Once the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020 the baseball card hobby saw a huge surge in interest with thousands of people getting into or getting back into collecting cards and using them as an investment opportunity. I was no exception even if I was late to the game, buying into the first time a little more than a year later in the summer of 2021. Baseball cards had changed since I collected them as a kid with the addition of numbered parallels in different colors, seemingly a new set released every other week, and the advent of box breaks where you can pay for a specific team and watch as an internet personality opens the packs for you. Now that I’m caught up on how to collect and am fully invested I’ve decided to start a column focusing on the Orioles included in the major releases from the leading brands like Bowman and Topps.
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This week’s release is Topps Series 1, the first set of 2023 cards and the flagship release before the various spin-offs from the leading and licensed baseball card producer start to hit shelves. Series 1 will have 330 base cards including stars, rookies (some of which should be of particular interest to Orioles fans), team cards, and other inserts. There are 17 different parallels of various rarity for the base set. The main insert in this year’s release is a throwback to the 1988 design for the 35anniversary. This year’s inserts include ‘Future Stars’, ‘League Leaders’, ‘2022 Greatest Hits’, ‘All Aces’, ‘One-Two Punch’, ‘Welcome to the Club’, ‘AKA’, and ‘Heavy Lumber’. Each of these have parallels and autographed versions. There are also sketch cards which are original art on a card back and ‘Home Run Challenge’ cards which allow you to predict when the player on the card hits a homerun. If you’re correct you get a special version of the card in return.
Its an exciting set for Orioles fans with two of the biggest rookies in the entire sport showing up for Baltimore as well as just a deeper roster of base cards worth owning. Lets break those down.
Adley Rutschman – Base RC, 1988 Topps Baseball/Auto/Relic/Silver Pack, 2022 Greatest Hits/Auto, Baseball Stars Auto, Clear, Major League Material/Auto, Home Run Challenge, Patchwork of the Past/Auto, Stars of MLB/Auto, Team Logo/Auto, Topps Reverence Patch Auto
Maybe the crown jewel of the entire set, baseball fans have been waiting for a chance to collect Adley rookie cards since it was announced that he wouldn’t be included in Topps Update Series which was released in late October of 2022. He made his major league debut too late for Series 2 but there was a question of whether or not they would hold him for 2023 since they already had headliners in Julio Rodriguez and Bobby Witt Jr. and in fact they did. While it is a little odd for the guy who played played in 113 games and finished runner up in the rookie of the year voting to not get his rookie card until the following year, they’re making up for it by featuring him in pretty much every insert imaginable. Hopefully he didn’t develop carpel tunnel syndrome signing all these cards since the Orioles are going to need him if they’re going to make a run at the playoffs in 2023.
Gunnar Henderson – Base RC, 1988 Topps Baseball Auto, 2022 Greatest Hits/Auto, Baseball Stars Auto, Clear
I thought for sure with Adley being in Series 1 that Topps would keep Gunnar as a headliner for Series 2 so I was pleasantly surprised to hear he would also be getting his rookie card in this set. As someone who enjoys participating in box breaks for Orioles cards my wallet wasn’t a fan of the decision but it shows how confident they are that they’ll be able to fill out Series 2 with other worthwhile Orioles. I would assume Grayson Rodriguez and DL Hall will get their rookie cards in the next set as well as guys like Felix Bautista, Ramon Urias, Austin Hays, Cole Irvin, Kyle Gibson, Adam Frazier, etc. Henderson himself should be involved in more of the inserts and have more autograph cards available in Series 2 but it is exciting to see the next homegrown stars of the Orioles making their rookie card debuts in the same set. It makes sense since they were both selected by the Orioles in the 2019 draft.
Kyle Stowers – Base RC, 1988 Topps Baseball Silver Pack/Auto, Clear
Speaking of that 2019 draft, might as well make it a trifecta as Stowers gets his rookie card in the same set as Rutschman and Henderson giving the Orioles top three picks each a chance to shine in Series 1. The outfielder won’t get near the attention nationally as Adley and Gunnar (for good reason) but that doesn’t mean he isn’t another great card for Orioles fans to collect. He was a top 10 prospect in the system until he graduated late in the 2022 season due to days on the active roster. He has the potential to be a mainstay in an improving Orioles lineup for the next handful of years. He didn’t get the playing time fans might’ve expected once he hit the majors which makes him a bit of a forgotten man but his first homerun was incredibly memorable and there should be plenty of those left to come.
Cedric Mullins – Base, Major League Material, Welcome to the Club/Auto
Now a veteran for the Orioles and these card sets, Mullins gets a spotlight in the new ‘Welcome to the Club’ insert set thanks to his 30 homerun, 30 stolen base season in 2021. He didn’t fair as well in 2022 but between his stellar defense in center field, 16 homeruns, and 34 stolen bases was still a 3.5 win player. The now 28 year old will try to bounce back in 2023 as he tries to stave off the wave of outfield prospects rising through the Orioles’ minor leagues.
Ryan Mountcastle – Base, 1988 Topps Baseball Auto/Relic, Clear, Major League Material, Topps Reverence Patch Auto
Mountcastle was a big rookie for collectors during the 2021 baseball card release schedule and you can see that even now with the fact that he is included in some of the more rare inserts and always seems to have an autograph or two in most sets since he graduated rookie status. 2023 could be the last time he is given that much respect by Topps unless he can rebound from a 2022 season that saw him underperform expectations and his expected stats.
Terrin Vavra – 1988 Topps Baseball Auto/Silver Pack/Auto, Baseball Stars Auto
I wasn’t too surprised that Vavra wasn’t also given his base rookie card in this set given the big three above but being included as a rookie in insert sets is a surefire sign that he will get it in Series 2. His playing time for the 2023 Orioles may be in question but his place in the 2023 Topps flagship baseball card set can no longer said to be.
DL Hall – 1988 Topps Baseball Silver Pack/Auto
Much like Vavra above, this all but confirms that Hall will get his base rookie card in Topps Series 2. Unlike Vavra he has a ton of upside that makes me think his silver pack autograph is a good chase card since he could start the 2023 season back in the minor leagues but his upside is that of a top of the rotation starter. Now, pitchers aren’t typically as valuable as hitters on the card market but there is a small percent chance that Hall ends up as one of the few that buck that trend and not everyone can say that.
Kyle Bradish – Base
Bradish had his rookie card come out in the 2022 Topps Update Series set just a few months ago and gets another flagship card right behind it. That momentum coincides with the second half he had last season. After returning from the injured list on July 29th he had a 3.28 ERA over 71.1 innings with 65 strikeouts including a two hitter over 8.2 innings against the world series winning Astros on September 22nd. He will look to carry that over into 2023 and carve out a permanent spot in the Orioles rotation.
Dean Kremer – Base
The last man standing from the Manny Machado trade with the Dodgers at the trade deadline in 2018, Kremer had a really strong sophomore season after being a big disappointment in 2021. He lowered his ERA from 7.55 over 53.2 major league innings to 3.23 over 125.1 innings and has a chance to be the opening day starter for the Orioles in 2023. The ceiling for him isn’t as high as it is for Bradish or Hall but the floor may be after making real improvements over the past year or so.
Anthony Santander – Base
Over the past few years I kept thinking the Orioles should and would trade Santander. He seemed like a league average bat that doesn’t provide much defensive value in the outfield. Power but no plate discipline. Fast forward to the second half of 2022 and I was glad they never did. The power is still there but Santander seemed to really take to the Orioles new hitting coaches and increased his walk rate to slightly above average. As long as he can transition to a first base/DH type I think his bat could be really beneficial to the next couple years of Orioles lineups.
Jorge Mateo – Base
Do you like gold glove caliber defense at shortstop? Blazing speed that results in triples (7), stolen bases (35), and exciting baserunning in general then Mateo is the guy for you. He can’t hit the ball consistently, doesn’t walk enough, and strikes out too much but other than that he’s great. The tools standout but he is running out of time to put it all together with the flurry of infield prospects on the doorstep in Baltimore.
Tyler Wells – Base
Wells is an interesting case. After being selected in the rule 5 draft prior to the 2021 season coming off of Tommy John Surgery he was used out of the bullpen and performed so well that he was eventually used as the closer, saving four games and working to a 4.11 ERA. He was stretched out into a starter last spring and performed well (4.25 ERA over 103.2 innings) but missed some time due to a shoulder issue. Its unclear what role he will be used in during the 2023, maybe a little bit of both, but either way he should have a clear spot on the roster.
Jordan Lyles – Base
The least valuable card for Orioles out of this set has to be the guy who no longer plays for the team after a one season stop in Baltimore. Lyles performed admirably for a team with low expectations coming into the season and served as a veteran leader for the pitching staff. Now with the Kansas City Royals, at least his inclusion here isn’t as perplexing as Pat Valaika in 2022 Series 2…
Also, if you’re into the classic Orioles there are a spattering of Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, and Jim Palmer in the set as well. These guys plus Brooks Robinson, who makes a sole appearance as a dual autograph with Cal in this set, can typically be found in any set for the Orioles. Ripken leads the pack, they know what they’re doing over there at Topps.
Bob is a co-host of ‘On the Verge’ an Orioles podcast focused on the O’s farm system here on BSL. He used to run the baseball blog ‘The Oriole Report’ before transitioning to podcasting about movies, TV, Video Games, and MMA. ‘The Redbox Report’ movie podcast was started in 2013 followed by ‘The Redbelt Report’ MMA podcast in 2016. Bob has also written for Konsume.com and BaltimoreSportsReport.com and delivers mail for a living in Baltimore County. Follow him on Twitter @TheOrioleReport.