The Bowman “First” is exactly what it sounds like — the first card of a player. It’s different than a rookie card — it pre-dates it in most instances, since Bowman is a set comprised mostly of minor leaguers. So while you may come across an Adley Rutschman rookie card in Topps’ current 2023 set, his 1st came out with the 2019 Bowman set (and runs over $130 for a PSA 10 chrome version).
With the release of Bowman 2023, I am going to walk us through some of the more tantalizing names appearing in the set. Before we do that, though, I want to first introduce you to what is possibly the biggest name out of all Topps products in 2023: Druw Jones.
Early on in spring training, I was invited to the “Topps Spot” house in Phoenix. The goal was for Fanatics (parent company of Topps and Bowman) to build relationships with players, but also to create an environment where players would want to come, hang out and, most importantly, sign their cards. And they signed a lot of cards. The Phoenix mansion was packed on both floors with everyone from international players who had never had a professional at-bat to 2023 ROY candidate Corbin Carroll. As impressive as it all was, I was on a singular mission — the Bowman man of 2023, Arizona’s second-overall pick in 2022, Druw Jones.
Jones walked in to the Topps Spot and didn’t waste one second, immediately heading upstairs with his agent to a table to start signing cards. After a few minutes, I made my way up to say hello. The son of Andruw Jones worked this task like a conveyor belt, signing at a rapid rate (as opposed to rocker Jared Hart, who we hung out with as he signed his card at a New Jersey brewery over several hours one summer night). One very impressive part of this was Jones’ ability to maintain a beautiful signature on each card. As I got there, one card caught my attention. It was the most sought after in 2023 Bowman — his 1-of-1 Superfractor (a beautifully designed, shiny card of which only one exists). The 1-of-1 is the most sought after for any prospect, but it’s even bigger when you’re the top prospect in the product. And to my surprise, there were just a few Topps employees, Druw and his agent between me and one of the most valuable cards of 2023 — possibly even the last decade.
This is it:
One of the Topps employees asked Druw if he knew how valuable the Superfractor was, and if he was aware of the importance. The answer was a quick “no.”
“This is going to go for the price of a really nice car,” I offered.
“It’s just crazy to think about how you have a card, and you sign it,” Jones said, “and then maybe one day you’ll end up looking at it online and it may be worth a significant amount of money that you cannot even fathom.”
We reached out to Ken Goldin of Goldin Auctions (one of the top places for collectors looking to sell their big cards), and asked him to speculate on what the Jones Superfractor would go for this year.
“Anywhere between $75,000 and $100,000,” Goldin estimated. “The Superfractor of anyone’s first professional card will always be the most valuable to own. In buying one, you’re really getting the ultimate card in terms of speculating on a player’s future.”
Jones hasn’t really gotten into collecting cards, but that may soon change. “I think I’m going to start now that I’m kind of signing cards. I see a bunch of my friends getting cards too,” he said, “so just being able to collect those guys’ cards too and just have them. Not even sell them or anything, but maybe trade for something else.”
Here we are, BFFS:
Want a little more speculative fun to add to your collecting? Dave and Adam’s Card World announced a $1,000,000 bounty for any person who pulls the Jones Superfractor. Like most things, if it sounds a little too good to be true, it is. They are actually offering $250,000 if the card is pulled in the first 30 days of the release. The million dollar aspect is a bit more complicated — you must pull the Superfractor in the first 30 days, and then if Jones makes the Hall of Fame, you can send the card in for $1 million, 20-25 years from now. Still, as worst, you know you could be looking at 2x to 3x the rate Ken Goldin spoke of if you do pull it in these first 30 days.
But the set isn’t just all Jones. There are many more players getting their first Bowman card. All of these will have autographs and Superfractors, as well. Below I’ve compiled a list of players to target out of the Bowman 2023 set. We’ll take a look at the other top names, the next tier of players and some deeper players who not every collector is in on yet. Let’s rip some names!
The Big Names
Cam Collier, CIN, 3B — In 2022, Collier reclassified to be eligible for the 2022 MLB Draft. The Reds took Collier, who is the son of Lou Collier (who played with the Pirates, Brewers, Expos, Red Sox and Phillies) 18th overall in the first round. Lou made his major league debut at age 23. Cam has a good shot of debuting quite a bit before his dad. At 17 years old, Collier made his professional debut with the Reds in complex ball. He hit .370 with a .514 slugging percentage and a .259 ISO. In 2023, he’s one of the youngest players in A-ball.
A bit of a bigger guy playing over at third base, Collier’s arm will give him a great shot at sticking at the position, but he should be seen as more of a corner infielder. He has a great feel for hitting, while having a knack for getting on base, as he’s started 2023 off with a 20%-plus walk percentage (as of April 25, he’s hitting just .192 but has a .364 OBP). Adding in a great hitting environment, Collier’s offensive potential is through the roof, and he could be up with the big league team before he turns 21. This will not only be Collier’s first Bowman card, but his first Topps card overall. (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 35)
Junior Caminero, TB, 3B — Caminero is one of the biggest and fastest rising prospects. Where Caminero may have been hovering around a Top 75 prospect on many lists last year, he is now a borderline Top 25 prospect. He hit .314 with 11 homers and 12 stolen bases in 62 games across two levels in 2022. And prior to Bowman’s release, Caminero was hitting .373 with 4 home runs at High-A. He also played in Australia this winter, hitting .302 with 14 home runs in 39 games.
According to Rotowire’s minor league batted ball data, Caminero is one of only two prospects with a 45% hard hit rate and a .300 average. The other is Jackson Holliday. Caminero has a smooth swing with a front leg kick that clicks with his bat speed to create consistent contact. Caminero might be a star in the making, and unless your ears are to the prospect ground, you might not realize how good he has really been. The Rays tend to slow roll their prospects, but don’t be surprised when Caminero hits Double-A in 2023, which could make him a 2024 early call up. (Welsh Prospect Rank — Top 35)
Spencer Jones, NYY, OF — Jones often gets Aaron Judge comps for his 6-foot-6, 220+ pound frame. Jones has also been a big offensive force since making his pro debut (he was drafted by the Yankees 25th overall in the 2022 draft). Jones has already hit seven home runs in just under 40 career games played across three levels. In 2022, he moved up from Complex to A-ball at 21 years old and hit .325 with three homers in 22 games, with a sub-20% strikeout rate. This season, Jones, who is now at High-A, tied his previous Single-A home run total, but in just 13 games. Something you might not expect from Jones are his 16 total stolen bases across the three levels, four of which have come in his first 13 games of this season. Jones’ strikeout rate has jumped at High-A, but he still rates as one of the highest rising prospects coming out of the 2023 draft.
It is an annual tradition for a Yankees first Bowman to rocket in price. Breaker “Houdini” of CheapFunBreaks on Twitter runs a 100-case player auction annually. Spencer Jones’ autograph spot ended up going for the second most among all players. Like Jasson Dominguez, Jones will have Judge comps follow him through his minor league career, but so far he’s living up to the hype. (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 50)
Matt Mervis, CHC, 1B — Mervis dominated in 2022, moving up three different levels and lowering his strikeout rate at every level, while raising his walk rate. He combined for 76 doubles and home runs. The Cubs’ first base prospect was then sent to the Arizona Fall League, where he tied for the home run lead with six (in 17 games). Mervis was sent to Triple-A out of spring training, splashing cold water on the idea of him taking over the first base gig in Chicago out of camp.
This season, Mervis has hit five home runs through his first 18 games with a sub 20% strikeout rate and a .288 ISO. It’s a matter of when, not if for Mervis taking over at first base, or at least as the designated hitter, in Chicago. He displays plus power, the ability to get on base and even though he can swing through some pitches, has never experienced an inflated strikeout rate. Mervis is a high-end offensive bat playing (eventually) in a great offensive environment in Chicago.
Mervis is already 25 years old, but, like Collier, this is his first Bowman card and first overall Topps card. Mervis will make the majors this year, which will potentially give him the rare feat of debuting his first Bowman and rookie card in the same year. (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 50)
Edouard Julien, MIN, 2B — This has most likely happened before, but I don’t recall the last time a player has made his debut in the majors before his Bowman First was even released. In fact, Julien got a Topps Now card before his first Bowman. Julien hit .300 with 17 home runs and 19 stolen bases in 2022. He was invited to the 2022 Arizona Fall League where he hit .400 with five home runs, six stolen bases and more walks than strikeouts. His 2022 success led to him getting a call to the majors this year, where he has hit .222 with two home runs in eight games. The Twins have also trusted Julien to leadoff most of his debut stint as well. Prior to being sent down for the returning Jorge Polanco, Julien went 4-for-10 with a home run in his final two games. Julien will get another shot back in the bigs later this year, and when he does, his card value will begin a steady boost back up in price. He may never be a star, but he has the potential to be a 20/20 table setter at the top of the Twins lineup. — (Welsh’s Prospect Ranks — Top 50)
The Next Tier of Prospects To Collect
Josue De Paula, LAD, OF — De Paula was one of the best kept secrets over the offseason, but even card collectors are in on the Dodgers outfielder who has yet to make his professional debut. De Paula is cousins with Stephon Marbury and born in Brooklyn, but moved to the Dominican Republic when he was 14. De Paula has been given the nickname of “Baby Yordan” by many, which doesn’t help lower expectations. The 17-year old hit .349 with five homers and 16 stolen bases in the DSL in 2022. De Paula is now state side with the Dodgers and will make his professional debut this year. De Paula will be a steady riser all season long as more people become aware of the 6-foot-3 outfielder. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 100)
Justin Crawford, PHI, OF — Crawford was drafted 17th overall by the Phillies, and has well-known bloodlines, as we’re all familiar with his father Carl Crawford. Justin Crawford, at 19, started 2023 off with the Single-A Phillies team. He opened by hitting .293 with six stolen bases in 11 games. Over 27 career games, Crawford has already stolen 16 bases. His strikeout rate in A-ball in 2022 was almost 40%, but so far in 2023, he’s kept it under 20%, a huge step in the right direction. Power will be a question, but Crawford, like his father, will be a menace on the base paths, and if he can hit for average, could have all-star potential. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 150)
Lazaro Montes, SEA, OF — Montes is a hulking human being. No current website has him listed properly, as most say 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. In reality, Montes is closer to 6-foot-6, 240-plus pounds. Montes has mammoth raw power, but it is all currently “raw.” He has some swing-and-miss in his game, but he has the look of someone who could hit 40 home runs in his sleep if things begin to work out. Montes hit .284 with 10 home runs at 17 years old in the Dominican Summer League. The Mariners have a great track record of player development over the past few years, and have created a great team for collectors. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 200)
Roman Anthony, BOS, OF — Anthony was taken 79th overall by the Red Sox. At no point in his young career has Anthony had a strikeout percentage higher than his walk percentage. At 6-foot-2, Anthony possesses a great combination of power and speed. Anthony has five stolen bases in 13 games in 2023. He hasn’t tapped into his power yet, but one third of his hits have been extra-base hits. Anthony also has a great floor to his value being with Boston, and is a great chase in Bowman 2023. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 200)
Deeper Names to Chase
Gabriel Gonzalez, SEA, OF — Lazaro Montes is being treated as the Mariners’ top card target, but my personal favorite is Gonzalez. He hit .321 with seven homers and nine stolen bases in 2022 with a .400+ OBP. This year he is hitting .368 with a 12% strikeout rate, and is showing the potential to be a 25/15 home run, stolen base option if everything works out. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 75)
Carlos Jorge, CIN, SS — Jorge isn’t physically imposing, but the young shortstop has a huge bat that taps into power. Jorge hit seven home runs in 42 games in 2022 with a .269 ISO. The left-handed hitter has moved up to Single-A, and has had some early struggles, but this will only help the cost of investing in the offense-first shortstop. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 125)
Nelson Rada, LAA, OF — Rada ended up being one of the youngest, if not the youngest, to be sent to full-season ball in 2023. This is after Rada stole 27 bases and hit .311 in the Dominican Summer League in 2022. If you’re putting things together, that means Rada is skipping complex rookie-ball all together. The Angels have put Rada on the Zach Neto fast track. Rada has an approach that reminds me of Collier in some ways, but just in a smaller package. Rada is being challenged early on, but is a name to collect now. — (Welsh’s Prospect Rank — Top 225)
Hopefully this will help you get started if this is your first foray into collecting, or just give you a head start on the names to covet if you’re a seasoned collector. Trust me when I tell you that there are plenty of other great prospects to highlight. Xavier Isaac with the Rays, Michael Arroyo with the Mariners and one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, San Francisco starting pitcher Kyle Harrison. Sound off in the comments below with who you are collecting out of Bowman in 2023.
Find me on Twitter @isitthewelsh. Listen to the full interview with Druw Jones on my Fantasy Prospect show, Prospect One.
(Top photo of Druw Jones by Chris Welsh)