Better Know a Cub: Tony Campana

Tony Campana is wholly unlike any other Cub in recent memory. Campana is incredibly fast, maybe on the 5 fastest players in baseball (including the minors). To give some perspective, Campana stole 30 bases last year; he only drew 38 starts, and stole 21 bases during those games. If we eliminate the 9 SBs he had from pinch running and give Campana 150 starts in center, we’d expect him to steal right at 82 bases in a season. The league leader last season has 49.

It’s not like Campana just attempts a bunch of stolen bases and gets caught a bunch, either. He only got caught 3 times last year. He’s 54/5 in his MLB career, a skill he’s refined since the minors (where he was a pedestrian 162/49). His stolen bases are a real asset (anything over 73% is a positive, as a general rule), and  add a perverse type of slugging to his skill set.

Unfortunately killer speed (I’d say Billy Hamilton, Jarrod Dyson, and Rajai Davis are faster – Trout is a push) is Campana’s only real asset. He’s got no arm in center, and no feel for the outfield anyway. For someone as fast as Tony is, he sure doesn’t have the greatest range in center. He has poor instincts masked by his incredible foot speed, making him a below-average fielder (albeit one with a huge capability to grow). He’s also the weakest player in recent memory: the only way he’ll ever hit a home run is if it’s inside-the-park. I’m not sure he’ll ever hit a ball to the warning track, to be honest.

He also doesn’t really get on base. Since Campana is never going to hit more than singles and the occasional double/triple down the line, batting average is especially useless in his case. Campana isn’t driving in anyone, and he’s ending up at 2nd no matter how he gets on base. Thus, OBP is literally the only slash I care about in Campana’s case (and I truly couldn’t tell you what his BA or SLG are, even in the ballpark). His minor league OBP is .356 and his major league OBP is .306. That’s not going to cut it, even for him.

Offense

Campana has to maximize his one strength, his other-worldly speed. As such, I’m only going to focus on ways he could improve in this area.

For one, Campana doesn’t see nearly enough pitches. That’s hard to change, however; since he has no power, pitchers are going to work him in the zone all day. Campana sees 53.6% of his pitches in the zone (league average last year was 49.3%), and that’s a trend that will continue. The absolutely crazy part about that, though, is that Campana swings at bad pitches anyway (36.3% of pitches outside of zone, way higher than the 29.0% average). He is so toothless at the plate that pitchers know he’ll swing at anything and throw him strikes anyway. He’ll have to maintain pretty high contact rates to grind out ABs, and just look for mistakes he can do something with (which will come few and far between considering no pitcher fears Tony Campana)

Campana’s utter lack of power means he can only bat #1, #2, #7, or #8. His speed is wasted on the #8 hole; you usually want a fast guy, but that’s because you want him to get bunted over to second by the pitcher and knocked in by #1 or #2 and Campana will be standing on 2nd when the pitcher squares up to bunt anyways. It’s not a waste, of course (Campana will be on 3rd more often, scoring on sac flies basically anywhere), but not completely optimal. Campana strikes out too much and doesn’t put the ball in the outfield enough to bat #2, so he’s relegated to a leadoff position of a bottom of the order type. He doesn’t see enough pitches or get on base enough to bat leadoff, so I’d imagine that Campana will only ever see time at the very bottom of an order.

Defense

Campana does not have great instincts for centerfield, often taking terrible lines to the ball and just plain misjudging distances. He also has no cannon to speak of, so the corners are generally out. Campana does, however, have incredible speed, so with some coaching I see no reason why he couldn’t be a very good defensive fielder in a few years (for a few years).

Summary

When you only have one tool, you’ve got to make sure it’s a good one. Campana does. If he never figures it out as a hitter, Tony still has a place on a major league team as a 5th OF/pinch runner. That doesn’t provide a lot of value to the Cubs, but it also doesn’t come at any real cost. If you could get anything in value for Campana, you’d be a fool not to trade him, but at the modest price he commands, I wouldn’t hate keeping him for a while.

Now, if he could just perfect the art of beating a ball into the ground so it pops up really high…

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