Wednesday morning, the Detroit Tigers announced outfielder Daz Cameron would be joining the major league roster. The announcement represented a corresponding transaction for the demotion of struggling left fielder Christin Stewart to the alternate training site on Tuesday night.
While his rise through the Tigers system stalled in 2019, Cameron still has a crowd of believers among Tigers prospect junkies, and it’s easy to see why. When he’s on a roll, it can be very exciting. He attracted a ton of attention with his 2018 campaign that began in High-A and saw him conclude the season in a Mud Hens uniform. The 2019 season was substantially rougher and he has spent the better part of 2020 on the COVID-19 list, but he’s finally getting his chance with the major league club as the season wraps up.
Sometimes it can be difficult to cut through the huge number of narratives that swirl around Cameron. He’s the son of an All-Star who was included in a trade for Justin Verlander and has had roller coaster results with the Tigers’ affiliates. Cut through that and you have a 23-year-old who may be able to contribute a bit at the plate and on the bases, while providing quality defense. It’s just particularly hard to know what to expect, other than defensively, considering his long layoff from action. Let’s take a look at his skillset and what to anticipate in his major league debut.
Built like a runner, Cameron stands at 6-foot-2 and 182 pounds. He’s lean and obviously athletic, which translates well onto the field when he’s playing well. Observers have often cited his defense as his outstanding trait, and like many others in the organization, he has the instincts and physical tools to hold down the fort at any of the three outfield positions.
His defensive abilities are not the only thing he brings to the table. He has the tools to be a comfortably average contributor in a major league lineup, even if he won’t be a masher. He demonstrates patience in virtually every at-bat and has taken plenty of walks in every meaningful stint of his career. Even last year, which was his lowest point since joining to organization, featured an 11.7 percent rate.
Power at the plate will never be Cameron’s forte, but he can put some juice into a ball. “He doesn’t have huge raw [power],” wrote FanGraphs, “but he does have wall-scraping pop to center and right center because the swing has some inside out elements.” That power manifested itself in the form of double-digit home run totals in 2017 and 2019. Cameron will also take the ball the opposite way with authority at times, and at his best can look more polished than he really is.
On the whole, it’s a solid but rather vanilla collection of traits, combining to create a generally solid ballplayer. 2019 was a difficult season for him as he and Mud Hens’ manager Doug Mientkiewicz appeared to butt heads at times. It all seemed to get away from Cameron in the process as he found himself demoted to the back end of the Hens’ lineup, and made some uncharacteristic errors along the way as well.
Excitement for Cameron has cooled considerably in the five years since he was considered a top talent in the 2015 draft class, but he’s a high-probability prospect to succeed as a major leaguer. Just expect him in more of a supporting role than starting for a winning team in years to come. If he can put 2019 behind him and take the next step, he should be able to contribute to a Tigers’ outfield in serious need of help.
The biggest problem with Cameron is his poor strike zone judgement. That may seem strange, considering that he takes enough walks, but he also strikes out at a relatively alarming rate when things aren’t going well. The root of the problem hasn’t been completely identified in any readily available scouting report (MLB Pipeline points the finger at poor pitch recognition, but I find that answer dissatisfying) but two possibilities stand out as particularly likely.
The first is that he may have worse eye-hand coordination than anticipated when he turned pro despite his excellent reading of the zone. That’s a common theme among players who have high rates of walks and strikeouts, such as Zack Short, the newest Tigers prospect, and old friend Alex Avila. Cameron will swing and miss and it doesn’t always take a pitcher’s pitch to bait him. The other possibility is that his walk numbers come from literal patience — the ability to outwait minor league pitchers, gambling that they’ll make mistakes before he strikes out. That won’t fly in the major leagues.
He’s also not the toolsiest guy, relying more on his Baseball IQ and instincts to guide him on the field rather than physical gifts. He’s certainly a good all-around athlete but at his best his game is greater than the sum of its parts. Fortunately, he’s been around the game for a long time and those learned traits are robust enough for him to lean on.
In the short term, don’t expect too much from Cameron just yet. He was unable to take batting practice as he was sidelined with COVID-19 for more than a month and it’s unclear what the Tigers have done to get him ready to face for major league pitching. Either way, he’s only been in camp for a few weeks at most. Injuries and poor performance have take their toll on the Tigers outfield depth and the time Cameron will spend in the Olde English D will serve more to acquaint him to the experience of being a major league ballplayer than to help guide the team to a playoff run.