Tony Campana is center fielder and leadoff hitter for the Tennessee Smokies in the Southern League. As we approach the end of April, Campana sports the highest batting average (.403) on the winningest team (15-3) in the minor leagues. That he is starting his second full professional season in double A means that the organization has him on a fast track. Double A players are often considered a phone call away from the majors.
Campana stole 66 bases in his “rookie” season at A level in the minors. The major league team that would be on the other end of the phone is notable for its lack of speed on the bases. Of Cub regulars, only Theriot has an interest in stealing bases, and he seems to be getting heavier and stronger, not quicker, as he matures. There is a lot of talent on the Cub bench, more than ever, perhaps, but it is not running talent. There is a fit, then, between the Cubs and Campana. In recent seasons, the Cubs have addressed their need for speed with additions like Pie or Fuld or Gathright. The next time that particular need is addressed, the call will probably go out to Campana–or possibly Brandon Guyer. The absolute least you can say about Campana is that he is on the team’s radar, that he is a prospect.
Something must be wrong, then, with prospect rankings, because I can’t find Campana’s name on any list of Cub prospects. See for yourself on this page of links. Most of the lists have ten, fifteen or twenty names, but one of them (Diamond Futures) ranks 38 Cub prospects and then throws in another 31 as unranked C-level honorable mentions. Campana isn’t in anyone’s top 10, 15 or 20, or even DF’s top 69. What is going on here?
The quick answer is that singles hitters who steal bases often do not rank high in OBP or slugging. Slugging is less of an issue at the top of the order, but why doesn’t Campana grow his OBP by walking more–by being more selective, as it is called? Why doesn’t Juan Pierre draw more walks? For that matter, shouldn’t Lou Brock have walked more?
(The simple answer to why singles hitters who steal aggressively don’t draw walks is that pitchers are not stupid.)
A deeper exploration of the bias against leadoff-type hitters might point to an argument between two influential “parties” in baseball, whom I’ll call the Ins and the Outs. If this sounds political, it is. The Ins are the owners, GMs, managers, coaches and fans, all of whom appreciate a player like Campana and feel he has a role. As I indicated, the Cubs have found Campana to be very promotable. Around the NL, Michael Bourn, Nyger Morgan and Dexter Fowler have similar hitting profiles to Campana and enjoy starting gigs in center field. Willy Taveras was in that group for several years and Juan Pierre just switched leagues.
The Outs are baseball’s counter culture, the gurus, the green eyeshades, the intellectuals, the professors of baseball who use statistics to demonstrate that the plum jobs in the game they love have been handed out to the wrong people. The blogging and prospect-ranking elite are of this group. For whatever reason (and that is another essay), they do not seem to like speed on the bases, defensive prowess, athleticism, tools.
For our purposes, it simply needs to be emphasized that Tony Campana does not merit invisibility, that he is a genuine prospect, someone who has a shot if he continues to crank out singles and steal bases.