In three weeks, Major League rosters will expand from 25 players to 40, giving baseball’s top prospects a chance to be a part of a contending team’s post-season push.
Perhaps a date on every prospect’s calendar, the September call-ups are an opportunity for players who are right on the cusp between the Major and Minor League level.
This is no exception for outfielder Tony Campana.
Despite spending most of his career in the Minors, Campana is no stranger to the big leagues. In 2011, he made his Major League debut with the Cubs, playing 184 games with Chicago before being traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Campana’s tools have always been emphasized by his blistering speed and reliable defense, but inconsistent offense has kept him from excelling in the Major League.
“I’ve always had cockiness about how I can run,” says Campana. “But I’m always trying to get better offensively at the plate. Whether it’s getting hit by a pitch, walking, or getting a base hit. I have to score as many runs as possible.
”Campana’s entrance into professional baseball was anything but ordinary. He battled Hodgkin’s Lymphoma as a child, was undersized, and had no collegiate offers.
Nevertheless, Campana stood out as a walk-on at UNC-Asheville. There, he batted .319 and tied the school’s 18-game hit streak record.
After two years at UNC, however, he transferred to the University of Cincinnati where he holds school records for stolen bases in a career (104), season (60) and single game (6).
In 2008, Campana was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 13 round of the Major League Baseball draft.
“When you’re a senior in college, all you want is to get a phone call a see if you have a chance to play professionally,” Campana said. “When I finally got the call from the Cubs in the 13th round, I actually lit up a cigar and celebrated with dad.”
Last year, Campana batted .293 with 18 extra base hits and 32 steals with the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite a less than stellar year for the Aces, who finished last in their division in the Pacific Coast League, Campana excelled.
“I’m always trying to get better defensively and on the bases,” Campana said. “But I’m pretty good there. I think offense is really the only thing holding me back from being there all the time. I just have to find ways to get on base.”
Up until July, Campana was batting .288 with 9 extra base hits and 8 stolen bases in Reno. On July 4th, he was traded to the Los Angeles Angels with pitcher Joe Thatcher, and designated to their Triple-A affiliate, the Salt Lake Bees.
“It was kind of out of the blue and I didn’t really see it coming,” said Campana. “It was on the 4th of July when the manager in Reno told me. He called me in and told me I was traded, and that I was leaving the next day. I got to Salt Lake and didn’t really know anybody other than Ian Stewart. I played with him in Chicago’s organization. It’s a good group of guys here. I just come here and want to make a good first impression.”
Since the trade, Campana has been productive as the Bees’ leadoff batter, hitting .280. A steady batting average with 4 steals and .315 OBP over the past month has put him in contention to be apart of the Angels roster when they expand on September 1st.
“It’s never a sure thing, but any chance you get to get up there is exciting,” says Campana. “Especially with the Angels, they’re in a playoff push right now. So if I get to go up there and be apart of that in September, that makes it more special.”
At the moment, the Angels hold the top wild card spot in the American League. Despite a recent skid, they remain only a handful of games behind baseball’s top team, the Oakland A’s, in the West.
“The ultimate goal is to win a World Series,” said Campana. “If I get up there in September and make the playoff roster that would be a dream come true. Then, you just hope to help the team any way you can to win a World Series. It’s the ultimate goal every year.”
Campana would give the Angels a much-needed boost on the base paths, where they rank 20th overall in steals. Mike Trout, Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick lead the team with 12 a piece, while Kole Calhoun is next with 4; a considerable drop-off. Only time will tell if the Angels will make room for the speedy Campana this season or next.