Cameron looking for chance to unlock his potential with O's

February 20th, 2023

SARASOTA, Fla. -- A former All-Star outfielder strolled through the Orioles’ Spring Training clubhouse last Friday morning, wearing a ballcap, sunglasses and athletic wear. While talking on the phone, he sat down at a locker. Shortly after, he began chatting with a couple of nearby players.

It was 17-year big league veteran . Eventually, he had to get up from his seat, because the tenant of that locker needed to use it -- his son, Daz, who is in Baltimore’s camp as a non-roster invitee this spring.

The 26-year-old outfielder is trying to prove he’s worthy of a spot on the O’s roster. His dad is already confident he’ll get one.

“I’ll see you on TV,” the 50-year-old Cameron, in town for a quick visit, told his son before leaving the complex at Ed Smith Stadium and heading to the airport.

Daz has shown a lot of potential since becoming a pro. A toolsy outfielder who can play exceptional defense in center and has a bit of pop in his bat, he was selected by the Astros with the No. 37 overall pick in Competitive Balance Round A of the 2015 MLB Draft. He was the No. 75 overall prospect in baseball (per MLB Pipeline) at the start of '16, and then got dealt to the Tigers as a key part of the return package in the Justin Verlander trade in August of '17.

In limited big league experience, though, Cameron hasn’t found much success. He also hasn’t been given much consistent playing time. Over 73 games scattered across the past three seasons, Cameron has slashed .201/.266/.330 with five homers and 24 RBIs. He's been more productive in spurts at lower levels, as he posted a .903 OPS in 20 games in the Arizona Fall League in 2018, and an .865 OPS in 39 games for Triple-A Toledo in '21. He has a .736 OPS in 600 career Minor League games.

Perhaps the Major League numbers will improve if Cameron gets more chances with Baltimore. It’s not a surprise he was claimed off waivers by the Orioles on Nov. 9, shortly after he was designated for assignment by the Tigers. O’s general manager Mike Elias was the Astros’ director of amateur scouting at the time Houston drafted Cameron.

“He’s had his ups and downs since then,” Elias said. “He’s still a young guy. He’s got power. He can really go get the ball in center field. And I think it’s going to be interesting seeing what he does here. He’s going to have some opportunity.”

Cameron is excited about the fit with the Orioles, too.

“You see these guys playing last year, they were right there at the top,” Cameron said. “They’re a team that can win, and I just hope to be part of it.”

There’s ample time for Cameron to become an impactful player in the Majors. Not every player reaches The Show at 19 or 20 and has immediate success, à la Bryce Harper or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. That’s what Mike Cameron has consistently been telling his son.

“It doesn’t work out like that for everybody,” the elder Cameron said. “You just constantly have to find your niche, and I just keep reminding him of that. But he’s just 26 years old. For some reason, they make 26 in the game old now -- 25, 26, 27, when really you’re just finding yourself as a young man.”

Cameron’s dad and his new-but-familiar GM aren’t the only ones who believe he still has a chance to make it in the big leagues. A former teammate from his Detroit days remembers seeing Cameron make some “nasty plays” while patrolling the outfield for the Tigers.

Those were the words of outfielder , who is also in Orioles camp battling for a spot as a non-roster invitee. He thinks the missing piece for Cameron -- whom he played with in Detroit in 2021 -- is a team expressing confidence in him to fill a sizable role.

“The talent is there, man,” Mazara said. “I think he is just going to need a pat on the back and to go out there and have fun. But once he clicks, he’s going to be fun to watch.”

Although Cameron hasn’t thrived in the Majors, he’s absorbed knowledge from each of his stints. He’s been impressed by the “unmatchable” level of competition while learning about the importance of staying in a good routine and the benefit of the time spent researching tendencies of opposing pitchers.

Of course, he’s also gotten words of advice from his dad.

“Everyone that plays this game has played this game since they were eight, nine years old,” Cameron said. “It’s the same game, but the mentality from that standpoint is it’s just the same game that he would teach. That’s about it, man. There’s not really that much, other than just the mentality, just coming to the ballpark and just being ready to play.”

Cameron is ready to play now. And he’s more than ready to show that to the Orioles, who may have a lot to gain by giving him an opportunity to unlock his full potential.