Sports Cards: The 10 Most Coveted MLB Players in Today's Baseball Card Market

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 30, 2022

Sports Cards: The 10 Most Coveted MLB Players in Today's Baseball Card Market

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    Which 10 players are the most coveted in today's baseball card market?

    It's a simple question and one we set out to answer by scouring recent eBay sales and bidding history, the Beckett database and simple Twitter buzz.

    Not surprisingly, the market is dominated by the game's young superstars who are already playing at an elite level and have a chance to do so for the next decade-plus. However, there is at least one veteran and one retired player sprinkled into our list as well.

    When it comes to card collecting as a hobby, everyone should collect what they love, but in terms of value, these are the 10 guys who are at the peak of the market right now.

Ronald Acuna Jr.

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    Despite not playing in an MLB game since suffering a torn ACL on July 10, 2021, Ronald Acuna Jr. remains one of the biggest names in the world of card collecting.

    Will we see a slight upturn in his market now that he's been activated from the injured list?

    Still only 24 years old and with rare 40/40 potential, it's not hard to see why fans are drawn to the Atlanta Braves outfielder, and he was a legitimate NL MVP candidate last season before he went down with a .283/.394/.596 line that included 24 home runs, 17 steals and 3.6 WAR in 82 games.

    The super-short-printed "bat down" variation of his 2018 Topps rookie has become one of the iconic rookie cards of this generation, while his 2017 Bowman Chrome Prospects and 2018 Topps Chrome autographs are the top early auto options in his database.

Miguel Cabrera

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    Miguel Cabrera is a no-doubt future Hall of Famer, and his recent run at 3,000 hits has given his card market a shot in the arm, particularly his early cards from his time with the Florida Marlins.

    The 39-year-old collected hit No. 3,000 on April 23 against Colorado Rockies starter Antonio Senzatela, becoming just the seventh member of the 3,000-hit, 500-HR club along with Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez.

    He debuted early enough that he doesn't have hundreds of rookie card options like today's players do, and his 2000 Topps Traded and 2000 Topps Chrome Traded cards are the only true rookie cards in his database.

    Raw copies of the non-Chrome card have been selling for $150 and up in recent days, while his second Topps card in the 2003 Topps Traded set has also seen an uptick in value. This could be a temporary spike, but looking at the market right now, he belongs on this list.

Wander Franco

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    The No. 1 prospect in baseball prior to making his MLB debut, Wander Franco was a key player on the baseball card market before he ever played his first big league game.

    He hit .288/.347/.463 with 30 extra-base hits and 3.5 WAR in 70 games as a rookie last season, and the Tampa Bay Rays rewarded him with an 11-year, $182 million extension during the offseason to lock him up as a core piece of the future.

    The 21-year-old is hitting .319/.333/.611 through his first 17 games this year with 12 extra-base hits in his first 75 plate appearances, and all signs point to him developing into a perennial MVP candidate in the years to come.

    His 2019 Bowman Chrome Prospects auto and its many variations will always be his most identifiable early card, while his true rookies are the chase cards in early 2022 products, including Series 1 of the 2022 Topps flagship release.

Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Ken Griffey Jr. will always have a prominent place in the baseball card universe.

    For newer collectors just getting into the hobby, his six different 1989 rookie cards are a great way to dive into the Junk Wax Era. For nostalgia-driven collectors, he is an obvious top target, and his wide variety of 1990s inserts still fetch a premium on the secondary market.

    With the sweetest swing in baseball history and a swagger that helped make him the face of the sport during his prime, Griffey's enduring popularity should come as no surprise.

    His 1989 Upper Deck rookie card has a strong case for being the most recognizable baseball card of all time.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

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    A tip of the cap to those who bought low on Vladimir Guerrero Jr. after his "disappointing" first two years in the majors. The Toronto Blue Jays' young superstar debuted with sky-high expectations shortly after his 20th birthday, but it wasn't until last season that he fully delivered on his vast potential.

    By all accounts, his 109 OPS+ in 757 plate appearances during his age-20 and age-21 seasons represented terrific production for one of the youngest players in baseball, but the hobby market is not a patient place. After seeing Ronald Acuna Jr. and Juan Soto make an immediate star-level impact, some were quick to write Guerrero off as someone who failed to live up to the hype.

    Then everything clicked in 2021, and he hit .311/.401/.601 with 48 home runs and 111 RBI to finish runner-up to Shohei Ohtani in AL MVP voting.

    His 1st Bowman Chrome auto is part of the 2016 Bowman Chrome Prospects set.

Shohei Ohtani

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    Shohei Ohtani took the league by storm as a rookie in 2018, posting a 151 OPS+ with 22 home runs at the plate while also logging a 3.31 ERA with 63 strikeouts in 51.2 innings on the mound to win AL Rookie of the Year honors.

    However, the next two years were largely filled with disappointment and injury, and his stock was down considerably entering the 2021 season.

    With a clean bill of health on the mound, everything came together in 2021 with a season for the ages as he slugged 46 home runs, stole 26 bases and went 9-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 130.1 innings to lead the majors with 9.0 WAR and take home the AL MVP award.

    His card values climbed throughout the 2021 season, and he has earned his place as a hobby juggernaut with a skill set the likes of which the sport has never seen.

Luis Robert

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    With his rookies in 2020 products, Luis Robert was the chase card at a time when the hobby was experiencing a major boom and a number of people were either diving back into collecting or getting into it for the first time.

    He fell off during the second half of his rookie season but still showed enough five-tool potential to maintain his standing as one of the biggest names in the hobby, and he teased collectors again last year with an abbreviated 68-game season of MVP-caliber production.

    The 24-year-old will need to put it all together over a full season sometime soon, or he'll risk seeing a downturn in his hobby stock. For now, his tantalizing potential and elite production when he was healthy last year remain enough to prop up his standing among collectors.

    His 2018 Bowman Chrome Prospects card is his 1st Bowman and ranks as his most sought-after early card, with a photo from his introductory press conference after he inked a $26 million signing bonus with the Chicago White Sox.

Juan Soto

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    Juan Soto began the 2018 season at Single-A, but just 39 games and two minor league promotions later, he was in the big leagues at the age of 19.

    He hit .292/.406/.517 with 22 home runs and 70 RBI in 116 games as a rookie, and he didn't turn 20 years old until after the regular season concluded. His upward trajectory has continued in the years since, as he helped the Washington Nationals win a World Series in 2019, won a batting title in 2020 and finished runner-up in NL MVP voting last season.

    At an age when most players are just breaking into the big leagues, he is already an established superstar and arguably the most well-rounded offensive player in baseball with contact skills, power and elite plate discipline.

    His 2018 Topps Update and 2018 Topps Chrome Update are far and away his most valuable non-auto rookie cards, while his 1st Bowman is part of the 2016 Bowman Chrome Prospects set.

Fernando Tatis Jr.

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    Fernando Tatis Jr. has more than enough hobby popularity to endure an extended stay on the injured list to begin the 2022 season.

    The 23-year-old had a 42-homer, 25-steal, 6.6-WAR season last year while battling a nagging shoulder injury down the stretch, and he suffered a broken wrist during the offseason that has kept him on the sidelines so far this year, but he is a bona fide MVP candidate when healthy.

    At this early stage of his career, he is a .292/.369/.596 hitter with 162-game averages of 33 doubles, 48 home runs, 116 RBI, 125 runs scored and 8.1 WAR.

    A staggering 16,260 of his 2019 Topps Chrome base rookie cards have been submitted to PSA for grading, with 11,497 of those coming back with a PSA 10 grade. Despite the abundance of them available, PSA 10 copies of the card still regularly sell for north of $100.

Mike Trout

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    The players on this list were ordered alphabetically, but it's fitting that we end with Mike Trout.

    His 2011 Topps Update rookie card will likely be the defining card of this generation, and it stands as proof that a card doesn't need dozens of parallels or a certified autograph to be valuable.

    A PSA 10 version of the card sold on eBay for $3,100 just a few days ago, while a raw version brought in $785 a day later. It's a bucket-list card for any current collector, but anything and everything Trout holds appeal.

    Now that he's back healthy, he is once again looking like an all-time great, which has helped drive him to the pinnacle of the current baseball card market.


    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.