DETROIT — Tuesday will mark the four-year anniversary of Daz Cameron joining the Tigers’ organization as part of the Justin Verlander trade. As Saturday’s move to Triple-A Toledo shows, he still has to fight his way into Detroit’s outfield mix.
The Tigers’ roster makeup meant one of their young outfielders was going to be optioned to make way for starter Matthew Boyd’s return from the injured list. Cameron ended up as the odd man out, with Victor Reyes sticking around. That probably would’ve been the case even without the latter’s pinch-hit, go-ahead, inside-the-park home run Friday night.
In past seasons with expanded late-season rosters, Cameron could count on being back in Detroit as a September callup. But with those rosters limited to 28 players this season, his return is no guarantee.
The flip side of the change is an extended Triple-A season that runs as long as the Major League campaign. If Cameron stays in Toledo in September, he’ll have a chance at regular playing time down the stretch.
“I think Daz has some things to work on around the margins of the game,” Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said. “He’s still learning and growing, whether it’s the baserunning or the outfield play, having a consistent swing. [Those were] some of the reasons that we told him. …
“Whether he was in Triple-A or the big leagues, I think it’s important for him to play consistently and figure out his swing. There’s days he comes with different hand placements, there’s different rhythm, different timing. And that’s just hard to do at this level. We see the electrifying skills. I think he’s going to be back in short order. But that consistency can really only come with playing.”
Injuries have prevented Cameron from seeing a long stretch of consistent playing time, from a fractured right wrist that delayed him at the start of the season to the sprained right toe that halted his midseason resurgence in July. The latter was particularly difficult, because he was getting regular playing time with Derek Hill coming back from injury.
For the season, Cameron is batting .177 (14-for-79) with Detroit. Half of his hits have gone for extra bases — three home runs, four doubles — and he has a hard-hit rate of 38.9 percent. But he also has 25 strikeouts and five walks. He’s batting .186 against fastballs, with a 21 percent swing-and-miss rate, according to Statcast. Against breaking balls, his average drops to .130 (3-for-23), and his swing-and-miss rate jumps to 42.9 percent.
Between the injuries, Cameron didn’t have much more time with Toledo than Detroit. However, he’s batting .309 (30-for-97) in 23 games with the Mud Hens, including eight doubles, two triples, two home runs, 14 RBIs and an .863 OPS.
With Hill, Reyes, Akil Baddoo and Robbie Grossman all back with the Tigers — and top outfield prospect Riley Greene expected to get a long look in Spring Training — next year’s competition at the position will be even tougher, whether or not the Tigers sign a veteran outfielder for stability. Shoring up his swing could be critical to Cameron’s chances.
With Hill’s strength in center field, Cameron’s best fit is likely in the corners, where his range is an advantage in spacious Comerica Park.
Though the Tigers’ depth is working against Cameron, his age is one factor in his favor. He doesn’t turn 25 until January, and he has Minor League options left. That affords some patience.