'A lot to learn': Mud Hens coaches urge patience with Daz Cameron

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News
Daz Cameron

Toledo — Tigers fans who see gaudy stats from minor leaguers should remember what they already know from driving Michigan’s roads.

The road to Detroit is usually not a smooth one.

Take Daz Cameron, for instance.

The Toledo center fielder is still firmly a part of the Tigers' future plans, but Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz is urging caution about envisioning quick moves for prospects like Cameron, 22, through levels of the farm system.

When asked about Cameron’s recent semi-resurgence, which included a .301 average over a 18-game span through Saturday, Mientkiewicz wasn’t impressed with the improvements suggested by the box scores.

“I wouldn’t say he’s coming around,” Mientkiewicz said last weekend when asked about Cameron. “He’s still striking out a ton. Daz is another one of those guys who is very talented, but there are a lot of talented guys who are valet parking cars. You know, and I’m not saying that in a negative way. It’s not his fault. 

“There’s a lot of the game that he has to learn.”

Speaking more generally about his Triple-A team — which entered Sunday at 18-27, tied for third-worst record in the 14-team International League — Mientkiewicz stressed that a lot is being thrown at his players and many were playing against men for the first time.

“Daz is not alone in the regards that, there’s a lot of intricate things, a lot bigger things in baseball than how many hits you get, how many runs you save, and how many home runs you hit,” Mientkiewicz said. “There’s a lot of other things that go into that game up there that you better learn or it’s going to humiliate you fast.

“Sometimes it’s chasing pitches, sometimes it’s knowing when to steal, when not to steal, when to hit your cutoff man … reading swings on the outfield jumps, keeping your foot moving on the fly ball. When to go to third, how many outs, all that stuff. When that happens and when you start to question your own self, you play slow, you play hesitant and you make more mistakes.”

Cameron, who is ranked The Detroit News' No. 8 Tigers prospect, was hitting below .200 one month into the season but has steadily climbed his batting average to .239 entering Saturday.

“For now, for me, it’s just go out there and not worry about numbers, just go out there and have a good (at-bat),” Cameron said before Toledo left for its current seven-game road trip. “At the end of the year, numbers will take care of itself. For me, it's just go out there and make hard contact and keep squaring up the ball and having good (at-bats). It’s going to lead to good things. That’s one of my goals.”

Since being selected 37th overall as a competitive balance pick by Houston in 2015, the numbers have been good for Cameron, who was acquired by the Tigers in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade.

The son of former All-Star and 17-year big leaguer Mike Cameron, Daz entered the season with a .258 batting average through four minor league seasons. He then followed that up with a strong 20-game stint in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .342 with nine stolen bases.

But after Cameron (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) closed last season with a rough 15-game stretch in Toledo after a promotion, strikeouts have helped derail him early this year.

Although his five home runs have him on a career-best pace, Cameron’s strikeout rate of 28.3 percent entering Saturday is worrisome. He was 3-for-5 Saturday, with no strikeouts.

“It’s just kind of fine-tuning some approach process during the game, how to approach his (at-bats), knowing what they’re going to try to do to him,” Mud Hens hitting coach Mike Hessman said. “Seeing the big picture, seeing runners on base. Is there a base open? Are they going to get me to chase on this at-bat? Just things that young hitters do, and just try to get them to work on them to slow the game down and see the whole picture before his (at-bats) take place.”

Cameron agreed that most of his problems are more about approach than execution.

“I think for me to make a good mental approach before the at-bat, then it’s going to work itself out,” he said. “Over time I know it’s going to click. I’ve been piecing things together in there and we’ll be good then for the outcome.”

While it’s been tough for Camreron and the Mud Hens at times in the early going, Mientkiewicz noted it’s a blessing to hit rough patches now rather than north on I-75.

“A lot of times it happens at the next level, and thankfully it’s happening here,” he said. “Because we have the ability to send him back out there and let him play through it a little bit. But he’s getting there. He’s slowly starting to understand that this isn’t your showcase league on Saturdays that your parents take you to. 

“And it happens at different times.”

Added Cameron: “Every day we go out there, I feel like it’s a new day to do some good things on the field. I think we’ll be fine. Baseball is crazy sometimes, but once we got on that roll, everything is going to be good. We just got to keep working, just stay humble, don’t try to get ahead of ourselves, stay medium, kind of ride that wave."

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.