Prospect Retrospective: Mike Cameron
Outfielder Mike Cameron announced his retirement today. Let's take a look at his career and what he was like as a prospect. His development as a prospect was rather unusual.
Mike Cameron was drafted in the 18th round by the Chicago White Sox out of high school in LaGrange, Georgia. He wasn't a hot prospect, showing good tools but being quite raw. He hit just .221/.325/.243 in 44 games of rookie ball, stealing 13 bases but lacking power. At this point he would have been a Grade C prospect, a toolsy guy who may or may not develop.
Cameron split 1992 between Utica in the New York-Penn League, hitting .276/.354/.448 in 87 at-bats, and South Bend in the Midwest League, hitting just .228/.310/.342 in 114 at-bats. He stole five bases on the season but was caught 10 times. Again, he was a raw tools guy not really showing many signs of improvement.
1993 was similar: .238/.292/.297 in 122 games for South Bend, with zero homers, 27 walks, and 101 strikeouts. He swiped 19 bases and was starting to get attention for his defense, but he was caught stealing 10 times and his hitting attack was quite weak, with poor plate discipline a big issue.
That began to change in 1994. Cameron hit .248/.343/.391 in the Carolina League, hitting 15 doubles, 17 triples, and six homers for Prince William while drawing 60 walks against 101 strikeouts in 468 at-bats. The power was still marginal, but his walk rate went way up and his strikeout rate declined as he began to get a handle on the strike zone at age 21. At this point he might have gotten a Grade C+, with a sleeper notation due to the subtly improved performance.
Cameron moved up to Double-A in 1995 and hit .249/.355/.429 with 11 homers, 21 steals, and 54 walks against 104 strikeouts in 350 at-bats. He also got into 28 major league games, hitting .184/.244/.316 for the White Sox, with big contact issues (15 ks in 38 AB). I wrote about him in my first book, the 1996 STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook, writing that Cameron "is a marvelous athlete but his baseball skills are still raw." I pointed out his strong defense and growing secondary skills, writing that he had "considerable upside potential, but he's not ready yet." I rated him a Grade C+.
Returning to Birmingham for 1996, Cameron broke out with a .300/.402/.600 season, with 34 doubles, 28 homers, 39 steals, and 71 walks in 473 at-bats. His defense drew raves. The White Sox credited his improvement to physical and emotional maturity, plus a revamped swing. Whatever the reason, it was a stellar season. I gave him a Grade B+ and wrote that he was "an ideal Seven Skill player" who could contribute in every way.
Cameron had a fine rookie year in 1997, slumped in 1998, but rebounded in 1999. He became a bit of a wandering man, spending a 17-year career with the White Sox, Reds, Mariners, Mets, Padres, Brewers, Red Sox, and Marlins. Although he didn't hit for very good batting averages, he showed power, speed, adequate on-base skills, and superior defense, finishing with a career line of .249/.338/.444 in 1955 games OPS+ 105, career WAR 52.6.
Most Similar Players: Jimmy Wynn, Ron Gant, Reggie Sanders, Torii Hunter, Brady Anderson, Chet Lemon, Bobby Murcer, Tom Brunansky, and Rick Monday. Among major league outfielders, his career 52.6 WAR puts him in the neighborhood of Lou Brock (53.4), Bobby Veach (52.8), Jim O'Rourke (52.2), Moises Alou (51.8), and Roy Thomas (51.8).
Cameron is an interesting example of a tools player who made good. His performance in the lower minors was quite weak, but he had the athleticism to succeed and he eventually figured out how to play baseball.