Eric Campbell is one of those guys you root for…he hits, he plays hard and he seems to get by more on perseverance than natural talent. He’s never clubbed more than 10 HRs in a minor league season. He’s only twice hit double digits in stolen bases. However, he does hit. His career minor league average is a healthy .284 buoyed significantly by his last three campaigns in AA and AAA where he finished with averages of .297, .314 and then .355 which, at the ripe old age of 27, finally earned him his trip to The Show.
Of course, as fans painfully saw again and again, Terry Collins does what he does best – taking a red hot AAA hitter, then benching him until he’s lost his hitting groove. It happened to Andrew Brown, Wilmer Flores and of course to Eric Campbell. Still, despite Collins’ best efforts to marginalize the man’s abilities, he finished better than a league average player by hitting .263. During his minor league career he almost evenly split his time between 3B, 1B and the OF. For Collins he played some 1B, some OF and some 3B. The manager even tried him occasionally at 2B and SS, though both were short lived experiments.
It seems every few years a player like Campbell surfaces who seems to have a contact hitting bat and positional versatility that make him a worthy roster addition – until he gets exposed. It happened recently with Josh Satin, Mike Baxter, Vinny Rottino and others. The problem is you get a players who seem to work in short spurts but then when they get more playing time the chinks in the armor become apparent. However, Terry Collins throws in the curveball of benching the players when they are hot and then wondering why they don’t go 5-5 when he finally deigns to insert them into the lineup.
The point of this essay is not to bash Terry Collins, however. There is plenty of time and justifiable fodder for that when the season begins. The question is whether a guy like Eric Campbell can provide enough positives to justify his roster spot.
One disturbing trend that evolved this past season was a high strikeout rate, something not evident on the man’s resume. His high water mark for creating a breeze was just 76 over the course of a full season, yet in less than 200 ABs he whiffed 55 times. Whether it was a matter of pressing as he was trying to work his way into the lineup, rust from having been benched to give ABs to Chris Young, not adjusting to the new level of competition or some combination of all three, the fact remains that the high-contact philosophy espoused by the front office says you need to work the count and make contact. (How you rationalize signing Curtis Granderson and Chris Young given that stance is another matter!)
Right now there’s a bit of a roster crunch for the Mets. Assuming Wilmer Flores is actually handed the SS position, the starting 8 are already identified. Throw in Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Matt den Dekker as outfielders 4 and 5, Anthony Recker and likely Ruben Tejada as backups at Catcher and SS, that leaves 1-2 more bench roles depending on how big a bullpen they plan to have. With a few starting pitchers on innings limits and given Terry Collins’ quick hook it seems a relatively safe bet that they will go with a 12 man staff that includes 7 relievers. That means just one more spot on the bench.
Is it best served by Eric Campbell? Like Tejada, he doesn’t do anything particularly well. He doesn’t have much power, much speed or great defense. If he strikes out at prodigious rates (as does Nieuwenhuis), then does he fit? Again, his strength appears to be versatility – someone who could play 1B or 3B if necessary.
Also, what of Cesar Puello who is still on the 40-man roster and must be put on the big club or cut loose? Is he the next Eric Young, Jr., used primarily as a pinch runner and defensive replacement or does den Dekker get those honors?
As non-tenders occur and new FAs are made available, guys like Gaby Sanchez who mashes lefties (609 ABs, 22 HRs, 95 RBIs, .291 AVG) will likely require just a minor league invitation. I can’t help thinking Eric Campbell’s days may indeed be numbered. He does have right handedness in his favor, but I think his odds of returning to the roster are at best 50-50.