DAYTONA BEACH — Fourteen years ago, a baseball prodigy dropped out of high school.
At 16, he quit the world of proms and algebra because he wanted to get a head start on his career. He got his GED and enrolled in a junior college.
And it worked.
After a stellar season in college baseball, the young phenom came in first overall in the Major League Baseball Draft a year earlier than expected. His peers were still preparing for their senior years of high school. He was 17 and a millionaire.
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Despite the success, no other player had walked Bryce Harper’s path before or after. It takes a special person and a special talent.
Then came Cam Collier.
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How Cam Collier’s Decision Happened
It was a mutual decision, Collier said.
His father, Lou, brought up the idea of quitting high school and pursuing baseball a year early. At first, Collier had doubts. But he trusted his father.
“Knowing him, if he trusted me and believed I could do it, I knew it would be something that would be good for me,” Collier said.
Lou spent eight seasons – from 1997 to 2004 – playing for five MLB teams. Since retiring, he has worked as a professional scout and coached Team USA at last spring’s World Baseball Classic.
He recognizes talent and knows what it takes to do it. With his son, he saw it very early.
Collier started playing baseball when he was 3 years old. Almost from the start he played, competing against kids two years older than him. He always played.
As a freshman at Mount Paran Christian School in Kennesaw, Georgia, Collier established himself as the team’s third baseman. But after just 10 games, COVID-19 ended the season.
Yet everyone saw his talent. He got college offers and committed to the University of Louisville.
As a sophomore in 2021, he hit .434 with 13 home runs, 40 RBIs and 19 stolen bases. His team won the first state championship in program history. It’s something he still thinks about.
“To be able to share this moment with these guys was a blessing,” Collier said. “Winning with the coaches and those guys we had, that was probably an experience I’ll never forget.”
But as he continued to dominate for his travel ball club and at off-season showcases, his father realized that high school level didn’t challenge Collier. ESPN had previously rated him the top pure hitter in the 2023 draft class.
So Lou kicked Harper’s way.
Cam Collier: ‘I knew what my dream was’
In August, Collier announced his intention to reclassify.
“I don’t get asked as many questions about it now,” Collier said. “But when I was going through the draft process and certainly when I announced it, I was asked about it every day. I was asked a lot about it in the beginning. Everyone just wanted me to explain what it was because they didn’t really understand…
“I knew what my dream was. I was just trying to go grab it and get to it as fast as I could.
To be eligible for the MLB Draft, players must either complete high school, one year at a junior college, or three years at a four-year institution.
With no school to attend after Collier made up his mind, he studied for the GED and trained. He passed all four required tests – math, language arts, science and social studies.
“A few weeks later,” Collier said, “I was in Chipola.”
Cam Collier attended and starred in one of JUCO’s top programs
In the spring of 2022, Collier became a full-time student and baseball player at Chipola College, home to one of the nation’s top JUCO programs.
“I never really thought about that ‘Oh my God, these guys are two years older than me,'” he said. “I was so used to playing my whole life. Once I got a few pitches, I’m like, ‘Yo, this is the same thing.’ It’s just baseball. You just have to take the challenge. It’s going to be harder, but the game of baseball is hard and you have to change with it.
At first, life remained semi-normal. Collier continued to smash baseballs, batting .378 throughout the first month of the season.
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Then came some struggles. From late February to early April, it only reached 0.196. He needed to adapt.
“I went through a period of struggle for a long time,” he said. “I was really depressed about it. I was like, ‘What am I going to do to get out of this?’ I think that was the most important thing for me – learning to overcome that…
“I had to mature and know that’s what I want to do.”
Even if Collier’s Harper’s scheme failed, he had backup plans. He could have stayed at Chipola for another year and entered the 2023 draft with the rest of his peers. He could have transferred to a Division I university and graduated in 2024.
But his performance on the pitch began to dip.
In the final six weeks of the season, he hit .440, showing the skills that made this route possible. His final totals: .333 batting average, .419 on-base percentage, eight homers and 47 RBIs.
Yes, even at 17 he was ready.
The Cincinnati Reds selected him 18th overall.
“It was so surreal,” Collier said. “It just didn’t seem real. I worked so long and hard for this opportunity. Now he has introduced himself. I am the.”
2023 is Cam Collier’s first full year of pro baseball
Julio Morillo met Collier right after the draft last summer. Collier made a nine-game appearance for the Arizona Complex League rookie-level team that Morillo managed.
Necklace struck .370.
“How young he was and the way he treats his batsmen was very impressive to me,” Morillo said. “Playing at this level of professional baseball already and not being outmatched by this league right out of college but still 18 years old. It surprised me how he behaved at that time.
Morillo still sees him every day.
To start this season, Collier was assigned to the Daytona Tortugas, still with Morillo as manager. Collier, 18, opened the year as the Florida State League’s youngest player. He won’t be 19 until November.
Like his time at Chipola, Collier endured some struggles. Going into Wednesday night’s game, he was batting .214 with four homers and 31 runs batted in.
He senses expectations. He sees the stories, the parallels with Harper (a man he’s never met) and the prospect rankings. MLB Pipeline ranks him as Cincinnati’s third-top prospect and 55th-top prospect in the sport.
He tries to avoid all of that, but that can be a lot for a guy who just graduated from high school.
“Yeah, I’m not even gonna lie,” Collier said. “I definitely feel them. I think that’s something that really sticks in your head. But I feel like everyone comes in with expectations, and I try not to dwell on other people’s expectations and just worry about what the team needs, winning and s ‘improve.”
Still, he wouldn’t trade his experiences of the past two years.
“It definitely paid off,” he said. “Certainly. I know I’m much better off right now than I would have been if I had continued to play against high school competition.
Morillo said: “I think it affects him in a good way. He’s very aware of the things he needs to improve at. He’s competitive. He’s aware of the things he needs to do to be successful in this game. But he also has this mentality of, ‘Hey, I’m working my cock. I’m working really hard, and eventually this thing is going to change for me. I’m just going to learn and trust him right away.’
Collier trained that mentality in Chipola – just grind and keep it simple. He trusted himself throughout this process. Why stop now?
He also maintains a strong support system. His father and major league friends like Marquis Grissom, as well as current players like Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Harris II and Oakland prospect A Lawrence Butler. Collier often texts them, looking for advice or little tips and tricks.
“I think it’s just a constant learning process for him,” Morillo said. “When he gets it, he’ll be unstoppable.”