Welcome 2021 Bowman Draft (due out December 31), the deepest and usually the best prospect release of the year. This year, there are 109 players who have their most desired prospect card, their 1st Bowman, in this set. It’s a lot. This release’s 1st Bowman cards are exclusively players from the 2021 MLB Draft.
Most of the big names are in here – Marcelo Mayer, Jordan Lawlar, Brady House, Henry Davis. Most of your favorite team’s first round picks are also in here – Colton Cowser, Frank Mozzicato, Sal Frelick, Gunnar Hoglund, etc.
The first 29 picks are the obvious choices for the most collectible player in Bowman Draft – they are certainly the best bets to make a meaningful impact in the majors. What I want to talk about is, who else? Which players outside those first 29 could also be meaningful for the hobby?
To me, this prospecting part of the hobby is about finding a player whose value is lower at release, and will see exponential growth as his career continues. You can apply it to the dollar value of the player’s cards, or just real-life value. That’s what makes this fun!
With 109 names, there’s a lot to wade through and weed out. How do I do it personally? Well, the hobby and fantasy have many similarities – hitting is more important than pitching, and high ceiling prep hitters usually trump safer college bats. So it’s reasonable to think a player’s fantasy value will correlate to their card value pretty closely. There are really just a few things that are different, and they are as follows:
- The hobby cares even less about pitchers than fantasy, relative to price. If the pitcher plays well, he’s still going to see growth in card value. However, the overall ceiling of that value is much lower than hitters.
- The hobby only cares about a player’s speed if it’s part of a package that includes power.
- Power is even more important. Unlike fantasy, we’re not building a team where we can trade off one category for another across multiple players. So, we shoot for the one stat that’s most closely tied to stardom: dingers.
Without further ado, let’s dig into a few players I like from this release outside the Top 29. If you don’t like the exact players I’m writing about, just think of this list as a cross-section of player types that could be interesting for the hobby.
Jay Allen, OF, Reds – Rd 1C, Pick 30
In the AZL, Allen stood on 1st base 26 times and stole 14 bases. That’s just the beginning though – he also had 8 XBH in 75 PA’s including 3 HR. His K% was also a very manageable 16%. These numbers aren’t important – this is the AZL where pitching is bad and SB numbers are skewed. But for a player that was supposed to be in the ‘raw & projectable’ bucket, it’s a great sign that Allen is already showing the ability to translate his skills to the field at a pro-level. He doesn’t have elite speed (despite the SB) or a great arm, but should be a solid OF, so it doesn’t matter for the hobby. At pick 30 this is the lowest-hanging fruit within the parameters I’ve set, but Allen has fantastic power/hit potential. He could be a Top 5-7 player from this set in a few years.
Ethan Wilson, OF, PHI – Rd 2, Pick 49
Having hit 17 HR as a freshman for South Alabama in 2019, Wilson has been on watch lists for a while. Although he’s re-formed himself to be a more complete hitter since then, power will still be a big part of his game. Wilson won’t really be a sleeper in this product for the hobby – I think his cards will be somewhat expensive from the jump. The upside is that he could have the makings of the middle of the order masher. If that happens, it’s easy to see exponential growth.
Lonnie White, OF, Pirates – Rd CB-B, Pick 64
A 2-sport commitment to Penn State kept White down on Draft boards, but the Pirates used some savings from drafting Henry Davis to meet his bonus demands. This is a 5-tool talent who should be a hobby darling in this release. Guys of White’s ilk can boom quickly and become Top 50-type prospects, or hit developmental roadblocks and struggle immensely. The hobby always pays up for the potential of guys like this, but will some collectors overlook him because he was essentially a 3rd rounder? Maybe. Take a look at prices at release.
Tommy Mace, RHP, Guardians – Rd CB-B, Pick 68
I think Mace has the best floor/ceiling combination for any pitcher outside the 1st round. Being a 6’6” sinkerballer, it’s completely fair to think he doesn’t have a high strikeout upside, and that’s fine. But his secondaries are strong, his command is strong, he’s added a four-seam to use up in the zone, and he’s in a Guardians system that has a way of bringing out the most in any pitcher the draft and develop (Logan T. Allen most recently). Ultimately he probably only has a mid-rotation ceiling, but for as inexpensive he’ll likely be in this product, there’s solid value.
Quick note: Yeah, I know Ty Madden was a few picks outside the Top 29. And yeah, he’s definitely a better prospect, but it’s not as interesting to write about.
Alex Binelas, 3B/1B, Red Sox (pictured with Brewers) – Rd 3, Pick 86
Binelas debuted in Low-A with a .636 SLG in 132 PA. That’s impressive regardless of what your draft pedigree is, and an easy stat to glom onto for the hobby. There’s some smoke to his other numbers though – his.314 BA with the Mudcats is a mirage – there’s 17% SwStr% within that BA, and hit just .256 at Louisville in 2021. He also lacks any defensive value. Now with the Red Sox, we’ll have to wait & see whether he develops into an all-or-nothing power type or a more dynamic hitter. To me, he’s a gamble worth taking.
Jose Torres, SS, CIN – Rd 3, Pick 89
Torres is the flipside of Binelas as a prospect, but also performed well in his Low-A debut, slashing .337/.383/.568. Torres should stay up the middle defensively, so his floor as a real-life prospect is pretty high. Was his debut just one big hot streak? Perhaps, but his BABIP wasn’t astronomical (.364) and his SwStr% (11%) was pretty good for a player who has a penchant for being too aggressive. With power being most important, this isn’t a player with the highest hobby ceiling. But like I think Mace is as good a bet as any post-1st round pitcher for hobby growth, I think Torres is a better bet than any post-2nd round player for exponential hobby growth.
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, 1B/3B, MIN – Rd 4, Pick 128
If you want to take a deep dive into this checklist, the easiest pick is CES. For the same reasons that he’s a late favorite in FYPD, he’s appealing here – never failed anywhere, has legit power, and had a good debut. His red flags are the same as Binelas, but a tick worse. He’s going to strike out a lot, but it’s possible that it’s deodorized by consistent 25-30 HR seasons. This is a dart throw, but it could be a bullseye for the hobby.
Max Arterburn lives in the Milwaukee suburbs. He loves coaching baseball, karaoke, film, and spending time with his wife & 3 boys. He loves the Hobby & uses it as an avenue to obsessively follow prospects. He also loves critiquing card design & fancies 1998 UD3 as his favorite childhood set. He is not an Instagram model.
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