Once a promising pitcher that was on a lot of people’s radar in the minor leagues when he was traded to the Yankees from the Mariners when he was just a teenager, Jose Campos’ career had been riddled with a nagging elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery in 2014.
Standing at an impressive 6’3” and 230 lbs., Campos shook off the Tommy John surgery rust last year and it wasn't very pretty, posting a 3-8 record and 6.29 ERA over three minor league levels.
He has bounced back in a big way this season though. In eleven starts this year [ten of which were in high-A Tampa], the 23-year old native from Venezuela sports a 4-2 record, 3.32 ERA, and 62 strikeouts in 65 innings.
Hfinally got his big break when he got moved up to the Trenton Thunder on June 1 and pitched in his first Double-A game the following day against Hartford. While he got into some trouble at various points in the game, getting into jams in the first and second innings, his final stat line was still pretty good, all things considered: 5.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 6 SO and 4 BB.
Thunder manager Bobby Mitchell said that he was impressed with how Campos threw in his Trenton Thunder debut and hopes that he continues to do well in the future.
“He threw really well [in his first Trenton start]," Mitchell said. "He throws hard and has a good command of his pitches. I was pleased with the way he threw. He kept us in the game and we expect good things out of him.”
Campos had Tommy John surgery in 2014, and in his first year back from surgery in 2015, his stuff was far from polished. The big question surrounding Campos is if he’s healthy and back to his old form.
According to Campos, he feels like he is back to 100 percent and playing his best baseball. It’s hard to argue that considering that he has a 1.04 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in his last four starts while striking out 25 in 26 innings pitched. He’s also pitched 100 pitches in two different starts this year.
“[Health-wise], I’m feeling good, thanks to God,” Campos said. “My body has been responding well. I feel like my arm is back to 100 percent. It’s all thanks to the work that I’ve been doing throughout this year.
"I think I’m pitching my best right now. Thanks to God, I’ve been working with the pitching coach [and] I think I’ve made the small, but necessary adjustments and I’ve been reaping the benefits.”
Campos said that he has been working on strengthening his pitches and his arm and has gotten his fastball up to 95 mph. He also sports a changeup and curveball, both pitches that pitching coach Jose Rosado said are very good. According to Rosado, Campos still needs to keep working on his fastball command though, something that Rosado preaches to his entire pitching staff.
“He just needs to keep commanding on his fastballs,” Rosado said. “He’s got a great curveball, great changeup and he can do it behind in the counts and that’s a plus for us. I think the fastball command is the most important thing to work on, not only to Campos, but to everyone.”
According to Mitchell, Campos is a welcome addition to the clubhouse as he brings intensity on the mound and is a good presence on the team.
“He’s a competitor and a great teammate,” Mitchell said. “He’s kind of a quiet and unassuming guy, but when he’s on the mound, he’s a tiger. You love to see those guys that can compete on the mound, especially in his first outing for us.”
But for many people, it’s hard to erase the many injury riddled years and underwhelming numbers. His health has been a big sticking point for the organization, but they still trust in Campos’ potential and believe that he will overcome this and be an asset to the Yankees long-term.
Rosado said that the plan right now is just to make sure he stays healthy and is aware of how good Campos can be.
“Campos has a great arm and pitch-ability,” Rosado said. “He can pitch behind in the count and he can be aggressive. He’s a guy that doesn’t surprise me with what he has been doing this year.
"I know that his arm is feeling good and I think it’s all about health for him. He knows how to pitch. He’s been able to pitch in the Venezuelan league. He’s been facing hitters with more experience than the ones in Double-A. So it’s more about his health than anything at this point.”
When asked about how he felt being with the Thunder, Campos responded positively and felt even better after his first start.
“I’m feeling really happy right now, since it is my first year playing in Double-A,” Campos said. “I felt great after that first start and I’m hoping it keeps getting better.”