Cubs’ power-challenged Tony Campana not so dismissible now
By GORDON WITTENMYER email@example.com May 2, 2012 9:48PM
Chicago Cubs' Tony Campana follows through on a sacrifice bunt down in the first inning of a baseball game against St. Louis Cardinals in Chicago on Tuesday, April 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Cherney)
Updated: June 4, 2012 11:51AM
CINCINNATI — Tony Campana has fought the perceptions almost as long as he’s played the game.
Too small. Too slight. No power. No chance.
‘‘I’ve never had power, so everybody wondered if I’d drive the ball enough to even make it through the minor leagues,’’ said the speedy outfielder, who delivered a fourth infield hit Wednesday in barely a week back in the big leagues.
‘‘Then everybody’s kind of been, ‘Well, he’s hit enough, let’s see what he can do.’ And I’ve done OK.’’
OK enough to become a force in the Cubs’ lineup since his recall from Class AAA Iowa after the April 21 trade of Marlon Byrd. OK enough to get his manager to pledge ‘‘80 percent’’ of the starts in center to him until further notice.
OK enough that the Cubs are 4-3 in the games he starts, including Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds, and 6-4 since he rejoined the roster — after a 3-11 start.
Even better than OK: He’s starting to be taken seriously as a potential big-league regular, maybe even with a chance to stick alongside top outfield prospect Brett Jackson when the new bosses’ vision of a homegrown lineup is realized.
‘‘That’s what I want to do. Nobody wants to be a role player,’’ Campana said. ‘‘Everybody kind of dreams that since they’re kids, to start. I’m no different. But I think I can be a guy that can help either way, too.’’
Campana, 25, doesn’t see why he and Jackson couldn’t be in the same outfield — they’ve done it the last few years in the minors, with each capable of playing all three spots.
‘‘We’ve gotten to play with each other for a long time,’’ Campana said. ‘‘So we kind of know how to play with each other.’’
Said manager Dale Sveum: ‘‘As long as he hits, he can be an everyday player in the big leagues. As long as he can get on base, he’ll be an impact-type guy with that kind of speed.’’
In fact, he already has seven stolen bases in barely a week since his recall. In the four-game series against the Philadelphia Phillies over the weekend, he reached base six times and scored each time, stealing four bases along the way.
And getting the ball out of the infield just twice.
‘‘Everybody gets on me for not ever hitting extra-base hits,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m like, ‘Well, every time I get on base, it’s pretty much a double anyway, because I’m going to get on second.’’
If Campana can establish himself, and guys such as Jackson and slugging prospect Anthony Rizzo do what most believe they can, another specific Cubs vision could become reality: A lineup filled with diverse, productive lefty hitters.
‘‘That’s invaluable,’’ said Sveum, a former switch-hitting shortstop. ‘‘A lot of teams you see that score a lot of runs, especially if they’re not big power-hitting teams, have [a lot of lefties]. It just wears the pitcher out.
‘‘There’s no quick outs with left-handed hitters. . . . It’s a lot more difficult to get left-handed hitters out. They’re just more patient. When the ball’s coming into you, it’s a lot easier at-bat; it’s a lot tougher at-bat for the pitcher.’’