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The Next Soto Is Out There

Why do I invest in baseball prospects?  For the same reason that JFK said we were going to the moon (and that Rice played Texas): because it’s hard.  Of all the thousands of baseball players who are drafted (And who doesn’t know someone from high school or a rival high school who was drafted?), only a small percentage make the major leagues.  And of these players, only a small percentage become stars. And you’re only going to make a lot of money out of stars, so you’re aiming for a sliver of a sliver. Do you find this daunting or am I only whetting your appetite?  If the latter, you may have what it takes to invest in baseball prospects. But of course, the difficulty of doing this is not the only reason for the undertaking. We’re looking to make money and have fun doing so, not for capital-depleting masochism.  

In fact, investing in certified autographed rookie cards of baseball prospects can be quite lucrative.  Consider football and basketball. In these sports, the popularity of the college game and the draft makes the best professional prospects already well-recognized by the time their cards are available.  And the notoriety of an athlete is a significant element of the monetary value of his rookie card. Therefore, in these sports it’s hard to find a prospect to invest in who is not already expensive. In baseball, on the other hand, the college game and draft are not nearly as popular, so it’s more likely to find investment-worthy players whose cards’ values aren’t inflated due to popularity.

That being said, a little bit of notoriety isn’t such a bad thing.  My general rule when picking players is that you want some hype, but not too much hype.  Hype is often an indicator of the player’s viability as an investment so you do want to find players who, to an extent, have already been found by others, but too much hype means that the price of the card may exceed the probability of the player’s deliverance of value.  Two players whose cards I have done well with who fit in this category are Pete Alonso and Yordan Alvarez. These two guys were not considered to be in the upper echelon of prospects that included Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Fernando Tatis, Jr., and Eloy Jimenez, and so a year ago their cards were not nearly as expensive as those of the latter three.  However, they did demonstrate that they had the potential to hit a lot of home runs while still hitting for a decent average and playing for visible teams. Of course, not every such investment is going to be the sort of gold mine that Alonso and Alvarez were, but when investing in baseball prospects, you don’t have to be right every time. In fact, if you see the kind of returns that these two players provided,  you don’t even have to be right half the time.

If you want to get into this, you have to become a second-hand expert.  You could very well watch minor league games online and evaluate players yourself, but this is a time-consuming endeavor that requires significant expertise.  Instead, I recommend reading the blogs and websites of those who have done this hard work and know what they’re doing. Don’t be completely derivative though. Your task is to evaluate the evaluators, and you are going to have to know the game in order to do this.  If you played baseball in Little League and high school like I did and are a fan of the game like I am, doing this can be a great way for you to experience more of a connection to your sport. Your best friends are going to be fantasy baseball websites and rankings.  There is a lot of information out there because there are dynasty fantasy leagues in which participants can draft minor league prospects and hang onto them. But you have to be careful: just because a player might be an asset in fantasy does not mean that that player’s cards should be invested in.  You want to focus on players who have the potential to hit a lot of home runs on the major league level and hit for at least a decent average (.260-.270 minimum).

One of the best things about investing in baseball prospects is that it takes a lot more than raw athleticism to make a great baseball player.  Makeup and game smarts and psychology are integral factors of a hitter’s success. I am just going to focus on one player here to 

communicate what I’m getting at: Juan Soto.  Juan Soto two years ago is the paragon of the type of young minor league player you want to invest in.  First, he was obviously a gifted player. Tools and talent are not everything in baseball, but as far as investing is concerned, they are necessary.  You don’t want to invest in the kind of guy who might hit .270 with 15 homers in the bigs but is a really hard worker and has a great attitude. You want to find gifted athletes who are really hard workers with great attitudes.  One of the first things I read about Soto was that he had an “advanced approach.” When you find a guy who can tear the cover off the ball and has an “advanced approach,” your eyes should light up. Remember, being a great major league hitter about more than just being able to tear the cover off the ball.  An at-bat is a battle with a pitcher, and you want someone who is savvy about this contest. Another thing that I read about Soto was that the Nationals told him he needed to get faster and he worked his butt off during the offseason and got noticeably faster. Now, as far as investing in Soto is concerned, his speed doesn’t really matter.  But the fact that he was sufficiently competitive and hard-working to do that speaks volumes. Baseball is a game of constant adjustments, and the players that are constantly sculpting themselves into a better form do the best. So with Soto, I knew I was not just investing in a gifted hitter, but also someone who possessed the intangibles to be an all-time great.  

Now, go out and find the next Soto!

Who do you think is the next Juan Soto? Tell us in the Comments below, and then join our Facebook Group and Discord Chat to talk to other sports card investors.

View Comments (11)
  • I feel that finding the next Soto is not as difficult as it will be to find the next Trout. The ability to push the record books with both the HR and SB threat is truly what makes guys like Acuna,, Robles and Yelich unique. Robles gets zero hobby love even though he hit 17 HR and 28 SB out of the 9 spot. His WAR was right at Soto’s (4.7 vs 4.1).

    There will be multiple .300 hitters with 25-35 HR potential like Soto. With the juiced ball we will continue to see 30 HR seasons as not as elusive as it once was. It is the 5 tool players that are really going to be rare. The players that can hit 30 and steal 30 bags too. The problem is once deemed a superstar the stolen bases start to drop. Trout has gone from 49 at his peak all the way down to 11. The season he stole “only” 11 he also won MVP. In my opinion the only guys that have the chance to set new card records are guys that are going to chase history. Kelenic, Kristian Robinson, Adell, Robert chasing 40/40, Madrigal chasing .400 for the season, Alvarez or anyone else chasing 74 home runs..

  • This seems like a Monday morning quarterback narrative. Please tell me what “advanced approach” actually is vs say “hard worker” or “scrappy” or some other adjective that one might get from an NFL draft combine synopsis which have little to know correlation to stats and actual performance. It is written that Nationals told Soto to work his “butt off” to get better. Wouldn’t all MLB clubs say this to every prospect? Wouldn’t most prospects be putting in time and effort to get better? What is different here? Then follow it up with saying that the he could be one of the “all time greats” only after performance but not prior too and somehow you predicted it. Did you make the same conclusions with someone like Andy Marte, Justin Smoak, Delmon Young, Bubba Starling or the hundreds of other top prospects who had very promising minor league stats, were top prospects and had “advanced approach”, were great guys and worked their butts off?

    It should be surprise to nobody that prospects are like stocks, they can exploded in value when that prospect performs at the MLB level and provide great returns. Yet this isn’t the rule it is the exception. The examples of Alvarez and Alonso are good examples of prospect hunting when they do pan out. Yet Alonso struggled to win the job at first base, let alone be the top prospect in his own organization at the position, Dominic Smith was younger and has much better defense and advanced stats. Take the example above, 2 years ago if one read the Mets blogs, stats and prospect rankings, Dominic Smith one a person would of thought to invest in and not Pete Alonso. The very best example of the players mentioned above is ignored or overlooked cause someone who was too late to the game. Tatis Jr. was signed in 2015 by the White Sox then traded to Padres. His first Bowman was 2016. In 2016 Tatis Jr wasn’t listed in the top 20 of San Diego Padres prospects. In 2017 he was listed as number 14 behind other Padres prospects like Urias, Renfroe or Margot, all of which had little success so far in the MLB and no longer on the Padres.. Tatis didn’t hit radars until early 2018 when listed as a top ten prospect after a very successful 2017 season.

    Prospect hunting is risky and rewarding. The industry misses, scouts miss, and stats can be deceiving especially PCL stats. For every Tatis Jr., Alosno and Trout, their is a Bubba Starling, Dustin Ackley, Kevin Maitan, and Andy Marte. To think one can game the market by reading blogs and someone who has “advanced approach” then elaborate on the very few profitable examples ignoring the downfalls is dangerous and isn’t genuine. It is easy telling someone they should of bought Microsoft stock in its infancy for pennies, that someone could of looked at the time and seen one to it was the one to buy. All why doing so without acknowledging the risks. If this a true “investor” website the risks can not be overlooked, and one could go buy thousands of dollars of the next “great” prospect with an advanced approach and a hard worker. Let alone, these are commodities to MLB clubs and the message they put out about a player will always be done to not devalue the commodity. Granted I don’t have a Ph.D and not reliving my high school days about how I was a three sport athlete, just someone who has prospect hunted starting in the mid 2000’s and still have hundreds of Andy Marte’s (Marte was top #10 prospect for 4 seasons starting at the age of 17).

  • Skip Foreplay, you are absolutely right about Robles! You’re also dead on about how dual threats are going to be the guys who see the biggest jumps in their card prices. Also, chasing records, joining the 40/40 club, and going for crazy milestones like hitting .400 or hitting 74 home runs are going to really drive hobby demand. Power has exploded across the game, but the blend of power and speed is what makes a guy really special. Great insight!

  • Jake, you bring up some excellent points. The “hyped” guys tend to be the ones who see their card prices climb as they put up great numbers in A-ball and sometimes even AA or AAA (hello, Pacific Coast League). The guys that tend to do better are the guys who you can tell have the raw ability to project as a useful big leaguer, but also work to keep making adjustments. Trout in particular has become well-known for consistently working on one part of his game to improve upon each year. Of course every organization wants their prospects to work hard and refine their approach, and “advanced approach” gets overused. So as Luke said, evaluating the evaluators is extremely important – people that get stars in their eyes too often won’t give you nearly as useful information as the people who actually break down the data and scouting reports and give you a fair unbiased opinion.

    I tend to follow scouting reports and grades very closely as well as actual in-game performance. What I look for most is things like walk to strikeout ratio. Sure, there are guys who strikeout a ton and don’t walk much and still become stars – Javy Baez for example. Analytics aren’t everything of course, and a lot of the best players don’t always show their true potential in stats – which is why scouts are still so important. A lot of the busts had impressive minor league careers, but had holes in their games that became exposed when they reached the majors – even if it took a little bit for “the book” to be written on them.

    Luke, I think you have a great premise here, but it is important to point out the potential downfalls with evaluators such as blogs and “expert” websites. Any serious investor needs to have a data-driven approach – like what Geoff preaches in his show – and recognize when people are evaluating players with their “gut” rather than data and rational observations. The Padres stole Tatis Jr. from the White Sox for James Shields because their scouts saw things that suggested he’d grow into a star – which he did. The sort of “advanced approach” that investors should look for is players who keep finding ways to plug the holes in their game and improve upon their strengths.

    The next Juan Soto is definitely out there. But every player and his evolution will be different. If you see a player that has a great hit tool, raw power potential and seems to be improving across the board each step of the way, you may have something. And you’re going to miss more than you hit, just like actual pro baseball organizations.

  • When I look for prospects to invest in, I look for certain catagories that include eye appeal, stats, and age.
    The eye appeal comes when you read different articles that state if the player has 5 tools, great eye, or a pure hitter. Speed usually leaves with age but and can you up quicker than most because it adds to any defense or you can pinch run if they come up for a bit. Usually when you have a great eye means you see the zone and have patience. I like seeing guys that can take 3 pitches before they swing. It sets up the count and shrinks the type of pitch being thrown. All I heard was Madrigal was the best pure hitter in the draft. He is a great contact hitter but will he develope patience which will give him a chance for the best pitch and keep his On Base Percentage up. I do think he is good when looking at his numbers (I see a .305 .370 OBP type guy).
    Now when you look at stats, I look for the typical numbers AND also doubles. When i see 40 doubles, I think well does he have speed or is he a line drive hitter. The fast guys can leg out an extra 10 doubles in an average year. Those guys live by their legs every game and they tend to be workers that are aggresive. The line drivers can get doubles all the time IF they can keep their average up. These players numbers can vary year to year because some years they’ll hit more doubles and others more homeruns. Look at Larry Walkers numbers for an example. You could hit 30 homeruns or you cpuld hit 20 and 35 doubles. The guys I generally look for are guys that hit .280-.290 25 HR’s and .370 OBP in the minors. Their average usually will decrease the first couple years when they get called, it takes time to adjust. But OBP is big to me when I’m digging to find a great prospect.
    When a prospect is signed at age 18, then you technically have no idea what is going to happen. They get all bright eyed and happy just to be playing. You really don’t know if they actually have a shot for about two years. You’ll see college players get drafted at 22 or 23 and they still can’t adjust to get to the majors. This tells me that for pitchers, their mentally their cooked from college and will be most likely be relievers and bounce around for 3-8 years. It’s easier for college hitters to jump in because fielding is fielding and OBP means they all ready are trained. The college guys NEED to make it in 2-3 years or they will never make it. You do get phenoms at a younger age but are super rare (only a couple a year). Trout, Acuna, Soto, Jeter, Verlander, and Strasburg are some that are that rare. Oh, and did anybody notice the names…all are gonna be Hall Of Famers. With the hype of the rare, their card prices went up instantly. If you don’t get them early then you missed the boat. Ohtani’s prices were ridiculous, Robert started off strong (he had a great minor league year…hmmm), and Wander has done the same as Robert. Sometimes there just seems to be a can’t miss type of player. These two are that type I believe. A couple to look out for next year are Dalbec and Mountcastle as sluggers. I hope this helps a bit.

  • What is remarkable about Soto is his age. He just turned 21 in October. This means he could potentially be the youngest player to 100 HRs in the history of the game IF he hits 44 dingers in 2020. He hit 22 in his rookie season and then went to 34 in year two. He also hit several HRs in the post season. Without Rendon in front of him might not be a bad thing. If he bats with nobody on base he will get more HR chances. If he does become the first 21 year old to 100HRs, that will pop his prices very very high and put him into baseball elite territory.

    Finding the next Soto….good luck. I think this kid might be a once in a generation player.

    What about Acuna? Acuna is a year older and he seems to be a bit cocky. He upset his teammates last season and upset his manager. So Soto is a much more mature player than Acuna. Again from a card value standpoint people tend to pay more money for players that are likeable (Trout, Ripken, Jeter etc).

    Soto already has a World Series ring. Even though Rendon is gone, the Nationals still have a very competitive team with 3 top line starters. With Rendon gone, Soto becomes the star of the team. He could put up some huge numbers in 2020.

  • Luis Arraez. According to FanGraphs, he’s been dominant in many categories since he joined the big leagues. Hits for high average, has an unreal oppos. field percentage, hard contact rate, etc.
    Up and down the Twins Organization he has produced. He will be starting in Minnesota in 2020 due to Schoop’s departure. Arraez swagger is that of Soto’s. He has the same mannerisms as Juan Soto had as you’ve all seen in the 2019 Postseason. Just wait until he puts on 15-20 pounds of muscle. Kid is an unreal talent. Pure hitter. Will win many batting titles! Mark my words, this time next year Arraez will be on everyone’s list!

    Major Rookie cards:
    • 2017 Bowman Chrome 1st Bowman Card & Auto
    • 2019 Topps Update Series
    • 2019 Topps Chrome Update
    • 2019 Topps Total
    • 2019 Topps Gallery

  • Just my 2 cents, when looking for prospects…yes I look for stats and skill sets. But I mainly focus on leadership….does he make the team better, does he step up when he is needed. Is he transcendent? meaning is he name and brand bigger than his sport. Is he a good person in society. I work in production, its the same saying as the camera loves this person….there is something you canʻt put your finger on, but when you know you just know. Like any prospecting, you will miss more than you hit, but like in baseball if you go 3/10 you are considered a all star….4/10 you a hall of famer. I play in those odds…I look to go 3/10 in my prospecting.

  • Hey all, appreciate the conversation as this is all good, and like many things there is more than one approach that can be successful and these should only be used as a resource not a rule. Yet when I read these response’s as a speculator I just CRINGE, what comes up is “…I focus on leadership…” or “…he will produce…”, “…it will come…” , ‘…advanced approach…”, etc. I don’t think speculating on opinions by ones self, a blog or the organization is a way to evaluate prospects. How do us as collectors evaluate any opinion that is unbiased about leadership, work ethic, approach, or any other unmeasurable trait. Rankings, lists and blogs are another tool yet everything we see has an amount of spin or bias.

    Tim makes great points about looking at stats and not concluding opinions or judgements after short term performances. Was Robert any less of a hard worker or leader when he hit .220 in A ball? No. And how does anyone know personality traits, cause if you ask the White Sox, I am sure he had great traits. For example, let alone look at someone like Addison Russell, a major prospect at the time traded from the A’s, I wonder what traits were there when he was a top prospect hitting over .300 that evolved to domestic violence,

    For me personally, yes listening to the “hype” is helpful, Keith Law, Jim Callis, Ben Badler are all worth a follow on Twitter. Yet performance is the key, especially at an age vs competition. We started the conversation about Soto a 21 year old doing what he can in the MLB, while most his age are at double AA, his performance at his age is special. Acuna is the same and both are special, very young against competition much older. In speculation opinions don’t matter, biased opinions don’t, for example a supposedly “more cocky” player like Acuna Jr is worth much more cause he is top 5 MVP/WAR in the NL, Soto wasn’t a top 3 on his own team. And that’s what I look for, above average performance from young individuals who are playing against folks 2-3 years older. Scouts, industry, lists will pickup on these folks, the prices will not, just this year look at Brennan Davis, Kristen Robinson or Marco Luciano. All whom could of been purchased much lower in January than now, all how exploded in prospects circles. Each weren’t listed last year as top 100 prospects regularly and this year now are all be top 50, each auto or 1st bowman has increased 400% in less than 12 months.

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