The lack of impact bats that can play in the middle of the field is currently the key flaw in the Detroit Tigers’ rebuilding efforts. Center fielder Daz Cameron may be one of the solutions. A highly regarded prep prospect who endured a few disappointing seasons early on, Cameron found his power stroke in 2017 and turned a lot of heads. If he can build on that progress this season, the Tigers future will look quite a bit brighter in the years to come.
Daz Cameron has been on baseball’s radar for a long time now. The son of former major leaguer Mike Cameron, he was well scouted in high school and appeared in the Under Armour All-America Game in both 2013 and 2014. The Houston Astros used a competitive balance pick and coffers flush with extra pool money to snag the prep center fielder in the 2015 draft. Despite taking him with the 37th overall pick, the Astros forked over a neat four million dollar signing bonus to convince Cameron to sign, demonstrating quite a bit of faith from general manager Jeff Luhnow and his staff.
It didn’t come easy for Cameron. His first taste of Single-A ball was a slog and his strikeouts and walks spiked in the wrong directions. By early 2016, he appeared badly over-matched at times, and the Astros backed off, sending him to extended spring training to reset. After the break, Cameron was placed in short season A-ball and his bat perked up a bit. Unfortunately, right as he was getting on track, he took a pitch to his left hand and ended up missing the rest of the 2016 season with a broken finger.
Looking to hit the reset button, the Astros moved him back to Quad Cities in 2017, and this time, the young outfielder was more than up to the challenge. Cameron again started out slowly but erupted during the summer months, eventually crunching 14 home runs among 51 extra base hits in 551 plate appearances. He cleaned up his peripheral numbers, and sprayed the ball all over the field with authority. If he can level up and maintain those gains in 2018, the Tigers are going to have a fine young player on their hands.
Cameron does just about everything with educated competence and is capable of contributing to a team in many ways. He was raised in the game and it shows. While his speed and defense aren’t going shine so brightly playing alongside Derek Hill, Cameron is more advanced at the plate, and last season displayed the burgeoning power every team searches for in a center fielder.
FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen gave a nice summation of Cameron’s abilities and outlook in the wake of the Justin Verlander trade last season.
Cameron doesn’t have huge tools. He’s patient, has good breaking-ball recognition, above-average bat speed, some pull-side pop, and a short stroke. His bat control is just okay, and he does swing and miss at some pitches he just can’t get to, but I think he’ll be a fringe-to-average hitter with fringe game power.
That improved recognition, along with a little more muscle on his six foot, two inch frame, sparked Cameron’s breakout in 2017. Cameron mashed left-handed pitching, but his numbers against right-handers were respectable as well. His home runs were decidedly to the pull field, but he also showed the ability to spray hard ground balls and deep flies from foul line to foul line. You can see a developing approach there as Cameron took what was given and drove pitches away to the opposite field with some authority.
Beyond the waxing power and developing recognition at the plate Cameron, he brings other tools to the table. Unlike many Tigers prospects, Cameron has consistently drawn walks at a respectable rate. If he can sustain his power growth, you can bet on him to capitalize on pitchers’ wariness by taking his share of free passes. There’s the rough outline here of a future top of the order hitter whose line to line approach and gap power would play well in Comerica Park.
Cameron also nabbed 32 bases in 2017. It must be said that he was also caught 13 times, so we’re not dealing with the next Rickey Henderson here. Cameron has good speed, but he’s not a true burner. Still, it’s not unreasonable to think he could snag 10-15 bags while thumping 20 home runs per season someday. When he was drafted, one comp suggested was Dexter Fowler, but the power Cameron showed last season says his maximum potential may be a little higher than that.
The same well rounded toolbox that makes Cameron a fairly high floor prospect, also outlines the limits of his potential. He doesn’t really have a weakness, but he doesn’t have a standout tool either. We’re unlikely to be looking at a future star in a few seasons. His best case outcome is probably as a modestly above average center fielder at the major league level. The Tigers would be very happy with that outcome. But he’ll have to maximize all his tools to get there.
Cameron has good instincts in the outfield, but not true plus speed. He’s generally expected to be an average defensive center fielder at the major league level, but Comerica Park is a different beast. We’ve also seen how a player like Jose Iglesias can grade out much worse than he appears to the eye. Should Cameron top out short of an average major league bat, neither his defense, speed or on base ability is likely to keep him in a starting role. His bat has to carry him, particularly if he turns out to be better suited to a corner spot, and there’s still much to prove on that front.
Projected 2018 team: Advanced-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
This season will be all about building on success for Daz Cameron. He came out of high school viewed as much more advanced player than many of his peers. But it took some time to hit his stride at the Single-A level. That’s not a knock on him so much as a cautionary note. In his age 21 season, the Tigers would like to see him hit the ground running in Advanced-A and get himself a look at Erie in the second half, if not sooner. Another positive step in his progression this year would send his stock soaring.
Of course, he’ll face tougher competition and a tougher league to hit for power in this year. In each of his three seasons of pro ball, Cameron has gotten off to a slow start before eventually starting to lock in. There’s no need for the Tigers to be too aggressive with him. It seems certain that he’ll start in Lakeland this spring, probably sharing center field duties with Derek Hill. Odds would favor Cameron to hit his way up the ladder first.