Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Under the Tree: 2014 Heritage High Number Series

And now we arrive at my final Christmas gift post: the Heritage High Number boxed set.  This has become something of a Christmas tradition at this point.  Topps has been issuing a 100-card High Number box set for three years now, and for three years it's been at the top of my Santa list.  It helps that it's normally released in mid-November.

As for the cards, this year's set might be the best yet.  As I was sorting through the box, I definitely knew it was my favorite.  I mean, the checklist of players coupled with the attractive '65 Topps design made this one easy to fall in love with.

I chose Jose Abreu as the header for this post for a couple of reasons.  Chiefly, he is card No. 600, so he'll wind up occupying his own nine-pocket page.  That's kinda one of those annoying byproducts of a 100-card set, right? Anyways, his card gets scanned alone rather than as part of a full page.

Another reason why Abreu gets the catbird seat for this post is because this is the 'Abreu set.'  By that I mean his is the card that you think of first when you think of the set.  The identifier.  Kinda like the 2012 High Number set was the Bryce Harper set and last year's was the Yasiel Puig set.

Honestly, it probably comes down to a coin flip between Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka in terms of which card might be considered the most sought-after rookie from this set.  But, big Yogi gets the tie-breaker cos he was the A.L. ROY.

Okay, enough chatter.  Let me take you through a tour of the rest of the set -- always one of my favorite tasks, especially when it comes to anything Heritage!

Page 1, cards Nos. 501-509...

Right off the bat, you can tell that this set is loaded with some pretty amazing rookies.  Interesting that Topps decided to issue stand-alone cards of some prominent rookies that were on multi-player "Rookie Stars" cards in the regular set.  In fact, Paxton and Walker shared one of those dual-player cards.  I don't really take issue with this; in fact I'm in favor of it.  I wish they chose to do it with a guy like Manny Machado last year.  Instead, they opted only to place him on the autograph checklist for the High Number set.  Strange.

Of course, Tanaka is the definite highlight of the first page.  It features the Yankees' imported ace in the familiar backdrop of Legends Field in Tampa.

Page 2, card Nos. 510-518...

Collin McHugh, a former Mets prospect who had a nice season for Houston, gets his first stand-alone card. His Heritage debut was in last year's regular set as part of a "Rookie Stars" card he shared with then-teammate Jeurys Familia.

The epicenter of this page is surely the rookie of late prospect Oscar Taveras.  Tragically, this will stand as his first and final Heritage card (not counting the Minors issues).

Also, we get our first Mets card of the series...

Daisuke is one of a whopping SEVEN Mets players to get a card in the 100-card checklist.  That's huge considering the Mets were featured on just six total cards over the last two High Number releases, including just two last year.

Page 3, card Nos. 519-527...

Some great young players on this page, including the impressive Padres righty Ross and the speedy Hamilton. All-Star Sean Doolittle and his ginger beard get a nod, too.

Big Jon Singleton is my pick for the fave of the page. Crazy talent and a ferocious glare to match.

Page 4, card Nos. 528-536...

Cool to see Tanner Roark get recognized in this set, as he was an unheralded star for the Nats in 2014.  Also excited to get my first Joe Panik card.  He could be a fixture at second for the Giants for a long time.

The ultra-talented Andrew Heaney is the choice for best of the bunch on this page.  The N.L. East is extremely deep in scary young pitching talent.  Heaney and Jose Fernandez -- whose Heritage rookie was in last year's High Number set -- could be an excellent lefty-righty duo for the Marlins for many years. [Ed. Note: They certainly could...if Heaney was still in Miami. I guess I oughta fire my Cracker Jack research department, eh? Heaney is now an Angel as of earlier this month. Apologies!]

Page 5, card Nos. 537-545...

Some good veteran names on this page, including playoff hero Mike Morse, A.L. home run champ Nelson Cruz and the recently-traded Casey McGehee.

Great name and a great photo of Yangervis Solarte, as we get a good look at both commemorative patches the Padres donned on their unis this year.  The former Yankee crafted a pretty nice rookie season for the Padres.

And, of course, we shall highlight or second Mets card...

Raffy Montero might be trade bait, but he's still a pretty highly-regarded pitching prospect for the Mets.  Problem is, the Mets 2014 rotation is a pretty crowded situation, so he could be the odd man out.  We shall see, though.

Page 6, card Nos. 546-554...

Now we're cookin' with gas, as we've got some big-time rookies on this page.

Great bat-barrel photo of the Red Sox phenom, complete with familiar chain link fence in the background.  How many Heritage Red Sox cards have we seen with that thing?!

And, of course, the card that I was most anxious to get my hands on...

Last year, Zack Wheeler was the must-have Met rookie card from High Number, and this year it's Jacob deGrom.  A truly exceptional rookie card of the N.L.'s ROY.  Although, it looks like the RC logo is part of deGrom's sleeve.  But, a minor gripe.  Love this card!

Page 7, card Nos. 555-563...

Interesting mix on this page.  A few colorful vets, including former Mets prospect Scott Kazmir, plus some high-end youngsters.

This guy has all the looks of a future superstar.  Before a late July injury ended his season, George Springer looked like he was lined up to be a shoe-in for ROY.  Houston has a bright future with him and Singleton, eh?

And, what's this, another Met??

Not just any Met, but my main man EY Jr.!  A year late, in my opinion.  Young was an everyday player for the Mets in 2013 and shoulda been in last year's High set.  His playing time was cut back considerably this past season.  But, whatever, I'll take it!  This card kicks major booty!

Page 8, card Nos. 564-572...

This page gets deductions for featuring three Yankees cards.  Otherwise, the rookies of Bethancourt, Marisnick and Stroman are high points.

Does this photo scream 'badass' or what?  Betances was not only one of the most dominant set-up men in all of baseball, but he was a key contributor to my league-winning fantasy squad.

Page 9, card Nos. 573-581...

I was more than a little miffed that LaTroy Hawkins was completely stonewalled in both Update and High Number last year, as he would have been a splendid addition to the All-Time Mets Project.  Plus, he was a solid contributor that appeared in a zillion games for the '13 Mets.  Oh well, good for him and good for Rockies collectors that he gets his comeuppance this year.

Wilmer was one-half of a 'Rookie Stars' card from the regular '14 Heritage set.  So, this is his stand-alone rookie. It looks more and more like he'll be New York's starting SS in 2015.  Not a bad thing from an offensive standpoint, but I wonder/worry about his defensive chops at such a critical infield spot.

Page 10, card Nos. 582-590...

Josh Harrison kinda came out of nowhere to be an All-Star in 2014.  And Topps rightly scrambled to get him in Update plus High Number.  Kolten Wong is another who appeared in the regular set on a "Rookie Stars" card.  A good pick to get his own plot of cardboard.

Man, this guy's ceiling is unlimited.  He's got the goods to be an ace plus he showed the guts of a true competitor in the playoffs.  What's not to like?  Another exciting rookie card in an already overloaded class.

This was a pleasant and most unexpected surprise in terms of being included in the checklist.  "Soup" was a big pinch-hitting bat for the Mets early in the summer, but kinda tailed off towards the finish line.  Not sure he's part of the bench blueprint moving forward, but it's a totally cool distinction for Campbell to make the cut when you've only got 100 players in the checklist.

Final page, card Nos. 591-599...

Jeff Samardzjia was a slam dunk to get a card in this series.  Then again, so were guys like David Price, Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig, to name a few.  Where are they??  Nothing against my boys EYJ or Eric Campbell, but how did they get tabbed but not one of those big movers??  Puzzling, truly.

Leading up to the release of this set, I did my best to completely avoid peeking at the checklist.  I wanted to enjoy each card as a surprise, so to speak.  Unfortunately, I goofed and inadvertently saw the Mets cards via an eBay search a week or so before receiving the set.  Regardless, I was excited to see d'Arnaud get his own card.  One of my favorite newer Mets. He was the other half of the dual-player card with Wilmer Flores.

Whew, okay, that about does it.  It's still too damn pricey and it's not perfect, but I look forward to this release each year and I really love this year's set.

Oh, shoot, almost forgot my autograph, which is guaranteed one per box...

Nice looking card and neat autograph.  I don't know too much about him other than the fact that his name is quite a mouthful.  I was obviously praying for deGrom or Springer or one of the super-duer high-end rookies, but what can ya do?

Okay, that's gonna do it, for real this time.  I hope you enjoyed this exhaustive journey.  Anyone else grab one of these yet?  Planning to?

Happy New Year!


Monday, December 29, 2014

Under the Tree: 2014 Topps Baseball Factory Set

Another 'must' item on my Christmas list was a Topps factory baseball set.  I didn't attempt to complete a set via the traditional route (aka buying packs and blasters or trading) this year, deciding instead to take the easier and more cost-effective route.

One of the absolute advantages of going the factory set route when collecting a Topps flagship set is the exclusive five-card package of rookie variations.  I'm a sucker these things!

But, you have to be careful, because Topps offers a few different bonuses in their factory sets.  There's the All-Star edition factory set that gives you a five-card pack of All-Star variations.  And another factory set that includes five orange bordered parallels.  Those are two that I can think of off the top of my head; there might be more.

For my taste, nothing tops the rookie variations.

The variation of Masahiro Tanaka's rookie card is, of course, a headliner.

So is Jose Abreu's.

I guess you could call these two guys the 1A and 1B of the 2014 rookie card class, at least in terms of the rookies that landed in the 660-card base set.

These other guys aren't exactly slouches either...

One final word on 2014 Topps before I close today's post.  I know there has been exhaustive opinion and commentary on the look of the cards already.  After all, they've only been out for, what, nine months?  But, having immersed myself in the factory set plus the Update hobby box over the course of the weekend, I have a more complete and informed opinion of this year's offering.

As is the case with a new record album, you may need a few spins to have the music really hit you the right way and leave a meaningful impact.  For me, that was pretty much the deal with 2014 Topps. Like the new CD from your favorite band, we all have high expectations for Topps cards which aren't necessarily met upon initial contact.  And, well, with something as perennially important and meaningful as the Topps baseball set, expectations are high and comparisons to the past are heavy and probably unfair.

I hated the design elements at first glance and rejected them out of the box.  But, flipping through over 900 cards the past two days, it's all starting to sink in and make sense.  While not an all-time classic, 2014 Topps is perhaps one of the best of recent memory.  The design is a little out there, yet still beholden enough to traditional sensibilities.  It's different, but not radical.

I realize this isn't groundbreaking commentary, but I've gathered that 2014 Topps isn't exactly a consensus favorite among collectors and bloggers.  But, that's okay, you can't please everyone.  After all, I'm an aficionado of '89 Topps which is loosely regarded as a stale pair of gym socks by most.  To each his own.

I look forward to my next step with this set, which means getting the cards into pages and then housed in a binder.

Still one more Christmas item to discuss.  Stay tuned...


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Under the Tree: 2014 Topps Update Hobby Box

My Christmas list this year included just three specific items, one of which was a hobby box of 2014 Topps Update.  As he usually does, Santa came through.

I ripped but one 12-card pack of Update all season long and avoided the product as best I could for months in an effort to preserve the element of surprise for when I busted a box.

All in all, I was pretty satisfied with the checklist.  I think the glut of All-Star cards kinda puts a damper on the series, but that seems to be the trend with Update anymore.  Part of me thinks it's cool that every player who was invited to the Game gets a card.  And then I sift through them all and stare at the unflattering, bland photos featuring the ugly BP jerseys and caps.  Ugh.

Anyways, after sorting through the contents of the box, I'm just 22 cards shy of a complete 330-card set, which is pretty decent, I think.  I'll hopefully grab the remainder from dime boxes at upcoming shows.

Onto the cards!  As is the case with Update, you've got your bounty of promising rookies and prospects who you look forward to getting your hands on.  This year, the two biggest rookie names -- Abreu and Tanaka -- both landed rookie cards in the flagship set, so that tempered the Update release a tad.

Nonetheless, I was anxious to track down the remaining rookies.  And, I do believe I scored all of those which I was hoping for.  The Taveras up top isn't his 'true' rookie, but I love the photo on this card and I think it's somewhat appropriate in a sad kind of way, since the young man died in a car crash a couple months back.

Other important rookies from this year's Update set:

For me, it was most important to find the deGrom and Springer rookies, as I consider them the cornerstone cards of this year's release.  Time and circumstance may change that, but for right now I think that's pretty on point.

Oh, and like the Taveras, another of those Rookie Debut cards that I think might be the best photo from the series...

Certainly a candidate for photographic perfection.  The angle, the backdrop... it's all good!  Too bad this is just a subset card and not his actual rookie.  C'mon, Topps!

Okay, let's talk inserts and parallels.  I'm not so crazy about inserts these days, however I'm still pretty hooked on the '89 minis.  My box yielded only five, which kinda left me disappointed.

But, one of them was Jeter, so that took the sting away just a bit.

Beyond the '89s, the only other insert set that I found exciting was the Power Players, mostly because it reminds me of the kind of insert you'd find during the late '90s.

And, look, I even got a Tanaka.  I might be tempted to try and complete this set, but I doubt I'll elevate it to a priority anytime soon.  After all, the checklist doesn't even include a single Met!

One insert set that does include a Met or two is World Series Heroes...

Nice looking card, here.  Gary Carter...the '86 Mets...always a recipe for cardboard success!

Maybe someone can help me with these next inserts.

Yes, I know what they are, but I just can't put my finger on the appeal of re-issuing a vintage card with a foil stamp fudging it up.

As for parallels, nothing that blew me away.  No gold or red sparkly parallels of rookie phenoms or superstars to brag on.  Though, I did manage to pull one Met, albeit one that no longer calls Queens his home.

Still, a pretty attractive card, I think.

And, I got another one of those sneaky photo variations...

I don't know a whole lot about Stroman, but I like this card an awful lot.  I prefer it to the photo on his regular card, which isn't all that bad, either.

Lastly, my guaranteed autograph or relic card.  Normally, these don't do a whole lot for me.  Standard fare for Update would be an All-Star jersey card or a sticker auto of some rookie.

So, I got the latter.  This didn't get my heart racing, but I'll always take an autograph over a patch or some sort any day.  Up for trade if you're into autos or you're deranged enough to be a Braves fan (just kidding!).

So there you have it; 2014 Topps Update.  I had a blast going through the box and filling out my checklist.  I love Update and always will, no matter how imperfect it might be.  And, hopefully, it'll continue to be a part of my Christmas haul for years to come!