It wasn’t long ago that we last gave prospect rankings for the Detroit Tigers’ minor league system. Back in July, things panned out much differently than this time around. The team’s “big five” pitching prospects dominated the top of our list. That’s great and all — it’s nice to have five high-end pitching prospects in a single farm system — but the relative lack of position players was a tad disappointing. After all, starting pitchers only play every five games.
Enter outfielder Daz Cameron. Acquired from the Houston Astros in the Justin Verlander deal, along with right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez (No. 5 on our list) and catcher Jake Rogers (No. 8), Cameron impressively flashed his bat, glove, and speed at three different levels in 2018 to vault himself to fourth on our list heading into the upcoming season.
Cameron, who turned 22 on January 15, is the son of former major league outfielder Mike Cameron — he of 278 career home runs and 50.7 career fWAR — and has been a highly-touted prospect since his high school days. Jeff Luhnow’s Astros liked Cameron so much in the 2015 MLB draft that they selected him with the No. 37 overall pick and paid him a hefty $4 million bonus, well above his $1.6 million slot value.
The Astros allowed Cameron to get his feet wet in 51 rookie-ball games in 2015, but his development temporarily slowed in 2016. He only played 40 games between two levels, and struggled mightily at Single-A Quad Cities. He broke out in 2017, however, as he posted a 128 wRC+ in 120 games at that same level while mashing 14 home runs, stealing 32 bases, and providing above-average defense in center field.
That impressive 2017 performance was enough to place Cameron at No. 7 on our 2018 top Tigers prospects list, but his another great year moved him into our top five and onto the national radar. Cameron started the 2018 at High-A Lakeland. After posting a 110 wRC+ in 58 games, the Tigers promoted him to Double-A Erie. The move paid off; at Erie, Cameron posted a 134 wRC+ with five home runs 12 stolen bases, and an 11.1 percent walk rate. From there, Cameron was moved up to Triple-A Toledo, where he struggled in a short 15-game stint. Despite that little speed bump, Cameron finished with 42 extra-base hits in 126 games. He was also impressive in the Arizona Fall League, with a .903 OPS in 20 games.
All in all, Cameron has posted two consecutive strong seasons in the minors, and now finds himself on the doorstep of the major leagues.
There are many strengths to Cameron’s game. Let’s go one tool at a time, following FanGraphs’ scouting grades on Cameron from mid-2018.
Cameron’s hit tool isn’t fully developed — FanGraphs only has it at 35 at present, with a 55 Future Value (FV) — it could ultimately help land him a starting job. His .285 average at Double-A Erie is an encouraging sign, and his eye has also improved at every stop up to Toledo thus far; his 11.1 percent walk rate at Erie was the best he has posted to date.
Cameron’s power, meanwhile, is largely untapped. FanGraphs gives Cameron FV grades of 50 for in-game power and 55 FV raw power, but his current in-game power is well below average, at 30. This is the one tool of his that hasn’t produced a lot of results to date. Sure, he had 42 extra-base hits in 2018, but he only hit eight home runs, down from 14 at Single-A in 2017. Hopefully, Cameron’s power will increase in 2019, as the raw grades suggest that it is there.
Though the bat is still a question mark, Cameron’s non-hit tools are strong. He has above-average speed, and has shown it off by swiping 56 bases across four levels of minor-league ball in the past two seasons. His above-average fielding grade and average throwing arm have kept him in center field throughout his time in the minors. General manager Al Avila called Cameron “the future center fielder of the Detroit Tigers” in an interview this past August. He will need to hit to earn that moniker, but his glove is already good enough to stick around as a fourth outfielder.
You might have noticed that Cameron does not have a single 60-grade tool. He has all-around solid skills, but as of now, he is a master of none. If he doesn’t hit, his glove and speed are not enough to make him a starting center fielder in the big leagues.
Let’s talk about that hit tool for a second. At every stop, Cameron has posted respectable batting averages (.250 or higher) and wRC+ figures (110 or higher). But as mentioned, he has also struck out at high rates, including a 28 percent strikeout rate in 58 games at Lakeland. His batting average has also been supplemented by very high batting averages on balls in play (BABIP). Cameron posted a .323 BABIP at Single-A in 2017 before posting a .366 BABIP in both High-A and Double-A in 2018, so there may be some luck behind his numbers. If Cameron can’t hit consistently, that would impact his power, which has been lacking throughout the minors despite him hitting well.
But don’t be disheartened. Should his hit tool mature, Cameron will be a very solid major league starter with or without power. There’s a reason FanGraphs named Cameron their number two prospect in the Tigers’ organization and their No. 42 prospect overall midway through 2018. That said, they recently bumped him down to their #107 prospect in baseball on their 2019 list. He definitely has earned his status as a high-end prospect, but he’s not the next Ken Griffey Jr.; nor should we expect him to be.
Projected Team: Toledo Mud Hens
Cameron has some unfinished business to attend to at Triple-A Toledo. He posted a disappointing 53 wRC+ in 15 games there last season. His strikeout rate was rather high, and not just in Toledo. It dropped from 28 percent in High-A ball to 23.5 percent at Double-A Erie. He will need to polish this, and several other aspects of his game before challenging for a big league job. Don’t expect to see Cameron with the Tigers much, if at all in 2019, but don’t be surprised if he is in the running for a starting gig this time next year.