Kameron Misner Has Elite Tools, But Can The Production Follow?
For all of the first-round draft picks Missouri has produced over the years on the mound—from Max Scherzer to Aaron Crow to Kyle Gibson to Tanner Houck—position players taken that high have been few and far between.
Just one Missouri position player, catcher Steve Patchin in 1971, has gone in the first round, and the school’s highest-drafted position player to eventually crack the big leagues was shortstop Dave Silvestri, who was taken in the second round in 1988.
Misner wasn’t an elite prospect out of Poplar Bluff (Mo.) High, but when he came to Missouri, certain things stood out right away.
Listed at 6-foot-4, 219 pounds when he arrived, Misner was the type of lean athlete you could clearly see developing a pro body before his college days were done. And on the field, the lefthanded hitter flew out of the gate to go 8-for-17 in his first series at the collegiate level in 2017.
But for coach Steve Bieser, it was Misner’s failures later in the season, not his successes, that showed how special he was.
“Year one, coming into the Southeastern Conference as a high school player, he got off to a really good start,” Bieser said, “and then kind of hit SEC play—and it’s challenging for any freshman coming into the SEC.
“The numbers may not appear great, but the guy really competed in every at-bat, and you could tell that there was something special there coming out of the high school ball that he was playing and not seeing the 90 (mph)-plus every day. You could tell that he was going to develop into a really special hitter at that time.”
Now that he has several years of SEC experience under his belt, Misner still is appreciated as a prospect for some of the things that have been constant throughout his time at Missouri.
The power is obvious. You can see that in the stats, but you also notice it in things the box score doesn’t tell you, like the drive on Friday night in the Mississippi series when he connected on a pitch that had a 110 mph exit velocity and that tracking software estimated would travel well over 400 feet, only to have the wind and heavy air turn it into a 390-foot fly out.
But what’s helped him become the elite prospect he is now are new facets of his game that he’s been able to show off more in 2019.
As a freshman and sophomore, Misner was the type of baserunner who would catch the opposition off guard because the lanky power hitter didn’t look like a prototypical basestealer. He did that to the tune of 30 stolen bases over his first two seasons, but now he’s learned to swipe bases when everyone in the park knows he’s on the move and had 14 halfway through the season.
He’s also gone from being someone whose tools suggested he might be able to handle center field to a player who has proven he can man the position.
As a freshman, Misner played primarily left field, and last season he played first base out of necessity. That makes the 2019 season the first time he’s gotten a crack at center field, and with his plus speed and good feel for the position, he’s developed into a solid defender.
“He hadn’t played first base, (and) we asked him to play first base for us every day, and he became a very solid defender over at first base,” Bieser said. “Then we moved him back out into center field this year. He’s just being able to be versatile to help the team in any capacity. He’s so athletic that he can bounce around and do those things.”
Perhaps the biggest hurdle Misner still has to clear is proving himself against top-shelf SEC pitchers.
As Bieser alluded to, Misner hit a wall as a freshman and ended up hitting just .204 against SEC competition. Last year, he was on a much better trajectory, hitting .310 against SEC foes, but his season ended halfway into conference play due to a lingering foot injury. That injury also cost Misner a chance to prove himself against high-end competition in summer ball.
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This season, Misner struggled as much as any hitter in the Mizzou order in conference play. In the first three weekends, albeit against Top 25 opponents Arkansas, Mississippi and Texas A&M, he went 2-for-35 with 18 strikeouts.
Overall, he was hitting .266/.459/.484 with eight home runs halfway through the year.
“Just having that mindset of (knowing) they’re going to stick to their plan, you’re going to stick to your plan and make a few adjustments in my at-bats,” Misner said. “It’s hard to hit, especially with good pitchers like them, and they were. They’re really good pitchers.
“I’m just kind of taking what they give me and going from there. I think, at times, I was trying to do a little too much and kind of getting out of my game.”
Misner is competitive and driven, so it’s not as if the struggles don’t faze him when he has the pressures of helping get Missouri back into the postseason. He also has draft preparation staring him in the face. It’s just that he comes off as someone who is more interested in dealing with what’s right in front of him and worrying only about those things he can control in the moment.
“Obviously, it’s always going to be in the back of your head at times,” Misner said. “(If) you go 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, it’s going to pop up in your head. But just knowing that tomorrow’s a new day, and all that cliché stuff, it really does (help). I’ve always been pretty good with the whole mental side of the game.”
In fact, that type of attitude is the trait that Bieser thinks will pay off the most for Misner in pro baseball, where the game will humble even the most talented college player.
“He’s a very humble guy. He’s modest. He’s never going to take anything for granted,” Bieser said. “He’s going to be the hardest worker on every team. I think it’s his inner drive. Because you don’t notice it a lot if you watch him play. Everything is smooth. Everything is calm, but he has a strong inner drive that keeps him motivated and he competes very well.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, because any scout can look and see that all the tools are there, the fact that he can hit for power, hit for average, defend, throw, all those things. The physical tools are there, but it’s that inner drive. He wants to be the best player on the field.”
Misner’s physical gifts are front and center each time you watch him play. But it’s also a safe bet the production to match will come around by the time he departs Columbia, likely drafted in the rarefied air only seen at Missouri by those hard-throwing pitchers of the past