Thursday, May 30, 2013

2013 Spirit Rookie Round-Up

It's been a while since I posted anything for the Spirit flagship series. Time for a new insert. This one features 20 rookies that have gotten off to a good start in 2013. I figured it would be nice to have some MLB inserts of these guys instead of so many minor league cards.

The design is a bit 'in your face,' a little reminiscent of some of the early 90s inserts with player cutouts on top of a busy background. I enjoy grunging things up so I went with that for the look. Big, bold letters roughed up and running across the background set on top of vintage team colors. The idea is that if you had all 20 cards lined up left-to-right, the 'ROOKIE' and 'ROUND-UP' text would stretch across multiple times. As it is now, each card has a slightly different cut of those letters. At the bottom, we find the player name along with position and the weathered team logo in the corner.

The back has a solid team-color background instead of the two-tone from the front. On the left is another player photo with some soft, grungy edges. To the right is the N/P/T along with a little tidbit of his MLB debut. Some may be more impressive than others (note Noonan's 0 for 1, pinch hit debut.) In the middle is a block for a brief write-up (greeked text here since I was too lazy to "write.")

This is one of the few cards I've done without any shiny foil or die-cut or other bells and whistles. The finish would be matte to fit the design rather than glossy. The edginess fits with the subject of rookies so I thought I'd let it stand on its own.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

2013 Spirit Deluxe Duos

With Deluxe being Spirit's "high-end" product, I figured the dual-autograph Deluxe Duos would be a good place to start with 2013's inserts. These wouldn't be as prevalent as the auto and relic parallels from the base set, maybe about a 1:20 hit.

Like last year's version, the design is right in step with the base cards. We have the pointed tabs shooting in from the edges, filled with a team-color twill texture. All of the text (minus the certification small-print) is in shiny silver foil to jump off the glossy finish. It's bisected horizontally with each half of the duo on the top or bottom. A small cutout of the players sits in the left corners on top of another team-color twill texture that fades to white moving to the right, leaving room for the player signatures.

On the back, the tabs are inverted and filled with some bigger action shots. The team-color twill makes an appearance again as a background for the small print and authentication copy. The team logo also finds its way into the mix.

While not every club may have a duo on the level of Kemp/Kershaw here, most would have at least one player of note get excited about. Especially at the SRP of $10-$15 a pack.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

2013 Pennant Incumbents

Free agency has become such a big part of the MLB landscape, I thought it would fun to make an insert that shows the impact it's had on all current rosters. The Incumbents features the 30 players that have been on each team the longest. While you have guys like Jeter here who have been around the same place since the previous century, most clubs have a higher turnover rate than that.

The design echoes the 2013 Pennant base design with the beveled top corners, simple team colors and the half-circle tab to house the Pennant logo. The borders here are a little more cream than white, though. Each player is cut out from an personal-type portrait and placed over a solid background. The Incumbents text stretches across the width of the card and separates the color boxes along with the player name & info. With Pennant being a retro set, the photo color levels are altered and some grain is added to the whole front along with the typography meant to evoke some past era.

The backs are kept to one-color and have a black beveled border. The top is packed with the insert title, action photo, player name, card number and team logo as well as a bit of text that reads how long the player has been a part of his big league clube. I left plenty of space for a sizable write-up highlighting the team's successes/failures in the time the player has been around.

Here's a checklist of the players featured.

ARI - Miguel Montero
ATL - Tim Hudson
BAL - Nick Markakis
BOS - David Ortiz
CHC - Alfonso Soriano
CHW - Paul Konerko
CIN - Brandon Phillips
CLE - Asdrubal Cabrera
COL - Todd Helton
DET - Justin Verlander
HOU - Wesley Wright
KCR - Alex Gordon
LAA - Jered Weaver
LAD - Andre Ethier
MIA - Ricky Nolasco
MIL - Ryan Braun
MIN - Justin Morneau
NYM - David Wright
NYY - Derek Jeter
OAK - Daric Barton
PHI - Jimmy Rollins
PIT - Andrew McCutchen
SDP - Chase Headley
SFG - Matt Cain
SEA - Felix Hernandez
STL - Yadier Molina
TBR - Ben Zobrist
TEX - Ian Kinsler
TOR - Adam Lind
WAS - Ryan Zimmerman

It's interesting but I suppose not all that surprising that most of the guys here are kind of no-brainers. They have obviously been good performers or else they wouldn't have stuck around so long. But you also have a few rebuilding teams (Houston and Miami) and others that construct their rosters differently (Oakland, Arizona) where the representative isn't necessarily the marquee guy on the squad. Personally, I think it's nice mixing up the checklists from set to set just to keep things from getting stale. That said, I can't imagine being too excited if I pulled a Wesley Wright insert card, though I have had to suffer with plenty of Ricky Nolasco cards.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

REVIEW: 2013 Bowman

The biggest takeaway from the 2012 Bowman design was how it was a big departure from what Bowman had been putting out for many years past. As we review the 2013 version, it looks like that big year-to-year jump was merely aberration and not a new gameplan heading forward. Just like the 2012 version, this year we have white borders, not-quite rectangular frames in team colors, silver foil names, subtle drop shadows around the players, team logos centered above the name block. Honestly, you could be looking at last year's cards while reading that description and it would be 100% accurate. About the only distinguishing features here are the little tabs folding in on the left and right sides and the soft white overlay to finish out that curve. If we didn't have 2012 to compare this to, I'd really like the base design here. But as a follow up, it looks more like a rehash and suffers a bit.

For the backside, the similarities are even more....similar. The layout is identical to 2012 with a little tinkering to fit this year's look. The colored tabs on the bottom and the black nameplate are pretty much where those embellishments are made. I mentioned a couple things on last year's review that I thought were easy improvements to make. I suggested that the last section of the Bowman Briefing be changed from EVOLUTION to UP CLOSE (like it is/was on the prospect cards.) I doubt that any eyeballs at Topps saw my recommendation but somehow it was magically changed for this year. My other suggestion, however, seems to have gone without notice. The card numbers are still in the upper right corner, which means if you store these upright in a cardboard box, the numbers won't be visible. So once I again, I propose this amendment to the Baseball Card Constitution: horizontal backs have to be numbered in the upper left corner to help for storage box sorting.

Now on to what is basically Bowman's reason to exist: prospect cards. For 2012, I preferred the veteran design to the prospect design but I'm flipping it around for this year. The prospect design is a lot easier to distinguish here thanks to the solid team-color wedges above the name. There are some subtle shape differences to the frame and nameplates that also help them stick out. The team logos are removed to help save space for the autographs (I assume.) That means the team names are found below the player name and the position is moved to the right color wedge. 

Like every other Topps release, there are plenty of parallels again. Gold, blue, purple, orange, silver ice, etc., etc. The international cards are a little different this year. The flags have some texture to them so they aren't as glaringly obvious as prior years. Also, for American-born players, they have the flag of their home state up here instead of the Stars & Stripes. I'm all for anything that helps distinguish them from previous years. 

The Top 100 Prospects cards are actually pretty nice. They have a smooth, cool finish to them with some silver, black and blue/red colors around the border. There appears to be a die-cut version as well but, as I've mentioned before, I'm not a big fan of random-shaped die-cuts. I do like how the numbers are nice and big to help drive home the fact that there is a list they're referencing. And keeping with the blue, we have Bowman reprints with blue refractor borders. I'm so tired of reprints that I can't even bother to say any more about them.

Finally, we've come to what's probably the worst development so far this collecting season. Topps has decided to introduce minis into the Bowman line. Their reasoning is obviously... who knows, but here they are. They're an odd size, they're chrome, they're refractory, they're prospect-ory. I wish somebody with power at Topps could exercise some willpower and stop spreading things across every release like this. It's really getting old.

Overall, I'd feel better about the 2013 release if it all weren't so simliar to 2012. The base and prospect designs look like comps that didn't get picked up last year or were just saved away for a future release. I understand keeping some things consistent but this comes across as a little too lazy.

Base cards: 7/10
Parallels: 6.5/10
Prospects: 8/10
Inserts: 6/10
OVERALL: 6.3/10

Thursday, May 9, 2013

2013 Clubhouse All-Stars

The MLB All-Star ballots went live a week or so ago so I thought it would be a good time for the 2013 installment of Clubhouse's All-Star insert. This is a 74-card set that features all the players named to the 2012 all-star rosters, whether voted in by fans, selected by managers or named as injury replacements. The design kind of follows the Clubhouse base set but with a few embellishments. The most prominent one is the shiny silver concentric star cluster in the bottom right corner. That foil is also present in the ALL-STAR title along with the player name and position/league. The red and blue motifs respective to each league is consistent with last year's version along with the annual Spirit Award Winners designs. Instead of the mowed field background from the base design, I simply kept the isolated players full-color and had the blurry background fade into their league color.

For the back side, a player portrait fills the negative space from the star shape in the upper left corner while the concentric stars fill the color underneath. The NL and AL logos are in the upper right corner with the league's all-star roster listed below with the starters and reserves designated. It's kind of a de facto half-checklist. On the left, below the player name/position/team is a brief write-up (lorem ipsum here since I was feeling too lazy to write.)

Again, I don't understand why Topps doesn't make an All-Star insert instead of relegating it to the Update set where it's basically the same base card with the ASG logo slapped on. Explain to me how at 70+ card insert with the best players (from all 30 teams) doesn't trump another nebulously-themed insert with yet more retired legends (Yankees)? Blargh.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

2013 Spirit Deluxe

Directly on the heels of the low-end offering from Spirit comes the singular high-end release. It's kind of a cross between Stadium Club and something like Tribute, only with out the avalanche of randomly numbered parallels.

Like last year we have full-bleed photos on a glossy stock with silver foil accents. The team logo sits in the center, flanked by three team-color swatches. The subtle knit texture from last year makes another appearance. Beneath it all is a soft white fade leading from the bottom edge to keep things from getting too harsh.

For the back we have the player photo taking up most of the top half with a solid black background below. The team-color polygons from the front make an appearance here to tie together both sides. Underneath the name, position and team is a brief write-up of the player's 2012 season.

Being a high-end set, we also have an autograph and relic variation. The auto just has the white fade up a little further from below. For the relic, I figured it would be nice to have a nice big swatch for such a set. The semi-circle allows for a bigger patch without intruding too much into the photo.

I'm not a big fan of the idea of spending so much for a box of something like Tribute or Triple Threads to where all that matters is the autos or relics as the base cards barely register any notice. The Deluxe set would have a sizable base set with the hits coming like every few packs or something. A standard pack would have 6 base cards with and come with either a pair of inserts or a hit, with relics being about twice as common as autos. I think that would place the price somewhere around $10-$15 a pack, which is still a lot but not ridiculous. To me, that's about as high as I'd like to go on "high-end."