19 February 2008

Set Spotlight::::Bowman Draft baseball

Thought a good new card feature for the site would be a spotlight on the history of a set. For the first one I picked Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects baseball. The good old Bowman brand returned in 1989 with an oversized set. Bowman peaked in 1992 with the big Manny/Piazza/Delgado/Mariano RCs and continued it's momentum in '93 with a Derek Jeter RC. Bowman's Best and Bowman Chrome were added in the mid-90s, as 1995, 1997 and 1999 were solid years for the Bowman brand.


2000, a new set entered the Bowman family, as Bowman Draft and Bowman Chrome Draft were available via factory set. The regular set came with 111 cards -- 110 base cards and an autograph card. As seen at right, Adrian Gonzalez was the first "poster boy" for Bowman Draft. He and Mark Buehrle along with Kaz Sasaki were the early investments to go for in buying a set. Another rookie in the set that was highly touted at the time but was far from his peak status was Grady Sizemore, who today counts as the highest valued card in the set. Oddly, Sizemore doesn't have a card in Bowman Draft Chrome as his card, #109, went to Brad Wilkerson instead. Sizemore's auto in the set has reached $300 in Beckett. Another card with an odd history in both sets was Rocco Baldelli, who was once valued higher than Sizemore but his injury history has dropped his values back to equal with current Royals non-roster invitee Chin-Hui Tsao among the set's RCs. One of Barry Zito's first major-brand autos can also be found in 2000 Bowman Draft. The Chrome set features Buehrle as the highest-valued card at $8 in Beckett, but the absence of Sizemore makes it one of the rare instances where the regular set is a better buy than the Chrome set. Sizemore, plus a chance at his autograph, or a Chrome set that's got some good players in it but nothing too great? That's an easy choice. As a Bowman collector, I have yet to buy one of these sets, although I did pick up the Sasaki RC in a trade.


In another funny twist, there was no Bowman Chrome Draft in 2001 as Bowman Heritage debuted instead. Bowman Draft Picks was again issued as a factory set, this time with 112 cards -- 110 base cards plus an autograph and, new to the set, a game-used card featuring either a Futures Game relic or a regular game relic. With the emergence of game-used cards in the late '90s, Bowman entered the fray in 2000 and Bowman Draft Picks was no exception for its 2001 product. In the year of Ichiro and Pujols, only Ichiro made the Bowman Draft set as Pujols had debuted in the regular 2001 Bowman set. Ichiro was the first big get and was probably enough reason for a lot of people to invest in the set. Another early headliner of the set was then-hot-prospect Joe Borchard, who has since faded back into just another rookie card in the set. Now the big guns are the Chase Utley RC (right) and the debut cards of Erik Bedard and Coco Crisp (then still listed with his first name, Covelli). Bedard and Utley also have Futures Game relics in the set (Utley's books at $40), as do Miggy Cabrera and Hank Blalock. The autograph inserts feature an early Roy Oswalt auto as well as a Garrett Atkins auto that boasts the highest Beckett value in the set at $60. Overall I'd say the lineup of RCs is better than 2000, as Utley plus Ichiro trumps Sizemore at this point. Throw in Bedard, Brad Hawpe, Crisp, Bobby Crosby and a late bloomer in Kelly Johnson and the gap grows. $40 for all those guys plus the possibility of an Oswalt auto and an Utley Futures Game jersey makes it an even better buy. I don't have much in the way of '01 Bowman Draft but a set sure sounds good about now, even if it is hard to pick up the player's name in a scan of the card.


2002 was when Bowman Draft hit its prime. For the first time, it was packed
out rather than distributed via factory set. The set was wisely combined with Bowman Chrome Draft as each pack included 2 chrome draft cards. Game-used and autos were back, as were the first parallels in the brand. Regular draft had thick gold-border and gold sig foil one-per-pack insert cards while chrome refractors #d/300, gold refractors #d/50 and x-fractors #d/150 were included in chrome draft. What pushed the set over the top was the debut of chrome autographed RCs of 10 prospects, most namely poster boy Khalil Greene. Most of the autos and memorabilia in the regular set are pretty forgettable as far as big names go. The Signs of the Future auto insert debuted in regular draft and the highest booking cards are Chad Tracy, Lance Niekro and Todd Linden at $15. Francisco Liriano's Fabric of the Future relic is the only game-used card in the regular set that lists in Beckett, and it's only $10. One thing that's not forgettable is the lineup of rookies in 2002 Bowman Draft. Early headliners were B.J. Upton, Jeff Francoeur and the Jeff Francis and Greene Chrome auto RCs, as the auto RCs seeded out at odds of 1 per 45 packs. Over the years some other rookies have emerged from the set including Cole Hamels (I pulled his Chrome RC from the set, which still books at $40, my best Bowman Draft pull yet), Dontrelle Willis (once the hottest card in the set, it has cooled over the past couple years), Matt Cain, Nick Swisher and James Loney. The roster of auto'd Chrome RCs hasn't stood the test of time as well as only 4 regularly list in Beckett -- Greene, Francis, Joe Saunders and Scott Moore. The lineup of rookies, though, makes boxes of the product still go at upwards of $200. The refractor parallels are also big draws for people hoping to pull a high-dollar card. If 2000 and 2001 established the Bowman Draft set in the industry, the 2002 set pushed it way up on the scale of hobby impact.


The bar had been set high with the 2002 set, but with the formula of Chrome cards in every pack, plus auto'd Chrome RCs and refractors, plus regular set game-used cards and autographed inserts, Bowman Draft had become almost a guaranteed hit when it returned to the market in 2003. Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the poster boy of the set, 2003 first-rounder Ryan Harvey, hasn't been a hit as he still hasn't advanced past A-ball. The lineup of rookies in the set perhaps doesn't measure up to 2002, but there are some big cards to be found. Early headliners were Cubs prospect Felix Pie and Yankees prospect Robinson Cano, but the biggest hit in the set has become Ryan Howard, whose regular card books $30 and Chrome RC from the set books $60. Cano has hunt in with the better cards in the set, and 2007 emerging stars from the set included Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon (regular card booking at $12, Chrome $30) and now Rangers C Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Pie, John Maine, J.J. Hardy and now A's 1B prospect Daric Barton also made their debut in 2003 Bowman Draft. This time, the lineup of game-used and autograph inserts has stood the test of time a little better as the regular set featured Fabric of the Future Futures Game jerseys of Howard, Joe Mauer, Cano, Khalil Greene and Pie. Chase Utley has a game-used card in the Prospect Premiums relics set. At this point, however, none of the Signs of the Future autos from the 2003 set are listed individually in Beckett. The Chrome Draft autographed RC lineup has done better in '03 than the '02 group has done, value-wise. Brandon Wood and Delmon Young lead the crew along with Nick Markakis, Rickie Weeks, Matt Murton and Chad Billingsley. The refractor parallels are built-in collector's items, as usual. All in all, the 2003 Bowman Draft set has some potential, but the Howard, Papelbon and Cano don't put the entire set on equal footing with the 2002 set, in my opinion. Thrown in an advantage in the Chrome auto RCs, however, and 2003 Bowman Draft puts itself pretty close to its 2002 predecessor.


2004 was another year of the status quo in Bowman Draft, for the most part. A new attraction was added, however, with the inclusion of redemption cards for a set of players who played in the AFLAC high school all-star game. This set of 12 most notably features the first cards of now Marlins prospect Cameron Maybin, Pirates prospect Andrew McCutchen and Marlins prospect Chris Volstad. The set was issued in regular, chrome, chrome refractor, chrome x-fractor and chrome autograph refractor versions. The auto refractor version features an early card of 2005 #1 pick Justin Upton that currently books at $800. Other than that, and the inclusion of printing plates from the set, Topps stuck to the winning formula with Bowman Draft. The problem with evaluating the set as we get closer and closer to modern day is that most of the players are low-minor-league prospects who haven't necessarily gotten their shot to shine yet. A bonafide big dog has yet to emerge from the set, as the highest booking card in either the regular or Chrome set is of Mariners hot pitching prospect Felix Hernandez, and it's not even a RC as he had regular Bowman and Bowman Chrome cards in 2004. Some names are slowly starting to work their way into major league lineups, most notably A's closer Huston Street, White Sox 3B Josh Fields, and Indians starter Fausto Carmona. Other hot prospects from the set have been A's C Kurt Suzuki, Rockies 1B Joe Koshansky, Rangers pitcher Eric Hurley, Mariners IF Matt Tuiasosopo and Rockies OF Willy Taveras. The Chrome autographed RC lineup is middling with big hits in Phil Hughes and Homer Bailey. Poster boy #1 pick Matt Bush hasn't worked out as the Padres planned as he has been converted from SS to pitcher. Rangers P Thomas Diamond, Pirates C Neil Walker and White Sox P Gio Gonzalez are also among the auto'd RCs who have shown potential but haven't cracked the major league ceiling. One new parallel was added for the 2004 set with "red" 1-of-1 cards made for all regular and Chrome refractor versions. The game-used and autograph inserts are again underwhelming, although Hernandez, Cano and David Wright have Futures Game jersey cards included. The Prospect Premium relics all book no higher than $10 while O's pitching prospect Adam Loewen currently leads the values in Signs of the Future autographs at $15. One thing keeping Bowman Draft popular in 2004 was its low per-pack price, as Topps expanded an already large family of Bowman sets in 2004 with the high-end Bowman Sterling product that featured autographed and auto'd game-used RCs of many of the same prospects featured in Bowman Draft at a much higher per-pack price. What one could get a set of 2000 Bowman Draft for brought a collector one pack of Bowman Sterling in 2004.


Bowman Draft showed some differences in 2005, as Topps shoehorned another regular parallel and two more chrome parallels into the set, because if we've learned nothing from the demise of Donruss/Playoff in the baseball card field, it's that the more parallels there are, the better. Sarcasm, there. The usual set structure was back, although Topps did drop all the game-used sets other than the Futures Game jerseys. New to Bowman Draft in 2005 were regular white parallels of each card #d to 225 as well as chrome blue refractors #d to 150 and SuperFractor 1-of-1s to for some reason go along with the red refractor 1-of-1s already in place. All the varied refractor variations were recreated for the second year of the AFLAC exchange set, which in 2005 included 14 rather than 12 cards. None of the prospects in that set have made a major impact yet, although some like O's prospect Billy Rowell and Angels prospect Hank Conger have been hyped. For all the perceived drawbacks of the added parallels, the base set in '05 Draft and Chrome Draft ranks among the best in the history of the set. Maybe it's the karma of the first poster boy to be a big league regular since Greene was on the 2002 boxes, as Ryan Zimmerman made a quick impact in the Washington infield. The regular cards feature the first cards of Troy Tulowitzki, Reds hot prospect Jay Bruce, McCutchen, Red Sox hot pitching prospects Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden, Justin Verlander, Micah Owings and Melky Cabrera, not to mention now D'Backs OF Chris B. Young. The Chrome auto RCs are THE draw of the set, easily, however, as Jered Weaver, Stephen Drew, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Jacoby Ellsbury, Colby Rasmus and John Mayberry Jr. are all big hits from the expanded 15-card subset, which had traditionally been 10. The Futures Game jersey is even packed as Young, Francisco Liriano, Verlander, Russ Martin, Andy LaRoche, Brandon Wood and Jeremy Hermida are among those included. Somehow, though, with all these big names in the other sets, only one of the Signs of the Future autos has been able to earn a Beckett listing in the form of Homer Bailey's $25 auto. Other than that, none book higher than $10 currently. On the whole, I'd say 2005 Bowman Draft more than measures up with the 2002 pinnacle set of the brand. The lineup of Chrome auto RCs is, simply put, awesome, and even the base set RCs have a lot of potential. Twenty years from now, these two sets may be among the best mid-level sets of the decade.


Unfortunately, 2005 may be the best Bowman Draft set we'll ever see as the MLBPA and card companies enacted the Rookie Card logo program in 2006 and threw the state of all Bowman products into a measure of chaos. No longer could the low-minors-prospect cards be included in the base set (under the new program), so Topps made separate "prospect" insert sets in all the 2006 Bowman products. Bowman Draft was no different, as a new "draft picks" set was included and seeded into each pack along with the chrome draft and chrome draft draft picks cards. Basically, the change made every opened pack of Bowman Draft an ordeal of separating out all the different sets, as the parallel cards continued to further muddy the waters. In my mind, they shoulda just dropped the base parallels and kept the chrome refractors in. In all, 16 different sets and insert sets of cards are listed in Beckett for regular 2006 Bowman Draft, with another 24 listed for 2006 Bowman Chrome Draft. 40 different incarnations of cards! And also, for some reason, it was decided to add another refractor to the chrome set as orange refractors #d/25 were included in 2006. How does that make sense? Needless to say, the results of all the changes are hit-and-miss. The regular and chrome base sets include only three cards individually listed in the Beckett Baseball Card Plus -- RCs of Sox pitcher Jon Lester and Mets P Michael Pelfrey and a non-RC rookie-card-logo card of Jered Weaver. The AFLAC exchange set disappeared from the set in 2006, and the new draft picks semi-insert set has yet to produce any big names yet, although it does include Rowell, Blue Jays prospect Travis Snider, Conger and Phillies P prospect Kyle Drabek. The Futures Game players were given their own subset including all the various parallels. One highlight for the regular set cards was the Futures Game relics, as Phil Hughes, Maybin, Hunter Pence, Ryan Braun, Yovani Gallardo, Stephen Drew, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are all included, among others. A dual autograph of ARod and Justin Upton was also seeded into packs at very-high odds. The Signs of the Future autos actually had a strong year as Gordon, Bruce, Koby Clemens, and Micah Owings are all included. Another change was made in the Chrome draft pick autos, as the number was expanded from 15 in 2005 to 25 in 2006. The lineup includes Rays prospect Evan Longoria (poster boy for the set), Dodgers prospect Clayton Kershaw, and Padres prospect Matt Antonelli as the big hits, although all of the players included have yet to climb the ladder to MLB. In another puzzling decision, Topps decided to do Futures Game chrome cards and all the chrome parallels as well, although I guess if you're gonna go to the trouble in the base set you might as well in the chrome set. Nothing like overkill. At this point, the dropoff from 2005 to 2006 Bowman Draft is noticeable and, unfortunately, for the most part isn't necessarily Topps' fault. It can maybe be argued that, with the onset of the Rookie Card logo program, maybe Bowman Draft should have been scrapped, but as I'm sure it has been a great seller, that decision would be very hard to make. I guess if people still shell out the cash, there's not much drawback to putting it out.


In the second year of the Rookie Card logo program, the situation improved somewhat for Bowman Draft. Mainly the improvement was due to a solid group of actual rookies who qualified for the RC logo and a solid draft class featuring the usual hyped prospects. Other than that, it was the same as 2006 only with an updated card design, Futures Game patch cards to go along with the normal jerseys and Chrome Futures Game game-used cards featuring a chunk of base. As in 2005, Topps was able to grab an established top young player from the season as Astros OF Hunter Pence graced boxes and packs of 2007 Bowman Draft. Pence is one of the several good cards to be found in the base set of the product, although his card isn't one of the true RCs in the set. The main names among actual RCs are Justin Upton, Tim Lincecum, Cameron Maybin, Alex Gordon and Joba Chamberlain, with Ryan Braun and Phil Hughes carrying non-rookie RC logo cards in the set. For some reason, Topps also short-printed the regular Bowman Barry Bonds card and seeded a regular and chrome version into Bowman Draft at high odds. All the varied parallels plus the Futures Game prospects set are back. Early frontrunners in the 2007 draft picks portion of the set are #1 pick David Price, #2 pick Royals farmhand Mike Moustakas, Brewers draftee Matt LaPorta and Braves draftee Jason Heyward. LaPorta and Price will likely be the first among the group to hit the big time along with Nats draftee Ross Detwiler. The Futures Game jersey set features Chamberlain and Jacoby Ellsbury as the lone listees in Beckett while the patch version is #d to 99. Other good players in that set include Buchholz, Luke Hochevar, Kershaw, Longoria, Bruce, Maybin and Justin Upton. The Head of the Class dual autos were back for a second season with Heyward included on one card while Hochevar and Price are featured on another. The biggest pull among the Signs of the Future autos is Mets farmhand Fernando Martinez with some other lower-level prospects mixed into the set. The group of 30 Chrome auto draft picks isn't as gaudy as it could be, as Price, Moustakas, Heyward and LaPorta are all left out. Detwiler is included as is fellow Nats draftee Michael Burgess and Red Sox draftee Nick Hagadone. I've bought a chunk of the '07 Bowman Draft product in retail packs and haven't been disappointed. I guess maybe I got used to all the sorting out from the 2006 product, although I wish it wasn't as necessary. It'd be oh so nice to go back to the way the Draft sets were set up from '02 to '05, but it seems like the RC logo program may be here to stay, which may keep the product from ever living back up to what it once was. Without the draft picks cards being true RCs of each player, it's gonna make future classification of each player's catalog of cards confusing. Just trying to make sense of how the 2006 and 2007 sets are set up is confusing to some extent.

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