San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. depicted with one of his valuable rookie cards
TRADING CARDS & COLLECTIBLES

Top 5 Baseball Cards to Watch Ahead of the 2021 MLB Season

The pastime is nearly back, but the hobby never left. Keep an eye on these five baseball cards in the run up to Opening Day.

We’re just a couple short weeks away from 2021 MLB Opening Day, and the world of baseball cards has naturally been buzzing with anticipation for the new season. Major League Baseball is littered with as much young talent as we’ve seen in a long, long time, offering exciting opportunities for collectors to lock down new investments.

After the cancellation of 2020’s minor league season and a shortened MLB campaign almost entirely without fans in the seats, card enthusiasts will be especially eager to find the next breakout player to pounce on. We recently discussed the insane card prices for Yankees teenage prospect Jasson Dominguez, but who else’s cards are worth watching with the season around the corner?

Let’s identify five that cannot be ignored.

Yankees OF Aaron Judge: 2017 Topps Chrome RC

Aaron Judge’s case is relatively simple: When he is healthy, he is one of the best baseball players for the game’s most famous team. Injuries have hobbled Judge a little too often since he lit the baseball world on fire with 52 home runs in 2017, winning AL Rookie of the Year and finishing second in MVP voting, but the man is a legit superstar.

Judge’s 2017 Topps Chrome PSA 10 has seen a steady rise in value as the season approaches, but is still very affordable at an estimated $150. During the 2020 season, it reached $235 before Judge went down with an injury, causing the card’s value to plummet. The only thing holding it back from being among the most valuable cards in the game is the constant concerns around Judge’s health, and what that means for his long-term legacy.

Collectors are wary given that Judge has not played a full season since 2017, which contributes to the discrepancy in his overall ability compared to his rookie card’s asking price. But if you feel that this is the year Judge stays healthy and goes on another huge run, investing in his Topps Chrome 2017 RC at or around $150 could be a win.

Padres SS Fernando Tatis Jr.: 2019 Topp Chrome RC

You just can’t create a list on baseball cards to watch for 2021 without mentioning the great Fernando Tatis Jr. This guy is one of the hottest names in baseball right now, and if you’ve ever seen him play, you know exactly why.

The Padres phenom has enjoyed an incredible start to his MLB career, and is growing into one of the faces of the modern game. His style is built on passion and flair, giving young fans hope that he might just dismantle all those “unwritten rules” of decorum which have lingered in baseball for a little too long.

Tatis is riding high after signing a 10-year, $340 million contract this offseason with San Diego. Not long after the extension was announced, the 22-year-old’s PSA 10 Topps Chrome Rookie Card’s estimated value jumped from $360 to over $470. While $470 might be a bit steep for a Topps Chrome Base Rookie, Tatis is only scratching the surface of his superstardom.

And it doesn’t hurt that his Padres team is poised to make a deep run in the playoffs after experiencing the busiest offseason in baseball.

Phillies 3B Alec Bohm: 2018 Bowman Draft Auto

ALEC BOHM AUTO 1st 2018 Bowman Chrome Draft Autograph Phillies Rookie Card  RC | eBay

Alec Bohm was selected No. 3 overall in the 2018 MLB Draft by the Phillies and has flat out hit at every level, earning himself a big league debut in 2020. The 24-year-old played out of his mind, finishing third in the National League in batting average at .338 with a .400 on-base percentage. 

After Bohm’s crazy debut, the value of his Bowman Chrome Auto card jumped, but has settled down a bit in the offseason. Before his MLB Debut, Bohm’s PSA 10 Bowman Chrome Auto was selling for roughly $150. Shortly after the 2020 season, the card reached up to $450 and now simmers around $385. 

Bohm exhibited an ability to hit that you don’t often see from a 24-year-old still new to the MLB level. As a player who can legitimately compete for a batting title as soon as next season, this card is one to follow.

 Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols: 2001 Topps Chrome Traded Rookie

Albert Pujols is a sure thing to enter Cooperstown on the first ballot once eligible, and after the 41-year-old’s wife announced that 2021 would be his final season, we can start penciling in that Hall of Fame call.

While some budding stars have had recent significant jumps in card values, the established legends of the sports world still outpace just about everyone. Pujols’ Topps Chrome Traded rookie cards have enjoyed a meteoric rise in value since the retirement rumors first started to mount, rising from $2,800 in mid-January to $5,800 now. Sure, the Angel is far from what he was in his time as an MVP with St. Louis and has been for a while, but he is still baseball’s active leader in hits, home runs, RBI, runs scored, walks, total bases, and more. He’s a legit icon.

Pujols still has some attainable milestones in front of him even if this is his last season, as he is just 86 hits away from Paul Molitor for 10th on the all-time list, and 77 total bases away from becoming only the 4th player all-time to reach 6,000.

Whether 2021 is actually the final season for Pujols or not, the slugger is still nearing the end, which will invoke plenty of nostalgia and warm recollections of a player who is not only one of the best of his generation, but one of the best all-time.

His slowed production in recent years has caused some stagnation in his market, but hitting additional milestones as part of a farewell tour promises to send things trending upward once again.

Angels P/DH Shohei Ohtani: 2018 Bowman Chrome Base (Pitching)

Shohei Ohtani arrived from Japan with as much hype as any prospect baseball had seen in a long time. Called the “Babe Ruth of Japan” due to his ability to hit tape-measure home runs and light up the radar gun on the mound, the arrival of “Sho Time” the United States was met with monstrous expectations. 

A rare example of a two-way player in modern baseball, the very idea of Ohtani excited fans around the world. Unfortunately, the 26-year-old has battled injuries that have limited him to just 53 innings pitched in three seasons. Ohtani has still been productive at the plate, however, winning AL Rookie of the Year in 2018, but there’s great eagerness to see him back on the mound. 

Two versions of the Angels phenom’s Bowman Chrome Base Prospect card were released in 2018, one as a hitter and one as a pitcher. After Ohtani had Tommy John surgery in 2018, the estimated value of his pitching card ($36) dropped below that of the hitting variant ($90).

Ohtani has only thrown 1.2 innings since the surgery, and there have been some questions as to whether he can truly get all the way back to where he was on the mound.  He recently threw a live bullpen session where he reportedly hit 97 MPH on the radar gun, and while he still has much more to prove, his pitching card value does not reflect that of a player who would have been one of the game’s most exciting prospects even without that power bat.

A healthy, strong 2021 start on the mound for Ohtani should boost the value of his Bowman Chrome pitching variant quite a bit, making it a card to track closely in the months to come.