Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Collecting the Durham Bulls: Mike Fontenot

Fontenot is easily the most experienced Durham Bulls since the Rays purchased the contract of Erik Bedard last week.   Mike Fontenot played seven seasons in the Majors spending time with the Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants, and Philadelphia Phillies.   This is the veteran infielder's second season in Durham after he spent the 2013 season here too.  In 120 games last summer Fontenot posted a .264/.335/.379 line for the Bulls.  He spent most of his time playing second base last summer, but Bulls manager Charlie Montoyo did play him at third and short as well. 

Every team needs a player like Fontenot around.  He's not a spectacular player, but if the Rays were short an infielder there is no reason why Fonenot could not fill the void for a short time.  In the meantime, he can be a good mentor to young infielders in Durham like Hak Ju Lee and Cole Figueroa.  Fontenot also seems to have a really good relationship with the Bulls coaching staff.  On to the cards....

The first Fontenot cards appeared in 2003 while he was in the Baltimore Orioles organization.  His cards did not have that official rookie card stamp thing in the corner when they were issued that year, so he also appears to have a few rookie cards floating around in 2007.  Do not let the shiny rookie card badge distract you.  If you want a Fontenot rookie he appears in 2003 Topps, Bowman, Topps Total, and Topps Bazooka.  Of course there are nicer Fontenot cards then these....

Fontenot has a whole bunch of autographed cards out on the secondary market.  Most of the cards feature the infielder as a Cub, which makes me a little queasy, but I love the Bulls so I do own one.  Fontenot seems to have a ton of dual or triple autographed cards.  Lots of players have a few, Fontenot seems to have a ton.  I am not completely against dual signature cards, but it is hard to buy a dual autograph when the players on the card have a pretty wide gap in talent, or the players are of equal talent and the price of the card is ridiculous.  Fontenot dual signature cards fit both of these problems. 

Low talent with a high price:

Shockingly as the price seems you have to remember that some of the really cool Fontenot autographs with the Cubs were issued during the 2007 season, which seems a little bit high for Cubs cards.  I guess they won their division that year, but I am not sure why that year (along with 2008) drifts high.  Surely a division title is not the only reason.  What am I missing?

Fontenot also has a bunch of dual signature cards where he kind of drags the card down.  Mike Fontenot and Pablo Sandoval?  So, that the starting third baseman for a two World Series champion and his backup?  I think this would be cool if you had Sandoval and Hunter Pence, Tim Lincecum, someone else besides Fontenot.  Of course, if you really like Mike Fontenot there are some really cool cards out there were he does not share the card with other players. 

Being a part of two World Series winners in San Francisco means that Fontenot has been in two of these sets which Topps puts out every year to commemorate the winning team.  Fontenot was a part of the 2010 team which beat the Rangers and the 2012 team which beat the Tigers.  The cards are usually numbered to less than 100 and are highly sought after.  While the last card of Fontenot's to sell of Ebay does not have it's exact completion price, I would have a hard time believing it went too far below the original asking price.  Pretty steep price to ask for a utility infielder. 

Memphis Redbirds Hat Logo

I have been working on my Collecting the Durham Bulls thread the during the past week which took a little bit of guess work during spring training to prepare for some of the perspective players on this year's roster.  Besides having a good head start on getting some of the cards for this year's Durham Bulls team, I also have been able to go back and pick up some minor league cards for that other team I follow: the Cardinals.  

In my last Durham Bulls post I showed off a cool patch card of Rays prospect Mikie Mahtook which came out of Topps Heritage.  While I now have several of these cards from the Durham Bulls, Montgomery Biscuits, and Charlotte Stone Crabs I do not own any of these cards from Cardinals minor league teams.  I changed that a few weeks ago when I picked up a copy of the Kolten Wong card from last year's Topps Heritage Minor League's set. 

Wong was actually called up by the Cardinals at the end of the last year and appeared on the Cardinals World Series roster.  While he seemed to struggle at times during his cup of coffee, and was picked off of first base to end a World Series game, the Cardinals felt good enough about Wong's skill set to turn over the starting second base job to his this season.  That meant that All-Star second baseman Matt Carpenter was moved back to his natural starting position at third base and native St Louisan, and 2011 Postseason hero, David Freese was shipped out to Anaheim.  Wong has done pretty well for himself to start the season.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Collecting the Durham Bulls: Mikie Mahtook

I have been waiting for Mikie Mahtook to show up in Durham the last few years.  I have caught glimpses of him on different highlights and liked what I saw.  Mahtook was a great college player at LSU and was selected by the Rays in the first round of the 2011 draft.  If you read most scouting reports of Mahtook they will rate his skills above average across the board, but he does not have one stand out skill.  Here are his career minor league stats including his first week and a half of play at Triple A. 

Really the thing that stands out the most to me is the OBP.  I always try to think of .350 as being the ideal floor for an outfielder which Mahtook is below.  This year he is at .396 so far, but he only has 2 walks in almost 50 plate appearances.  It's something to work on, but I still think that Mahtook will be on the Rays sooner rather than later and he will contribute to the team.  In someways he reminds me a little bit of Jon Jay, but he can actually cover the outfield. 

Mahtook has a ton of cardboard.  High draft choices always get a decent share of baseball cards, but Mahtook was one of the best college players in the game entering the draft and has a pretty good fan following which always helps the cause.  His first few cards actually are in a USA Baseball uniform from his time with the college all-star team including autographs.  At times these autographed cards can be a little bit pricey, given the type of player he is likely to become at the next level, but can found for less than $10 if you are patient. Of course, you can always opt for unsigned too.  Panini has a few nice base Mahtook cards that can be found for a dollar or two. 

Let's get back to the autographs.  Mahtook has been a great signer.  His USA Baseball autographs can drift a little bit higher than some of his other certified autographs.  Particularly his Bowman Platinum USA Baseball autograph which is in a great 2010 set.  You are paying for a Mahtook autograph, but you are also paying for the fact that it's in the same set as lots of other great autographs (including a very nice Steven Strasburg card).  His other autographs are almost always less than $5 on Ebay.  

His Bowman Platinum autograph from the 2012 set is one of my favorites.  It features a really nice on-card signature and is readily available several different places around the secondary card market cheap.  Mahtook also had a nice autograph in the 2013 Topps Heritage Minor League set.  It's a sticker autograph, but...

really you are getting an autograph for less than $5 and let's be honest about something.  Mahtook has a cool signature and he's not one of these guys who signs his 250 cards in 10 minutes.  All of his autographs look neat, nice, and actually look like he spent time and effort to sign.  Thank you.  One more really cool card.. 

There are relic cards of Mahtook and they are inexpensive.  Whose relic cards aren't inexpensive these days?  Collectors are a little bit bored with relic cards and it shows in the pricing.  However, I love these minor league manufactured patch cards that Topps has put out in the past few years.  I know that I have had a great time tracking down copies of the Durham Bulls cards like this and think this Charlotte Stone Crabs card of Mikie Mahtook is a cool find too.  

Overall, if you are a fan of the Rays, or Durham Bulls, and are looking for a player with loads of cards to collect this is a good player to look into.  While Mahtook has a lot of different cards for a Minor League most are very affordable and look pretty cool too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring Break Spring Fever Joe Kelly

I love the beginning of the baseball season.  More importantly, I love that the beginning of baseball season always falls into my spring track out.  If you are not familiar with the concept of Year Round Schools (teach for 9-10 weeks, off for 3-4 weeks) it's similiar to having a Spring Break, but it just lasts a few weeks longer.  I spend time focusing on writing lesson plans for the next quarter and getting myself organized, but also leave plenty of time for baseball. 

I have been able to see a few Durham Bulls games during the past few weeks, watch plenty of the Cardinals and Rays, and also spend time working on my baseball cards.  Sometimes I miss having time to track down cards once I am in school.  Alright, I make time, but it's a small window.  Breaks, track out, Spring Break, whatever you want to call it gives me ample time to search and plan.  So, here's a Spring Break kind of card for my last full week of vacation.

Topps put these Spring Fever cards out last year too.  Something with wrapper redemptions or something.  I am not a fan of mailing things to Topps.  It should be an unwritten rule of baseball cards: Mailing things to Topps does not mean they are mailing something back to you (in a timely manner).  Or Something like that.  I like redeem redemptions or whatever you would categorize this card.  I sent Topps nothing, but I still own the card.

I am a pretty big fan of Joe Kelly and am happy to see him in the Cardinals starting rotation instead of the bullpen this season.  Recently, Peter Gammons offered a flattering comparison for the Cardinals hard throwing righty.

So far this year Kelly has done pretty well in his two starts, but there is a long way to go in the season. 

Collecting the Durham Bulls: Brad Boxberger

Someone remind me why this guy is on the Bulls?  Brad Boxberger was drafted by the Reds in the first round of the 2009 draft after spending his college career at USC where he was named second team All-American.  After being drafted by the Reds he was traded to the Padres in the Matt Latos deal and then traded again this offseason in the Alex Torres trade landing with the Rays.  Fans initially disappointed in the return of Logan Forsythe need to spend a little bit of time checking out some of the other players involved in the trade.  Like Boxberger. 

Boxberger has appeared for the Padres and pitched quite well.  In 42 games Boxberger has pitched 49.2 innings and recorded 57 strikeouts for an ERA+ of 131.  His WHIP is a little at 1.45, but overall he seems to be a good relief pitcher.  In fact, his Minor League performance has been down right dominating.  In 261 Minor League innings Boxberger has recorded an ERA of 3.48, but has a strikeouts per 9 rate over 12.  His WHIP is right around the 1.20 range for his career.  However, his numbers have actually gotten better in AAA.  Particularly impressive considering he pitched last year in the hitter friendly Pacific Coast League.

In over 100 Triple A appearances Boxberger's ERA is almost a half run lower than his mark in Double and Single A.  His WHIP is nearing 1 and a strikeout per nine rate that jumps to over 13.  This year has been spectacular and Boxberger has been a bright spot for the Bulls in the early going.  In 6.1 innings of work this year Boxberger has struck out 13 while yielding just 5 base runners.  On to the cards.

Boxberger was a high draft pick from a high profile college baseball program, so naturally he has a plethora of cool rookie cards.  If you are looking for something in the way of college baseball cards I would suggest looking for one of his Donruss Elite cards.  His Extra Edition card is a sticker autograph, but is pretty inexpensive and fairly easy to find.  He also has a really cool patch card from that set with a USC patch.  However, sellers on Ebay seem insistent on demanding exorbitant prices for the patch card.  COMC?  Funny story.

If you look on the COMC site for Brad Boxberger......

They have never heard of him, maybe. 

Note the seller on this Amazon item of a Donruss Elite Brad Boxberger patch card is COMC.  If I owned my very own card store would I sell cards on a competing website which was charging me commission fees?  I guess maybe I do not understand the COMC business model.  I'm confused.  This is a cool card and the price is not too bad.  Might have to pick this one up. 

Of course Boxberger has some other cards floating around too.  He has a Reds rookie card in 2009 Bowman set which can be found in the signed and unsigned versions.  I like the signed version myself, but to each their own. 

Boxberger can also be found in the Topps Pro Debut set as a Minor Leaguer in the Reds organization.  While his card catalog is not huge yet, I would suspect that Boxberger turns into a solid, if not good, relief pitcher for the Rays and has a bright future pitching in the Majors.  You can pick up his cards now, while they are pretty cheap, or wait until he reaches the Bigs.  All signs point to Brad Boxberger getting there soon than later. 

Collecting the Durham Bulls: Ali Solis

The Bulls have a group of new catchers this seasons which were mainly signed as Minor League free agents including Ali Solis.  The Rays are the catcher's third team in the last three years starting with the Padres, moving on to the Pirates, before settling in with the Rays organization this year.  Solis is basically a career minor league player.  He's shown some pop at times, he had 25 doubles in 87 games in 2012 at Double A San Antonio, but has had a hard time getting on base throughout his career.  His career OBP in over 400 minor league games is just under .300 at .296.  During the first weeks of play in Durham he is following his career line to a t with a .269 batting average and a .296 on base percentage.

Despite being a career minor leaguer with an OPS under .700 Solis has some really cool cards out floating around.  He had several rookie cards in the 2011 card calendar including the Bowman base set and the Topps Heritage set.  

The Bowman card has all the usual variations including a cool flag variation which features Solis in front of a giant Mexican flag.  Pretty popular seller on Ebay.  Solis also appears in both the 2012 and 2013 Bowman Draft picks set as a relic card from the Futures Game.  I was shocked to find that out, but he was in the Future's Game and did get a relic card out of the appearance.  

The Solis relic cards are both inexpensive and can generally be found for less than $5 on Ebay or COMC.  While the cards have limited print runs, it appears at times that all 199 copies of this card cycle through Ebay every two months or so.  

More surprisingly than the fact that Solis has relics cards is the fact that he has really cool relic cards.  Really cool cheap relic cards.  I've seen several different copies of Solis jumbo patches, from both the 2012 and 2013 Futures Games Relic Sets, listed on Ebay.  They almost always sell for less than $10 and are a great find for the price.  I have not really seen enough of Solis to really say I am a fan of the journeyman catcher, but I think I speak for Minor League baseball fans everywhere when I say it would be nice to see a few more career Minor Leaguers (with good followings) to get a few more cool cards.  Solis cards sell, so someone really loves Solis from the past, it's just really cool that Topps made a few sweet cards for his fans to track down. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Amazing Day of Gypsy Queens

I stopped by my favorite local card shop in Raleigh, Big D's Sports Cards, to open up some Gypsy Queen boxes.  Topps released Gypsy Queen this past Wednesday, but with family in town, it took me a few days to make it into the card shop to check out the newest version of this annual popular Topps release.  Jimmy at Big D's picked up a pair of cases of Gypsy Queen.  My two boxes were pretty amazing.  Small details first:

The base set is the typical Gypsy Queen product that Topps has issued over the past several of years with this product.  The base set is 350 with about 50 short printed cards which are generally the high numbered cards and a few singles scattered throughout the set.  The shortest of short prints appears to be the Tanaka card.  I did not pull a copy of the Tanaka rookie card, and out of the boxes that had been opened in the card store, only one copy had been pulled.  The Gypsy Queen set also features it's usual run of minis.  I pulled six black minis and a sepia mini in my two boxes. 

All of the Black Minis are numbered to 199 and the Sepia mini is numbered to 50.  Jimmy also traded a few minis with me and I also picked up a nice copy of the black Stan Musial and the Adam Wainwright.  I will probably try to pick up a few more of the black framed minis of the Cardinals and maybe a few of the Rays. 

On to the good hits.  Each box of Gypsy Queen should have four hits: two autographs and two relics.  I definitely beat the odds with my box.  Here are my autographs from my first box:

Nothing too great there.  KIckham and Hefner might both potentially be Major Leaguers at some point, but they are not probably going to be anything too great.  Kickham did go to Missouri State.  Connection, kind of...  I also was happy to pull a copy of a Bourjos jersey card with a picture of the Cardinals new center fielder in his new jersey. 

Really happy to pull the Bourjos card.  I had seen a few of these floating around this week and was really eager to add one of these to my collection.  Always nice when you can just pull one out of a box.  Now, for my good hits from the first box which more than make up for the fact that I did not get a second relic card. 

This is the first of my two good hits from my first box.  The plate is the mini Cyan of Dodgers right handed pitcher Zach Greinke.  Pretty nice looking card, but I actually landed a nicer card than this one in my box. 

This Shleby Miller Texas flag patch was my favorite card I pulled out of this box.  The card is serial numbered out of 5 and features a cool flag patch of Miller's home state.  Gypsy Queen has done a few insert sets with flags before in the past, but never with patches and never limited to just 5 copies.  Throw in the fact that the card features a Cardinals player and I am extremely happy with this pull.

Now, I did get a second box of cards, and while the first box was really good, the second box was really cool too.  In fact, the Miller card was the highest serial number (out of 5) of any of the extra hits I landed in my two boxes of Gypsy Queen.  So, my first move in opening my second box was to bust open the small box of minis on top of the box.  My second box was a little short on mini because this card was in the box...

I have never pulled a button card, so landing this Greinke was really sweet.  The card is limited to just 3 copies.  Just really really cool.  After landing the Greinke I went through the box and pulled my two autographs and my two relic cards.  My autographs were Steve Delbar and Adam Eaton. 

Ironically I returned home sorted out my base set cards and minis and witnessed Eaton hitting a home run yesterday against the Indians.  Eaton is now on the White Sox.  My two relics....

After pulling the two relics I was really happy with my second box and would have been more than satisfied with two autographs, two relics, and a button card limited to just 3 copies.  However, I managed to pull one more cool hit out of my box...

I am not a huge plate person and I rarely seem to pull them, but two in a day is a personal record for me.  Plus I managed to land two pretty good players with Greinke and Utley.  Overall, my two boxes of Gypsy Queen were pretty incredible.  Four autographs, three relics, a button card, and two printing plates is a pretty good day at the office.  In fact, Big D's had a great weekend with this product.  In addition to my good pulls customers in the store also pulled.  Here are four other customer's hits that Jimmy posted on his Facebook page including a Yogi Berra 1/1, Reggie Jackson 1/1, Puig Printing Plate, Dual autograph of Julio Tehran and Mike Minor, a Minor printing plate, and a jumbo Stanton.   I actually picked up the Porcello patch from Jimmy in the third picture down.  I will post it at some point.