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Has Kameron Misner Turned a Corner?

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The tooled-up 2019 draftee just enjoyed a red-hot August—could it be the start of something bigger?

Kameron Misner takes a photo with young children during the 2020 FanFest at Marlins Park Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

For years now, Kameron Misner has been a bit of an enigma. His tools have never been in doubt—at 6’4” and broadly built with plus straight line speed, Misner possesses a truly rare package of athletic gifts. However, we’ve yet to see him consistently sustain success at the plate.

There have been tantalizing flashes, particularly early in his draft year at Missouri, but the ebb and flow has been a bit too extreme for most evaluators to throw their full confidence behind him. For much of his pro career thus far, Misner has seldom strung together consistently good days at the plate. As of late, it feels like the tide might be turning.

After failing to hit higher than .247 in any of the first 3 months of the season, Misner experienced his best offensive month as a professional thus far in August, slashing .312/.419/.532 in 93 PA with 19 strikeouts. This represented a significant uptick in his contact rate without any tradeoff in the power department, and raised quite a few eyebrows across the prospecting world, as is natural any time that a player with Misner’s brand of athletic upside starts to post production to match. The Marlins themselves were seemingly equally impressed, as they decided to promote Misner to Double-A Pensacola near the end of the month.

As alluded to already, Misner has long been popular amongst tools-oriented evaluators. Despite a big frame the produces easy plus raw power, Misner has a lean build and some suddenness, as well as above average to plus straight line speed. The wheels have allowed him to play a solid center field thus far in his career, and while he may slow down a bit earlier than some due to his size, he looks capable of handling the position early on depending on what the makeup of his future big league club looks like.

After having some draft interest, but not enough to pass on his strong Mizzou commitment, coming out of high school, Misner was a productive player on offense as an underclassman, hitting .282 as a freshman and then .360 as a sophomore, totaling 11 home runs in 405 PA.

That sophomore campaign was limited to 34 games due to injury, but the performance nonetheless generated a ton of hype for Misner entering the 2019 college season. His tools stood out in the college crop, and he entered the year with as much momentum as anyone. Early in the year, it looked as though he might separate himself from the pack in the college position player class, as he opened on an absolute tear, hitting .400 with power in the early going. At that point in the process, Misner was seen as a potential top 10 selection and likely to be one of the first college bats off the board.

However, things kind of fell apart for Misner in SEC play. For one reason or another, his production dropped off precipitously, and he ended up hitting sub-.220 in the conference slate, which had serious adverse effects on his stock. Major D1 conference play is the closest proxy for the minor leagues that exists in the amateur game, and many teams heavily weight prospects’ performances in such leagues, which worked against Misner to say the least.

Entering the 2019 MLB Draft, many weren’t quite sure what to make of Misner. Some felt that he still deserved to go in the first round, perhaps even its top half, on the strength of his tools and early-season heroics; others were almost entirely scared off by his late-season collapse. Specifically, there was concern around his hit tool, and it wasn’t entirely fueled by the numbers.

Misner’s setup at the plate, while far from unorthodox, isn’t exactly prototypical either. Going back to his Mizzou days, he has employed an open stance, with his rear foot positioned in the back corner of the batter’s box. Open stances are far from rare even in the pro game, and Misner’s isn’t an extreme version. Hitters with this kind of setup do tend to skew pull-heavy, and that’s generally true of Misner’s results, but he does tend to finish square and has always shown an ability to make use of the left center field gap to some degree.

One element that was of some concern to evaluators in his college days was his complex timing mechanism. The stance necessitates a fairly significant stride, which isn’t a problem in and of itself, but in college he combined that with a toe tap at times and a bit of a leg kick at others that gave the whole operation considerable length, which can be seen in his cuts in the video linked above. Also of some concern was his approach, which many felt was too passive. Misner drew a ton of walks in college, but seemed to leave some drivable pitches on the table and was also strikeout prone at times. There were, of course, positive elements on display as well, namely his impressive rotational explosion and solid barrel variability, but it’s fair to say that there was an overall lack of confidence in his hit tool, even if many still saw potential for significant growth.

Misner would end up sliding out of the first round on draft day, allowing the Marlins to snag him in the sandwich round with the 35th overall selection. Evaluators continued to be split on him, but at the least, virtually everyone saw him as a potential steal at that slot considering the tools-based upside in his profile.

Baseball America editor-in-chief JJ Cooper estimates that Misner’s SEC struggles reduced his signing bonus by $2 million. “I can’t think of a player who lost more money in the draft,” he told Fish Stripes earlier this week.

Misner got into 42 games before the conclusion of the minor league season. He started with an 8 game tune-up in rookie ball, in which he hit .241/.421/.310, and was promptly promoted to Low-A Clinton. His production followed a similar pattern there—he was making contact at a solid clip, but with little extra base power and an astronomical walk rate, resulting in a slash of .276/.380/.373. Notably, Misner was already experimenting with swing tweaks at this point, eliminating the toe tap, which can be seen below:

Obviously, it would’ve been ideal to see a bit more power in his pro debut, but it’s fairly impressive that Misner was able to post such solid contact rates while implementing some significant changes on the fly. He went into the offseason with some decent hype. After losing the 2020 season to the shutdown (and not being invited to the Marlins’ alternate training site), he entered 2021 with the potential to move quite a bit in either direction.

For much of the year, it looked like it’d be a downward move. He scuffled through the first few months of the year at High-A Beloit. While he was able to drive the ball with more frequency, more than doubling his 2019 ISO, his strikeout rate backslid to the 30s through the end of July. At 23 years old and in A-ball and lacking production, things were starting to look a bit gaunt for Misner’s stock, but when the calendar turned over to August he turned on the jets.

He started it with a 12 game hitting streak that included 6 multi-hit efforts, to push his average up from .225 all the way to .248 in one fell swoop. He cooled off in relative terms over the next week, but maintained a lower strikeout rate compared to prior months, and was hitting .244 when the Marlins decided to promote him to Double-A Pensacola after the Snappers game on August 22.

The changes at the plate were subtle, but Misner seemed to get a bit more aggressive at the plate while avoiding waste pitches better than he did in the early going. He also went to left center fairly frequently during the hot streak, and while he still shows far more power to his pull side, he has been able to pick up some hits the other way.

Misner’s opposite-field double vs. Quad Cities on August 12
Misner’s opposite-field double vs. Quad Cities on August 12
MiLB.TV

It would be a full week before he’d end up actually making his Double-A debut, and he’d start his stint at the level with a pair of hitless games before picking up his first knock on Thursday. Hits haven’t been falling for him yet with the Blue Wahoos, but on the plus side, he has struck out just once in 11 plate appearances against a pair of walks, so he’s been far from overmatched.

Is Misner a transformed hitter? Not really. He hasn’t really overhauled anything to get to this point so much as tweaked, and the most perceptible mechanical changes to my eye took place immediately following his transition to pro ball rather than this year. However, Misner has always felt like a guy who was just a couple of small adjustments from taking a big step forward, and he looks more comfortable at the plate right now than we’ve seen in some time. He remains a highly variable player, but the profile is starting to coalesce to some degree, and if he’s able to properly get his feet under him at the Double-A level before season’s end, he’ll have some pretty significant momentum entering 2022.

Misner is never going to be a totally complete player—even if the timing at the plate continues to improve, his style of hitting puts a bit of a cap on his batting average upside, and his approach continues to be a bit more passive than might be optimal. Even so, the combination of secondary offensive traits give him a chance to be a threat with the bat nonetheless, potentially even one who hits relatively high in the order.

Marlins fans have had some rough experiences with power-and-speed over hit outfield prospects of late, but Misner has some chance to turn that tide. His second-half charge has been a welcome sight during a down year across the farm on the whole offensively.