Welcome to the first installment of the Motor City Bengals Top 20 Detroit Tigers prospects. The MCB staff has compiled our prospect lists and we will be releasing our consensus rankings, along with a breakdown of each player, in a series of articles in the coming days. Today, we look at #9 on our list, Daz Cameron.
Daz Cameron’s career has already featured a surprising number of twists and turns. He’s been a top prospect, an apparent bust, and a piece of a massive trade. He’s drawn the ire of a Triple-A manager, missed time with Covid-19, and hurt his arm in winter ball. His path has been serpentine, but Daz Cameron still managed to make his MLB debut in 2020, and he enters 2021 with an outside chance of making the big-league squad.
Daz Cameron Background
The son of17-year MLB veteran Mike Cameron, Daz Cameron was known to scouts at a very young age. By the time he was a sophomore in high-school he was considered one of the top prospects in the 2015 draft. Scouts were a bit more divided when the actual draft arrived, but he was a still considered a top-10 prospect. The Houston Astros used their huge bonus pool to float Cameron to the 37th overall pick, and his $4 million signing bonus was tied for the fifth highest in the class.
He didn’t show much pop in his first taste of pro ball, but everything else looked pretty good. He batted .251/.353/.309 with 24 steals in 51 games between rookie ball and short-season A-ball, and entered the 2016 season as Baseball America’s #74 overall prospect in baseball. But he hit just .143 with 38% strikeout rate over 21 games in the Low-A Midwest League in 2016, and Houston sent him back to short-season ball. He seemed to recover there, but he suffered a broken finger after 19 games and missed the rest of the year.
Through the first half of the 2017 season Daz Cameron was looking like a probable draft bust. He was back in the Midwest League, and at the All-Star break he was hitting just .206/.287/.374. But something clicked for him, and in 61 second-half games he batted .332/.406/.552. That was enough for the Detroit Tigers to pursue him as one third of their return in the huge Justin Verlander trade.
The next season appeared to be a real breakout campaign for Daz Cameron. He held his own through 58 games in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, batting .259/.346/.370, but he went bonkers upon his promotion to Double-A Erie. Cameron hit .404 with four home runs, four steals, and seven walks in his first 14 games with Erie, and he maintained an OPS near .900 until mid August, when he was promoted again. He batted just .211 in a two-week stint with Triple-A Toledo, but Cameron was squarely back on the prospect radar, and a .903 OPS in the Arizona Fall League helped back up his strong season.
But then things fell apart again. Cameron had a rough start to his 2019 season in Toledo, hitting just .195 in April. He seemingly turned things around over the next two months, but then he had an absolutely brutal finish to the season, with a .187/.338/.322 second-half line. Toledo’s manager Doug Mientkiewicz wasn’t shy about criticizing Cameron, at one point suggesting a return to Erie was in order. We spoke to Daz toward the end of that year:
Cameron saw a bit of action in 2020 spring training, going 3-for-13 with a double and a pair of walks before baseball was halted. At some point during that shutdown he contracted Covid-19, and then pneumonia, and he wasn’t able to effectively train until early August. But he did manage to get back into action, and in early September the Tigers called him up, which was a decidedly fun thing.
His start wasn’t ideal. Cameron began his pro career by going just 1-for-27 with 11 strikeouts, but a pinch-hit triple on September seemed to give him a boost, and he finished the season by going 10-for-30. Daz Cameron was scheduled to make up some at-bats by playing winter ball in Puerto Rico this winter, but he left after just two games with “arm discomfort.” He is expected to be ready for spring training.
Daz Cameron Strengths
Daz Cameron is a well-rounded player with strong instincts and a chance to showcase average-or-better tools across the board. He showed flashes of most of those tools in his limited time in the big leagues. Cameron may have the best bat speed of any prospect in Detroit’s system, and he’s comfortable letting pitches travel and using the opposite field. When he connects he shows at least average raw power, with plenty of juice to line gappers to the wall.
Cameron doesn’t show great first-step quickness, but he’s an above-average runner underway (77th percentile sprint speed), and he’s a capable, if not terribly prolific, base stealer. His speed and instincts also serve him well on defense, where he can play average defense in center field, and above-average defense in a corner. The status of his throwing arm is in question after this off season, but when he’s healthy it’s at least an average tool.
Daz Cameron Weaknesses
Daz Cameron’s biggest weakness is his hit tool, and it may ultimately keep him from being a big-league regular. The raw ingredients are there for him to be a fringe-average hitter, with plus bat speed, a solid eye, and an up-the-middle approach, but he’s been a very streaky performer as a pro. At times in 2019 he looked completely lost, and he consistently found himself in pitchers’ counts by letting hittable strikes go by and swinging at junk.
If the hit tool stays below-average, Cameron doesn’t really have another plus tool to help carry his profile. Everything is solid enough for him to see MLB time, but he doesn’t pull the ball enough to hit for above-average power, and he’s not quite fast enough to make a real impact on the bases or in center field.
Our Take on Daz
We believe in Daz Cameron’s ability to get enough out of his hit tool to be at least a solid second-division regular, and we think there’s a nonzero chance he grows into enough power to produce a few average big-league seasons. He’s probably not headed to any All-Star games in the future, but he should at least be a solid placeholder for the Tigers while they build their way to contention.
Detroit appears to think Victor Reyes and JaCoby Jones are MLB regulars, and the Robbie Grossman signing gives them three everyday outfielders. It’s very likely Daz Cameron will begin the 2021 season back in Toledo, but he should be the first name called upon if any of the regulars get injured. There’s a chance he outperforms Reyes in spring training and earns the starting right field job, but we think that’s more likely in 2022.