The Next Big Thing

Despite being the youngest player on the Mariners' Short Season squad, Jose Campos has arguably been the best. The young ace gets his last home start of the season tonight, and to celebrate his accomplishments, the AquaSox are honoring him with a tip of the cap to Everett alumnus Felix Hernandez by having a devoted "Campos' Court" cheering section.

Jose Campos came into the season definitely on the prospect radar, but his performance in 2011 has exceeded everyone's expectations. The 2009 signee out of La Guaira, Venezuela leads Seattle's minor league affiliates in ERA (2.37), WHIP (0.98) and opponent's average (.218) in this, his first season playing stateside for the M's. Also on his resume is a seven-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio, 9.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings and a 1.57 ground out to air out figure.

Right-handed hitters have managed just a .497 OPS off of the now 19-year-old, and he has posted a 0.95 ERA and 0.74 WHIP while pitching in his home stadium—Everett Memorial—which is traditionally one of the better hitter's parks in the NWL. He has struck out exactly one-quarter of the batters he's faced in 2011 (70 out of 280) and just two starts ago, Campos threw 6 1/3 perfect innings before allowing a base runner.

He has been doing most of his damage with an overpowering fastball, but Everett pitching Coach Andrew Lorraine says there is more than just the fastball in Campos' talented right arm. "Developmentally, he is pretty close to everyone else we have here; he just has a better arm," he says. "He's still learning it," Lorraine said of the off-speed stuff. "His fastball is obviously there—still quite a weapon. It's just a matter of him learning how to control it. Before he came here, he didn't really work on other things (mechanics, off-speed pitches, etc.) very much, he just threw hard." Part of that is the nature of international prospects, "It's not stressed as much over there. You have to throw hard. It's my job to teach him to pitch."

Lorraine said that Jose is learning the value of repetition, routine, and transferring what he does in practice to the games. Those practices and bullpen seasons are giving Campos, "A good frame, a good base, to go out and compete." He then added, "You gotta figure, he's basically a freshman in college."

As with many foreign-born players that come to Everett, Lorraine pointed out that Campos isn't just dealing with learning about baseball—he is learning a lot of life lessons, too. "He's picked up a lot of things quickly, especially for a first year guy in the states. He's dealing with a lot more things than just getting better as a pitcher. He's dealing with a different culture, dealing with the language—a lot of things that aren't comfortable—these kids are far from home."

"It's fun to watch him compete, start-to-start. But when Pedro Grifol and Bob Engle came through, and to hear them explain how far he's come, that's when it really hit home for me."

For Campos, who said to me, "I always loved baseball. When I was eight years old I said I want to play baseball," the baseball field feels like home. And from the early returns, it looks like he could be there for a while.

SeattleClubhouse offers the scouting report below, with comments from Lorraine, for Jose Campos.

Delivery/Mechanics: Campos uses his frame (6-foot-4 and a solid 195 pounds) well in his delivery. He breaks his hands at the belt and throws from a high three-quarters arm slot which he repeats well. There is no violent or drastic motion in the delivery, and he finishes in good shape to field his position.

Fastball: Campos throws a fastball that has been clocked in the upper-90s at times this season and it regularly sits in the 93-96 range. The pitch has good, late arm-side run and he frequently gets good sink on it as well. This is already a plus pitch, but there is potential for plus-plus here.

Breaking Ball: He throws a curve, but depending on the start, velocity is varied—as high as 82-83 at times, down to 73-74. He is developing better feel for it, but Lorraine says, "He's still learning how to make it work for him. It's definitely going to be a harder curveball."

Changeup: This is the pitch that will determine how good Campos can be. Campos throws a circle change, and while it is still a below average offering now, it does show signs of promise. With his velocity it doesn't need to be fantastic, it just needs to have good separation from the fastball with a consistent delivery. Something that Lorraine said he already has seen improved dramatically. Right now the pitch is about a 40.

Control/Command: Obviously he is showing very good control this season as he has walked just 10 hitters in 12 starts (1.3 BB/9). Some of that can be attributed to his velocity and the level, but typically Campos commands his fastball very well, operating in the lower part of the zone with it. The breaking ball is a work in progress, and Lorraine said, "Sometimes he tries to spin it too much and it ends up a foot outside." All in all, he has the potential for plus control and command.

Subscribers can also read the full Jose Campos interview here

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