With baseball so loaded with young talent, card collectors have tough choices to make. But between Vlad Jr. and Acuña, there may not be a wrong answer.
The MLB is rife with young talent who have given a much-needed surge to America’s pastime. Among those include two stars under 25 who have stunned fans in their first few seasons, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Ronald Acuña Jr.
Acuña solidified himself as a superstar from the day he first stepped up to the plate as an Atlanta Brave in 2018, and right now, he’s playing the best ball of his carer. And while he was a highly-regarded prospect in the run up to his MLB debut, few have been more highly touted over the last 20 years than Guerrero. After putting up video game numbers in the minors, Vlad Jr. is one of three players since 2000 ever to sit atop MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospect list for multiple seasons, joining Buster Posey and current prospect king Wander Franco. He’s also the first player ever to earn a perfect 80 grade for his hit tool.
And it wasn’t just hype.
Guerrero had a respectable rookie season in 2019, but did not meet the lofty expectations set on him, finishing sixth in AL Rookie of the Year voting. He followed up the campaign with an improved 2020, but his trading card values lagged behind those of other young phenoms who outperformed him, like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto. Still, nobody was sounding any alarms for the kid. That’s how eye-popping his raw skills truly were.
After adopting a grueling training regimen in the offseason, Guerrero’s card values started to rise again when the 22-year-old reported to 2021 Spring Training an astounding 42 pounds lighter than the year before. It’s safe to say the hard work has paid off for the Blue Jays first baseman, as he’s off to a red-hot start, hitting .349 with a torrid 1.146 OPS through 25 games.
Vladdy’s improvements extend beyond what meets the eye. He is shattering his previous batted ball numbers, averaging a 94.4 MPH exit velocity on balls in play, placing him No. 6 overall in baseball — just behind Acuña. Guerrero is also walking as much as anyone in the game, with his 21 bases on balls already exceeding his entire 60-game total from last season.
But somehow, Ronald Acuña has been even better.
The Braves superstar leads the league with nine home runs and 26 runs scored through 25 games while maintaining a .348 batting average, and leads the NL in slugging percentage (.739), OPS (1.190), and total bases (68). Plus, he has drastically improved upon what was viewed as one of his only legitimate weaknesses: plate discipline.
The Braves outfielder has cut his strikeout rate in half and all of the sudden has become as good as any hitter in the game at laying off pitches outside of the strike zone. Acuña has dropped his chase rate from 20% to 15% — the league average is 28% — and has cut his whiff rate by more than 10%. And he’s hitting the ball harder than ever, averaging 96 MPH off the bat on balls in play, the third-best mark in all of baseball behind only Yankee giants Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
If both Ronald Acuña Jr. and Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s cards were going for the same prices, the clear choice for card investors would be Acuña given what he has already done and is somehow outdoing in 2021. In reality, the Braves phenom’s prices very much reflect his ongoing hot streak: Acuña’s 2018 PSA 10 Topps Chrome rookie is selling for around $330 with a population of 7,478, while Guerrero’s 2019 PSA 10 Topps Chrome rookie is commanding approximately $200 with a population of 4,561.
In the big picture, collectors absolutely cannot go wrong investing in either young star, but if we’re attempting to pick just one of them, which slugger is a better bang for your buck?
It’s worth noting that there are more things that drive card values than just performance, such as name recognition, postseason exposure, and international appeal. Acuña produced at a near-MVP level in 2019 and 2020, solidifying him as one of baseball’s biggest names. Vlad Jr. being both a Hall of Famer’s son and one of MLB’s most highly-touted prospects in decades, however, makes the name recognition showdown something of a wash.
Looking ahead to the postseason, we’ll have a reasonable chance of seeing both Acuña and Guerrero in October based on the current standings. While the Braves may be the better team overall when fully healthy, the American League likely presents an easier path to the World Series given that the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers and star-studded San Diego Padres stand in the way in the NL.
Essentially, most of the secondary variables are a wash, which takes card investors right back to where they started: individual performance. And Acuña currently impacts the game more profoundly than Guerrero thanks to his combination of power, speed, and defense.
In 2019, Acuña was just three stolen bases away from joining one of baseball’s most exclusive groups: the 40-40 Club. At just 21 years of age, Acuña would have been the youngest player to steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in one season, joining Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano. If and when he reaches this milestone, his card prices are certain to reflect the historic nature of the achievement.
As for Guerrero, he has the ability to hit seemingly any pitch, and has a game that typically ages very well in baseball. While he doesn’t have elite-level speed to supplement his power, the consistency he brings to the table could give him a legitimate shot at breaking the coveted 3,000-hit threshold, which essentially guarantees a spot in Cooperstown.
And even though Acuña has a slight leg up in career batting average .285 to .277, he’s trended downward in that category in each of his three MLB seasons to date, making Guerrero the better long-term threat to win batting titles. That, along with a PSA 10 Topps Chrome rookie population that’s 61% of Acuña’s, is a fine reason to pull the trigger for the big Blue Jay.
Overall, Ronald Acuña Jr. may be a better baseball player than Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at this very moment, but is he 60% better as his card values indicate? There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that investing in either player is a profitable idea. Whether your big takeaway is to pick one of these guys for emotional, fandom-driven reasons or simply go wild and buy both, you’re absolutely not making a mistake.