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Know Your Orioles 40-man: Daz Cameron

Another former Elias-era Houston draft pick is on the Orioles roster, for now.

Detroit Tigers v New York Yankees Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

How he arrived: Waiver claim from Detroit Tigers, 11/9/22

Who left: Aramis Garcia outrighted, 10/30/22

There will eventually come a day where the Orioles run out of former Astros draft picks who were picked by Houston when Mike Elias was the most influential voice in their draft room. That day has not yet arrived. Another one of those players, Daz Cameron, came across the waiver wire this week and Elias pounced, so now Cameron is in the Orioles organization.

Cameron, who turns 26 in January, was ranked as high as the #6 prospect in that 2016 draft class by MLB Pipeline. He fell out of the range of picks in line with his bonus demands, but Houston, flush with pool money that year with two picks in the top five, had the money to grab him later and that’s what they did. Cameron received an overslot $4 million bonus at #37 overall.

Two years after being drafted by Houston, Cameron was still in Low-A. It’s probably not what the Astros hoped. Yet there was still enough prospect stock there that Cameron was the big piece the Astros used to acquire Justin Verlander at the now-nonexistent August trade deadline in 2017. This wasn’t a short-term rental deal: Verlander had two more seasons remaining after that season. The Tigers needed to get a dude out of that deal and they thought Cameron, the son of 17-year MLB veteran Mike, could be that dude.

In the next FanGraphs ranking of the Tigers system after the trade, Cameron ranked 7th, in the 45 FV tier. That tier at this same time in the Orioles system had Hunter Harvey, D.L. Hall, Tanner Scott, Cedric Mullins, and Mountcastle. FG wrote this about Cameron at that time:

Cameron’s skillset isn’t all that sexy, but it is complete, and everything about it plays up because he has a great feel for baseball. He’s not especially fast, but his instincts in center field are good, as is his control of the strike zone. He’s a high-probability big-league center fielder. ... Cameron is safer (than another Tigers OF prospect) because he’s a better bet to hit.

Friends, here’s the thing. Cameron hasn’t hit. The only times he posted an OPS above .800 at a minor league level were: Repeating Low-A in 2017, 40% of a season at Double-A in 2018, and six weeks in Triple-A in 2021. That’s it. Many of his past scouting reports had written that he “has a high floor,” meaning that his worst-case outcome should at least leave him as a useful big league player. Looking back with the knowledge of what has happened, those predictions were not accurate.

Detroit brought him up for parts of the last three MLB seasons anyway, because they’re rebuilding and it was time to try out the prospect who headlined one of their first big sell-off trades. Cameron now has 73 big league games under his belt with the following career batting line: .201/.266/.320. He’s struck out in 31.5% of his big league plate appearances. In the 21 games they let him play for the Tigers this season, he hit about as well as Rougned Odor did for the Orioles.

There’s a saying when it comes to baseball prospects: “Once a first-rounder, always a first-rounder.” These guys tend to get second chances, or even third chances, because it’s not hard to convince GMs that they might still have talent in there somewhere. The Orioles really believe this about the 2015 first round because they’ve also had Dillon Tate (#4), Carson Fulmer (#8), Richie Martin (#20), Chris Shaw (#31), and Tyler Nevin (#38) come through the system, in addition to their own picks (DJ Stewart and Mountcastle).

Not only was Cameron once a first-rounder, he was Elias’s first-rounder. No surprise that the Orioles made the waiver claim. That doesn’t mean Cameron will necessarily stick around for long. He’s out of options for 2023. That’s why the Tigers put him on waivers rather than give him one more chance next year.

The Orioles have had some success in giving one last chance to a formerly well-regarded prospect another team had given up on. They pulled this off just within the last two seasons by claiming Jorge Mateo last year and letting him play this year. Mateo still didn’t hit, but he blossomed defensively and was a three-win player. In 2022, waiver claims on Austin Voth and Cionel Pérez also worked out.

The 2023 Orioles don’t seem to have the same space to be giving out tryouts at the MLB level that they did at the beginning of this season. After the team’s 83-win campaign this year, with Elias fueling the idea that there are expectations as much as anyone with his “it’s liftoff from here” declaration, how do they fit Cameron into that picture? He isn’t going to be pushing Mullins, Austin Hays, or Anthony Santander off of a job. His presence on the roster doesn’t seem to create a surplus of MLB outfielders that would allow any of those players to be traded.

This probably means the Orioles don’t have Cameron in the picture for long. He might be back on waivers ahead of Tuesday’s deadline to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft. There are six open spots on the roster. I’d be surprised if they have more prospects to add than that. Given that Cameron went unclaimed by the bad teams, the Orioles could potentially sneak him through to Triple-A themselves and have the opportunity to let him work things out at Norfolk.

For me, it also wouldn’t be surprising if the Orioles at least keep Cameron around on into spring training to compete with Ryan McKenna for the fourth outfielder job. McKenna is a more familiar face for the organization, so he’s got that going for him, but he can’t hit either and doesn’t deserve to keep his role automatically.

I’m more interested in Cameron than I am in Jake Cave, the O’s last outfield waiver claim who’s still kicking around on the 40-man. I’m not very interested in either one. The Orioles, it seems, are more interested in both than in former Manny Machado trade headliner Yusniel Díaz, who was outrighted from the roster yesterday.

Still to come: That’s all for now, but fresh additions are certain on 11/15