Tony Campana will never be confused with Prince Fielder. As a matter of fact, outside of being left-handed hitters, the two couldn’t more different. For Cubs fans who dreamed of having Fielder in their lineup, that isn’t exactly a good thing.
Why compare a diminutive spare outfielder to a behemoth free agent who was a long shot to come to Chicago in the first place? Because — despite the hiring of Theo Epstein — that is who the Cubs are right now. Campana doesn’t hit home runs, and you won’t see Epstein swinging for the fences any time soon.
Theo is smart enough to know that quick fixes aren’t what the Cubs need. His plan is to build from the ground up — you might want to caution your youngster not to get too attached to that Matt Garza poster hanging in his or her bedroom — which brings us back to Campana.
You aren’t going build a team around a soon-to-be-26-year-old player whose only above-average tool is speed — even if it’s blinding speed. Campana can flat-out fly — a scout queried for this article called him an 80 runner — but he also has just one home run in more than 1,400 professional plate appearances, and it was of the inside-the-park variety. At 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, Campana could fit neatly into Fielder‘s back pocket — a pocket loaded with $214 million, money the Cubs would have been unwise to invest in one player given their current circumstances.
Called up last year in mid-May, Campana hit .259/.303/.301 in 155 plate appearances, and je stole 24 bases in 26 attempts. During parts of four minor-league seasons he hit .303/.359/.353, with 144 steals. He has value, but it‘s limited.
According to the scout, Campana “has a chance to be better than a 4A guy, but he will have a tough time sticking as a true fourth outfielder for a championship club.”
In other words, Campana is indicative of the current state of Epstein’s Cubs. He’s not a bad player — given a full-time job, maybe he’s Juan Pierre — but he’s also a stopgap until the team can be rebuilt. That’s going to take time, and whether the fans like it or not, 2012 won’t be about home runs. It will be about long-term planning, and guys like Tony Campana.
Campana recently shared his thoughts on the arrival of Epstein, his role on the team, and what it takes to win at Wrigley Field.
Campana on Epstein: “Theo is making us a little younger, and at the same time, he’s trying to bring in more of a winning culture. He’s bringing in guys who are high energy. All of the old Chicago Cubs losing is something he’s throwing out the back door. It’s a new age in Chicago now.
“Theo is a big-name guy — he’s almost like a rock star — who turned things around in Boston. Everybody knows what he can do. Everybody says that winning is a lot easier when you have Theo Epstein on your side. I think the culture is definitely changing, and a lot of that has to do with him. When he got here, everybody got really excited.”
On his role going into the season: “As a player, you go out there and try to show everybody what you can do, and Theo has made it where there is going to be competition at every position. That’s what you want. You want to compete for a job.
“We brought in Dale Sveum as our new manager, and he’s a guy who likes to play small ball. He knows that the team we have is going to have to play small ball, because we’re not going to hit a whole lot of home runs. That fits in perfectly with me, because I’m definitely not going to hit a lot of home runs. I can steal bags, though. I can bunt and play defense.
“If you look at our team last year, we made a lot of errors; we made more errors than any team in the major leagues. I think you have to put a focus on defense, in the outfield and definitely up the middle. Not concentrating on defense will definitely lose you some games.”
On Wrigley Field: “We pack the house every day. We also have the day game thing, which makes it a little more fun. It’s like a little outdoor bar. The fans are loud. They’re going to cheer you when you’re doing good, and they’re going to boo you when you’re doing bad.
“I think that Wrigley is actually kind of a horrible hitter’s park. I bet that on seven days out of ten, the wind is blowing in. When the wind is blowing out, it’s unbelievable. You can hit a home run on a pop fly. But most of the time the wind is blowing in, so you have to keep the ball out of the air. I think it’s a ballpark more conducive to the speed game.
“You have to get guys who fit your ballpark, not just big boppers. [The Cubs] went out and got Alfonso Soriano, who the year before had stolen close to 50 bags, but he hasn’t done that since. You have to get some guys who can steal some bags and run a little bit; guys who can play defense and do all the little things right. You can’t just have guys trying to hit home runs.”