On Day 2 of the 2021 Draft, Noah Cameron was sitting at the dining room table playing cards with his family at his house in St. Joseph, Mo., when his phone rang. It came from inside Kauffman Stadium, about an hour south of St. Joseph and home of the Royals, Cameron’s favorite team to watch growing up.
When Cameron answered the call, he received good news from Royals scout Matt Price and vice president of player personnel Lonnie Goldberg. The Royals were about to draft Cameron in the seventh round. He was the third local product Kansas City drafted that year, following Blue Valley Southwest High School right-hander Ben Kudrna (the club’s No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) in the second round and Park Hill HS catcher Carter Jensen (No. 10) in the third round.
“They’re obviously younger than me, but we talk all the time about going home one day, playing for the hometown team,” Cameron, 23, said. “It’s really exciting to think about it.”
Perhaps Kudrna and Jensen are more well-known because of their Draft rounds and prospect status, but Cameron, the Royals’ No. 22 prospect, is a name worth watching as he rises in the system. In three starts this season, the lefty has a 1.98 ERA (three earned runs in 13 2/3 innings) with 23 strikeouts and five walks with High-A Quad Cities. Entering Saturday, he ranks 10th in the Minors -- across all levels -- in strikeout to walk percentage (32.7%) and 19th in swinging strike percentage (18.5%), and his 15.15 strikeouts-per-nine rate ranks sixth overall among Minor Leaguers.
“He’s strong and has strikeout stuff,” an American League scout texted after Cameron’s second start of the year. “Major League strikeout stuff. Long way to go, some questions to answer, but he’s one to watch.”
Because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery when the Royals drafted him out of Central Arkansas in ‘21, he made his professional debut last season and posted a 3.56 ERA in 65 2/3 innings across three levels with 99 strikeouts and just 16 walks.
The only setback he faced last season was missing some time with a minor shoulder injury.
“Other than that, last year was great,” Cameron said. “But I was really happy getting the 65 innings or so that I got post-TJ. So not only was it my first year in professional baseball, but a redemption year, too, coming off surgery. And I couldn’t be happier with it. It was great to have that leading into this year.”
Cameron finished last year with just 31 innings in Quad Cities, so the Royals assigned him there to begin the season. His goal is to stay healthy and continue what he showed last year as a command pitcher with three pitches. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Cameron has a strong frame and has gained velocity following his surgery, up to 93-94 mph now.
His rising fastball tunnels well with a tumbling, low-80s changeup that gets swing-and-miss from batters looking for something harder, and he’ll occasionally drop in a curveball that has been the focus of his development with the Royals.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that my changeup is my best pitch,” Cameron said. “I love throwing it, and I love the swing-and-miss that I get on it. The curveball has come a long way since college. It makes my changeup better, which is the goal when you gain pitches, right? Really to make your best pitches even better. So really just being able to keep hitters off balance and keep them on their toes.”
Given his command and three pitches so far, Cameron is a starter, a role he prefers and could continue in as long as he stays healthy. There is thought that his potential is greatest as a reliever, but there’s still time to figure that out as he moves up and faces more patient hitters to see how his stuff plays.
As it plays out over the next couple of years, one thing will be constant: the goal Cameron has now is the same one he had when he was sitting at the table in June 2021, cards in one hand and phone in the other.
He comes from a family of Royals fans, attended two or three games at the "K" per year when he was little and remembers watching the 2014-15 postseason teams when he was in high school.
He’d love to make Kauffman Stadium his home one day.
“I think about it all the time,” Cameron said. “I’m taking it day-by-day and one season at a time because there’s still a long way to go. How can I get better today? How can I get ready for my next start? But I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t thinking about Kauffman.”