Friday, April 21, 2017

Prospecting Through the Mail

I have been actively through-the-mail (TTM) autograph hunting now for about six years. When I got back into the practice (I also did it on and off as a kid, Pat Listach being my greatest get), I mostly stuck to established players who were known signers. But I also dabbled in going after younger players, who tend to be much more open to signing. I recall distinctly having a 2012 Heritage Mike Trout ready to go out - I even had the damn envelope addressed - at the beginning of the season, but pulled it back when he started the year at AAA. I meant to keep an eye on him and send it after he got called up, but I never bothered. Trout still signed pretty consistently back then and my failure to take an early crack at him is definitely my biggest TTM regret. 

Since then, I've been more pro-active in mailing to prospects and younger players. I've had some hits and some misses, so let's take a look at them.

2012 Topps '87 Mini Dustin Ackley

Ackley was a mildly big deal when I got this one, which probably went out around the same time my Trout card didn't. He'd had a sold 90-game debut with the Mariners the year before and placed sixth in the ROY voting. He had the M's starting SS job for a few season afterward, but didn't do anything too impressive. The Yankees got him at the deadline in 2015 and he is currently in the Angels minor league system. 

2012 Topps Gold Futures Paul Goldschmidt

Another of the '12 batch, I remember not getting this one back until after the season, one of those nice little surprises of a return you had forgotten mailing in the first place. I'm actually surprises I even picked Goldy in the first place, given how badly he burned my Brewers in the 2011 playoffs. Anyway, it turned out great as Goldschmidt has become one of the best first basemen in the game. 

2013 Topps Tyler Skaggs, Didi Gregarious and Alex Meyer

I snagged each of these during the 2013 season. Skaggs is a marginal big league starter and Gregarious has settled in as the maybe-going-to-break-out replacement for Derek Jeter in New York (and what a cool sig!). Meyer peaked at the #14 prospect in baseball in 2015, but struggled in a few big league stints. He's 27 now and has a 4.80 ERA with the Angels' AAA team. The Skaggs picture wouldn't load for some reason. But I promise you that it does exist.

2014 Topps Charlie Blackmon, Kolten Wong and Andrew Heaney.

At the outset, Wong was the real prize of this group. He went from top-100 prospect to ROY contender the year I score these, but has yet to have a true break-out season. He's now in a platoon at second base for the Cards and there have rumors that the team might trade him. Andrew Heaney was another big get, a former top-ten pick and one of the top lefty pitching prospects around. He had a decent season with the Angels (how do all these guys end up with the Angels?) but will miss all of 2017 recovering from Tommy John surgery. But as it goes, the real gem here was the guy I mailed to mostly as an afterthought. Blackmon was an All-Star in 2014 and got MVP votes and won a Silver Slugger last year. He's not on the level of Goldschmidt, but he's a big cog in one of the more explosive offenses in baseball. 

2015 Bowman Sean Newcomb and Austin Meadows

I mailed these out during Spring Training in 2016. Newcomb has since moved to the Braves, where became one of their top prospects, although he has thus far struggled in the high minors. Meadows was a nice scoop, as he is currently a consensus top-ten guy and has shown good speed and nice bat in the minors. He's still only 22, but he'll need to prove himself in AAA if he wants to make the jump to Pittsburgh. 

2016 Topps Trea Turner

Another nice get from ST '16, Turner was a wunderkind last year, batting .342 with 13 homers and 33 steals in just 73 games. He has huge expectations for this year and should be a big part of a very good Nats team. 

2017 ST Gets - Lewis Brinson, Brett Phillips and Aaron Judge

I haven't featured any Brewers yet because, frankly, most of the Brewers prospects I've been able to get have been low-minors or fringe guys. But this year, I managed to snag both Phillips and Brinson, two very-highly regarded outfielders, currently teammates at AAA Colorado Springs. Although Phillips struggled last year, he has been good out of the gate in 2017. Brinson has been murdering the ball, batting .355 with a 1.057 OPS. Do not be surprise to see one or both of these guys with the big club before season's end. And speaking of murdering the ball, Aaron Judge is off to a blistering start with the Yankees. He has five homers, which had traveled a combined distance of something like nine miles. 

I'll probably send out some more minor league TTMs this month or next after I check out who else has been returning so far this year. My hope is to get last year's Brewers first-rounder Corey Ray, who had been known to TTM from time to time.Perhaps to motivate myself, I'll pull out my 2012 Heritage Mike Trout and look at the blank space where the greatest player of this generation's autograph could have been.

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