLB and has a name that doesn’t flow well in a signature, I imagine Lance spent more than a few minutes as a kid mastering the pen strokes of his John Hancock. I like the jagged look of all the up and down strokes in contrast to the big loop of the opening L.  Very cool.  I would love a chance to watch him do this in person some day!  

From the Player

This week,  I am changing up the last segment of the profile.  Instead chronicling the value of the card in the few ways I can, I want to try and get into the mind of the player I am profiling.  Try to find some way to make him more relatable to me and the people who read this.  I got some really good feedback regarding the post about Mark Appel and how that resonated with people.  Most players will not be so open and honest about their inner lives, so each will I will try and find something unique about the player.  

One of the things I had heard a long time ago in passing was that the Astros targeted McCullers specifically for the spin rate on his pitches.  I found an article on USA Today about the science behind spin rates and how McCullers immediately bought into the analytics of spin rate with the Astros.  

When asked about using the data, he responded by saying “I thought it was real cool from the get-go.  Some guys, they throw 90, and they throw fastballs by everybody. And you’re like, ‘How does that happen, when I’m throwing 95 and I’m getting my fastball hit around the park?’ Or, ‘Why are some guys’ curveballs better than others?’” It’s clear that McCullers has a very solid mental approach to the game.  Even though an early scout called him more of a thrower than a pitcher, it’s obvious that McCullers set out to be a pitcher in every sense of the word. 

One of the worries, of course, is the possibility of overloading a player’s head with statistics, scouting reports and other things that cloud the mind and get in the way of focusing on the next pitch.  To this McCullers said “I’m not overthinking anything,” he said. “This is concrete stuff. It’s not ten different opinions given to me, where I have to kind of go through and decide which I want to run with. This is 100% accurate stuff that has been proven to work, and that’s why I’m so excited about it.”

You have to love a player who combines talent with preparation, always trying to be better and willing to be coached in new and unique ways.  Definitely makes McCullers worth following…if he can stay healthy!  

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