By Contributing Writer: Nick Stevens
I am a sucker for a good underdog story. I couldn’t care less about who gets drafted in the first round of the NFL draft, I watch rounds five through seven and then wait impatiently to see the list of undrafted free agent signings. Those are the guys I want to see succeed. I’ve never watched Duke vs UNC in men’s basketball, but if there’s a good mid-major basketball game on like Towson and JMU, I’ll watch.
Photo: Patrick Cavey
Hence, my love of minor league baseball. If you follow closely, there are a lot of comeback stories, small school prospects desperately trying to make it to the “Big Show”, and guys who earned one shot to make in professional baseball who are now fulfilling that dream.
Outfielder Cameron Kneeland is that story in the Baltimore Orioles organization and a prospect I am particularly excited to watch this upcoming season. He should begin the season at AA Bowie for the Baysox, at 26 years of age. In the 2012 MLB draft, Kneeland went undrafted out of UMass-Lowell, where he led the team with a .363 batting average, .505 slugging percentage, and 45 RBIs to go along with his three home runs and .420 OBP. Kneeland was also a starting pitcher at UMass. He started six games and went 4-3 with a 5.52 ERA.
After not being selected in the 2012 MLB draft, Kneeland found himself in the Canadian-American Association, an independent league. His second season in the Association was extremely successful as Kneeland hit .306 with nine home runs and 62 RBIs. On November 5, 2013, the Baltimore Orioles signed Kneeland to a minor league contract.
At Low-A Aberdeen, Kneeland went 0-6 in two games, but was promoted to Delmarva for the 2015 season. For the Shorebirds, Kneeland played in 112 games, hit six home runs, 63 RBIs, 26 doubles and five triples to go along with his .267/.350/.400 slash line.
I first saw Cameron play at Nymeo Field last season when he was a member of the Frederick Keys. I walked away highly impressed. Kneeland went 2-4 with two runs scored, two RBI, and a home run. Patience at the plate and a great defensive snag in the outfield also highlighted his performance that day. That particular game was part of a six game stretch for Kneeland of recording at least two hits per game.
At the end of the 2016 season, Kneeland finished near the top of the Carolina League leader board in a number of categories including: 5th in doubles (33) and tied for 8th in HR (12).
He can hit home runs, get on base, avoid the strikeout, and steal bases, but one thing Kneeland really needs to improve on if he wants to patrol the outfield at Camden Yards, is his ability to hit lefties. At Frederick, Cameron hit a measly .191 with a .295 OBP.
If Cameron Kneeland wants to make it the big leagues, though, he has little room for error at 26 years old (turning 27 in June). Joining Kneeland on my list of prospects I am keeping an extra close eye on this season are OF Jay Gonzalez, OF DJ Stewart, and LHP Tanner Scott. All four of these young men could prove to be critical pieces of the Orioles’ roster within the next two years and have the skill-sets to be. Here’s to a productive season for Kneeland and a true underdog emerging from the pack.