MARIETTA, Ga. – Smiles seem to cross his face easily and regularly, especially when Cam Collier is anywhere near a baseball field.
The nation’s No. 1-ranked third base prospect in the class of 2023, who can certainly be all-business when it’s required, smiles at his teammates, he smiles at his friends and family, he smiles when he checks out his surroundings, he smiles when playing under the warm sunshine.
And if the East Cobb Baseball Complex hadn’t installed new artificial turf on its fields as part of a major renovation, he’d probably smile at the smell of freshly mown grass. Opposing pitchers? OK, probably not so much.
While performing at the Perfect Game Junior National Showcase over the last couple of days, if you really wanted to see Cam Collier’s face light-up, all you had to do was bring up his recently completed sophomore season playing with Kennesaw (Ga.) Mount Paran Christian School Eagles.
The Eagles, you see, brought home the 2021 Georgia Class A-Private state championship, completing a 29-4 season with a two-game sweep of the Wesleyan Wolves in the championship series. It was the first state baseball championship in school history.
“It was amazing – probably the greatest experience that I’ve ever had,” Collier told PG during a casual conversation after he’d wrapped up his workout session at the PG Jr. National. “Winning a state championship with all my boys, it was so exciting.”
To fully appreciate how much that state title meant to Collier, some clarification is necessary. The kid is a 16½-year-old, strong-armed, slick-fielding, left-handed hitting phenom who has risen to No. 2 overall in PG’s national class of 2023 prospect rankings and already has a commitment to Louisville in his pocket.
A resident of Austell, Ga., and the son of former big-leaguer Lou Collier and Melica Collier, Cam is an alumnus of the 2019 PG 14u Select Baseball Festival and now a two-time (2020-21) alumnus of the PG Jr. National Showcase. Make no mistake, those are some pretty heady neighborhoods to be hanging around in,
Collier, listed at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, has already played in six PG tournaments this spring but still felt it was important to make a return trip to the PG Jr. National. Non-PG scouts weren’t allowed at last year’s Junior because of COVID-19 restrictions and he was eager to show everyone how much he’s improved. He used the word “joyful” to explain how he feels the spring of 2021 has gone so far.
“It is joyful because I got to play my whole high school season and I got to play all the way through winning a state championship,” Collier said. “I got to start playing in the summer as soon as my school was out and now I’m seeing all my friends out here playing against each other from all over the place so, yeah, it has been pretty joyful.”
Lou Collier, a Chicago native, was selected in the 50th round of the 1991 MLB June Amateur Draft out of high school and again in the 1992 MLB Draft out of junior college. An infielder, he made his major league debut with the Pirates in 1997 and went on to play parts of eight big-league seasons with the Bucs, Brewers, Expos, Red Sox and Phillies. He, too, felt it was important for his son to be here because he knows first-hand there’s no such thing as too much exposure.
“First of all, he’s been invited to this and not everybody gets that chance,” Lou Collier said. “Anytime he can come out and showcase his skills in front of scouts and different people like that, I think is important. And also I think it’s important for him to get in these types of environments with kids from all over the country; it helps him develop.”
Cam’s mom, Melica, has been along for this ride, as well: “I’ve enjoyed watching, especially since he’s been young, the development he’s had,” she said. “Me as a mom, I get really emotional just watching his growth since he was a little boy. So I think it’s very beneficial for him to be out here and for him being able to see other kids around his age and kind of see where he is.”
The showcase’s workout session went well for Collier, as he produced an exit velo of 97 mph (tied for 9th-best at the event) and an infield throw of 92 mph (t-8th). His BP session was especially noteworthy with a PG scout reporting that Collier “took a professional round of batting practice as he sprayed it around with some feel early and then showed the power later” adding at the end that he “just makes it look easy.”
“I think my strengths right now are that I have a decent throwing arm; I can hit a little bit to all fields with a little bit of power,” Collier said. “But for me now, I think it’s my arm strength that’s the best.”
Cam Collier has enjoyed most of his early PG tournament success playing with Marquis Grissom’s MGBA program when he was younger and more recently with Andy Burress’s 5 Star National organization.
He’s been named to an all-tournament team 15 times and was the MV-Player at the 2020 PG WWBA 15u National Championship playing with 5 Star National 15u Dobbs; he was the MV-Pitcher at the 2019 PG 14u Major South Atlanta Open with MGBA 14u.
In all, he’s been a part of five PG WWBA championship teams – four with 5 Star and one with the East Cobb Astros 17u – to go with a title at the 2020 PG BCS 15u National Championship, also with 5 Star National 15u Dobbs.
He is already rostered at 10 more tournament events this summer with both the 5 Star 16u National Burress and the East Cobb Astros 17u.
“It brings out the best in me for sure because I know I need to play big for my team to win,” Collier said of having the opportunity to play for PG national championships. “I really want to win and I really want to play my best so I’m always bringing my best every time in those big tournaments...
“Now we’re all together and we’re trying to win tournaments,” he added. “We’re in hotels and we’re having fun with each other, and just getting everybody together, that’s the most fun part.”
After retiring in 2007, Lou Collier started the Chicago-based Lou Collier Baseball Association, a non-profit which primarily works with kids from the inner-city. It sponsored teams, training sessions, camps and clinics during an 11-year run and when the Colliers moved down here two years ago, Lou linked up with old pal Marquis Grissom and continues to do the same thing at the Marquis Grissom Baseball Academy (MGBA).
“It’s not really about baseball,” Lou said. “It’s about [the kids] having a quality life and one day getting married and have kids of their own and contribute to society in the right way.”
Players in Lou Collier’s generation got their names out there by playing Legion ball and attending pro camps and, as he told PG, it was always a fight. No one knew where they stood relative to their peers from across the country because they were never in the same place at the same time.
Things have changed, and since Lou and Melica were initially unfamiliar with Perfect Game they found the best course of action was simply to follow Cam’s lead. He would approach his dad and tell him he thought it was important that he was at this particular event, or that he wanted to try to do this or be a part of that. Lou looked at his son and said, all right, if that’s what you want to do, let’s get after it.
“Ever since he could walk we’ve been doing some kind of baseball,” Lou said. “I know it probably drove my wife crazy with how busy we’ve been and how serious I am about it but I wanted to plant that seed early just to see if this was something that he wanted to do, and it was...
“We went to work, he locked-in and put the work in. I have to applaud him for the way he goes about his business. Once he makes up his mind that he wants to do something he locks in and gets it done.”
Cam Collier’s circle of influence should be the envy of every young ballplayer involved in amateur baseball. He’s able to work out with his dad and other former big-leaguers who are his Lou’s friends, as well, but at the end of the day it’s been his dad’s guidance that have has had the biggest impact.
“He pushes me to be the best; he’s the reason I’m even on this field right now,” Cam said. “We’re always working and without him I wouldn’t be nowhere near here.”
But it’s not all-Dad, all the time.
“I’ve got big-league friends that have been around him, as well, who have helped him big time, too,” Lou said. “Sometimes if he gets a little frustrated with me and he gets tired of hearing me talk, I’ve got buddies like Marquis [Grissom] and Marvin Freeman and Dmitri Young and guys like that who will put their arms around him and give him the same information but from a different angle; he’s been blessed.”
Even with all of his accomplishments and the accolades that have come with them, Cam Collier admits his amateur career to date has come with plenty of ups-and-downs. He’s had his share of struggles to go right along with his allotment of achievements.
While Cam feels like he continues to get better every time he takes the field he fully understands he has a long way to go in his development. The only thing to do, as every one of the 300 prospects that were in attendance at the PG Jr. National will tell you, is to keep working the soles off your shoes.
“Head down and just keep grinding, getting work in and playing older competition to see where I stand up,” Collier said. “Mostly, it’s just grinding; don’t listen to anything else, just grind.”
Those ups-and-downs will continue for as long as Cam Collier continues to play baseball, especially if he makes it to the major leagues. No one knows that better than his dad, who spent his entire career being shuffled up and down between the major and minor leagues.
Now that his son is getting older and is able to understand some of those things a lot more, Lou tries to feed Cam information in small doses by painting different scenarios. Baseball is not only a game of failure, Lou tells him, but a game of “What have you done for me lately?” If you’re not getting the job done there’s someone standing right behind you who would love to take your spot.
“If he’s a good person and he’s a good teammate and he plays hard, that will sustain him,” Lou said. “His ability is his ability but those things matter. When things get tough if he can just focus on those things he’ll be fine; it will shake-out for him...It’s a process and I’m enjoying it; I’ve been there already but it’s been a great process.”
In the here and now, Cam Collier is just loving being around what will be the lifelong friends he’s making by playing travel ball and attending these elite showcase events.
The friendships and the familiarity that comes with them makes it that much easier for a kid to just be themselves when they’re sharing a dugout or out on the field together. They’re just playing baseball. They’re all out there doing the same thing and trying to soak in as much information as they possibly can.
“This is like a big classroom, learning from everybody,” Collier said. “Learning different things about my swing, learning different ways to field the ball, learning different things that I should work on. Yeah, it’s like a big old classroom just learning from all these guys...
“It’s really just about me improving, getting a lot better; getting my body in better shape. Just getting better at the game, that’s what I’m looking for moving into the fall.”
And to think that the year 2021 started with so much trepidation, so many pandemic-related questions still swirling around as to whether or not there would even be spring and summer baseball seasons at the high school level.
Melica Collier has been right there front-and-center to see it become a reality even after so many anxious moments. She was there taking it all in as her only son – who had already accomplished so much on so many national stages of note – got to experience something on the local level that was obviously very near and dear to him.
“It was very enjoyable just to watch him and the excitement he had just wanting to win, and as an end result they won the championship,” Melica said of the Mount Paran Christian Georgia state championship. “It was very enjoyable and very emotional and, again, I get emotional seeing it right now. But yes, it has been enjoyable to watch him.”
It seems a certainty that Cam Collier will raise many more title trophies moving forward, very possibly as early as this summer playing on the PG national tournament circuit. But this 2021 prep title at Mount Paran Christian will always provide an irreplaceable memory.
“It was so special because we were in class working together and then we’re practicing after school; we were together all the time so there was this big bond,” Collier said. “Getting out on the field and winning that state championship it’s all love, and doing it together, it was amazing.”