The Detroit Tigers are operating their organization with a reward system: Play well in Triple-A Toledo, get called up to the big leagues when an opportunity arises and make a case for an extended stay at baseball’s highest level.
This incentive program, combined with a slew of injuries, has brought Jake Rogers, Derek Hill, Isaac Paredes and Daz Cameron to Comerica Park, along with hometown slugger Eric Haase and a few others. These are players the Tigers need to learn more about before moving forward with the rebuild.
Cameron, 24, is the latest player to get a chance. He is the Tigers’ No. 9 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
The Tigers called him up Thursday morning to replace Hill, who went to the injured list with a right shoulder sprain, and make his 2021 season debut in center field during an 8-3 win over the Seattle Mariners. He finished 0-for-3 with one walk.
“He’s very intriguing because of how he’s been swinging the bat in Triple-A,” Tigers manager AJ Hinch said. “We didn’t get a ton of looks at him in the spring, but he made a nice impression behind the scenes with the work he was doing. We’ll see if he can translate that into the big leagues.”
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In the sixth inning of Toledo’s game Wednesday against the Louisville Bats, Cameron was pulled from the lineup as a precaution. Later that night, Mud Hens manager Tom Prince called Cameron and relayed a message.
Cameron was heading back to Detroit for the first time since the 2020 season. He made his MLB debut last year and played 17 games, hitting .193 with two walks, 19 strikeouts and three extra-base hits.
“Instantly I just started gathering my stuff after that call,” Cameron said.
While Hill’s injury factored into Cameron’s arrival, so did his performance for the Mud Hens. In 18 games this season, he hit .338 (26-for-77) with seven doubles, two triples, two home runs and 13 RBIs, with six walks and 15 strikeouts.
He played seven games in right field, six games in center field and four games in left field.
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During spring training, Hinch said the Tigers needed to get Cameron back to center field — making him a versatile outfielder again and easing the pressure on his production at the plate. It’s a position he has occupied often in the minors, both before and after the Houston Astros sent him to the Tigers as part of the 2017 Justin Verlander trade.
Cameron was confined to right field in the majors last season.
Yet Hinch didn’t hesitate to put him in center for his first appearance in 2021.
“I just try to be myself out there,” Cameron said about being a center fielder. “If I portray to be that guy from anybody’s perspective, that’s great. But I just want to contribute to the ballclub. If that’s how everybody sees me, I’m glad. I love it. I’m that guy that’s going to come to the ballpark every day and bring that energy of wanting to work hard.”
From the start of spring training, however, Cameron was behind the other outfielders. He sustained a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow while playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League last offseason. He faced another setback — a fractured right wrist — at the alternate training site before the minor leagues began.
Eventually, Cameron returned to full health.
Then, he found success and confidence.
“I’m up for any challenge, honestly,” Cameron said. “I’m out there to compete in any situation at any time. I want to go out there and give it my all. I’m not going to change anything with what I’m doing. Keep swinging it the way I am and get better from there.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.