It is not entirely fair to place the burden of trades gone wrong on acquired prospects, but it is impossible for Detroit Tigers fans to hear the names Daz Cameron, Jake Rogers, and Franklin Pérez and not shake their heads in disappointment. Trading Justin Verlander became an inevitability back in 2017, but to have none of the returning pieces looking anything close to even a regular starter makes it that much harder to accept. We’ll continue our series on the Tigers depth pieces for 2022 with a look at Cameron’s chances of finally making an impact.
With Rogers and Pérez both dealing with major surgeries in 2021, it will be up to Cameron to attempt to salvage some value from the trade this season. The 25-year-old will be fighting for playing time and the opportunity to show that at the very least he is worthy of a bench spot on a still rebuilding team. Expectations have gradually dwindled to the point where major league staying power is no longer a likelihood, but perhaps he can use that perspective to his advantage.
Daz Cameron 2020-21
Cameron came over from Houston with a good pedigree and was ahead of his peers in the lower levels of the minors, as a former first-round pick would be expected to do. The jump to Triple-A brought about the first wave of challenges, though, and a full year in Toledo in 2019 was not as impressive as many had hoped.
This proved to be a bad omen, as 2020 was a huge struggle. A serious bout with Covid-19 that landed him in the hospital certainly did not help, and Cameron’s major league debut yielded very little, with just 11 total hits across 57 at bats. It is hard to make too many judgements against such a small sample, but there was really nothing the outfielder showed in his first Tigers stint to warrant more chances just yet.
Going back to Toledo was for the best, however, and across the entire 2021 season he posted a .296/.365/.500 line for 131 wRC+ with the Mud Hens. This was interrupted by an longer look at the major league level, this time faring slightly better than his debut, including a memorable first-career homer:
Daz Cameron's first career home run is a CLUTCH one.— MLB (@MLB) June 12, 2021
(MLB x @flonase) pic.twitter.com/PagBENoQuw
The challenge for Cameron is that his strengths have not exactly stood out. Offensively, speed is probably his best asset, but that is hard to utilize without getting on base frequently. His 32.8 percent strikeout rate in the majors has really hampered his OBP (career .259) and he has not posted a ton of extra base hits or steals yet. In a perfect world, Cameron would be a huge threat at the top of the lineup, but that seems fairly unlikely to manifest. Even the backup plan, as a part-time outfielder who provides good defense and the occasional offensive spark, is becoming more of a longshot.
Defensively, he does feel like a great candidate to patrol Comerica Park’s spacious outfield, but analytics hate Cameron’s fielding as well. A -5 DRS and -8.5 UZR/150 are somewhat shocking, and though he has logged under 400 innings between both centerfield and right, the Tigers have yet to consistently see his defensive abilities. We’re not going to get too worked out by small samples of notoriously fungible defensive metrics, but the fact is, Cameron hasn’t been able to put his strengths in play with any consistency. The potential is surely there, but when the bat is not working either, it becomes a question of if there is really much benefit to playing him at all. Entering his age 26 season, with two options left for the Tigers to exercise, time is running out to make his mark in the Tigers’ organization.
Cameron is certainly behind Robbie Grossman and Akil Baddoo (and Riley Greene, whenever he is promoted) on the depth chart and will be fighting other fringe options like Victor Reyes and Derek Hill for playing time. There is a definite path for him to earn a place on the roster, but the key will be to start proving he can turn his talents into something meaningful.
He is still young enough to hope that greater performances lie ahead, and that alone should give him a few stints in Detroit next season, even if his initial playing time is sporadic. However, potential can only take a player so far, and if other outfielders are able to turn their at bats into actual production, it will be hard to justify giving him too many starts. With Victor Reyes in his first year of arbitration and providing a well-rounded backup profile, while Derek Hill has blazing speed and a similar offensive profile to Cameron, finding a wedge to work his way into opportunities is going to remain difficult.
For Cameron, it likely comes down to exhibiting some plate discipline and shoring up his defense. When he makes contact, it usually is of decent quality, but his swing is simply failing him too often. The era of high-strikeout totals is here, but that is not a reasonable excuse when it is not offset by high power numbers, which have not been a staple of Cameron’s career thus far.
In the outfield, it seems like more playing time should benefit his fielding metrics, and he has both the legs and arm to be an above-average defender. His gateway back into the lineup probably starts with earning more trust in his glove, and of the two sides of the ball, his defensive numbers are more likely to reverse course quickly.
Given his skill set, Cameron really should be a solid contender for fourth outfielder, but that assumes a lot goes right. The Tigers will likely exhibit some patience in letting him try to earn this role, but it has to be said that at this point that this seems closer to his ceiling than his floor, which is a large fall from how he was viewed when the organization acquired him in the Verlander deal.