Campana's Play Helping Smokies Win

Campana has been on-base machine (STAFF/PAM DAVIS)

One reason why the Tennessee Smokies have maintained a first-place record all season is the play of leadoff man Tony Campana. The speedy centerfielder has been an on-base machine this season, and Smokies manager Bill Dancy calls Campana the team's sparkplug.

As a leadoff hitter, Campana has gotten on base at a .428 clip this season. His .360 batting average through 43 games leads the entire Cubs organization.

Campana is just as much a force to be reckoned with on the bases as he is in the batters box. He stole 66 bases in 84 attempts last season between Class High-A Daytona and Low-A Peoria, and this season he has swiped 14 bags in 21 attempts.

Dancy said that Campana is havoc on opposing teams.

"He's really played well, offensively and defensively," the manager said. "He's really worked the counts as a leadoff hitter. He's bunted well, but the thing that he's done, when he gets long counts, he puts the ball in play. He doesn't get many balls up in the air, its more line drives and balls on the ground where he can use his speed."

Where that speed has really shown is in the outfield.

"He runs balls down in gap that you think would be extra-base hits, but he cuts them off," said Dancy. "He's really played well and he's sort of been that little (sparkplug) for us."

Teammate Ty Wright, who stars opposite of Campana in left, said that Campana's presence in center has given him and Brandon Guyer the opportunity to be more aggressive at the corner spots in the outfield.

"With Campana being in center field, it's really allowed myself and Guyer, who play the corner positions, to take certain chances and play a certain way, knowing that Campana has got our back because he's so quick and so fast and can cover pretty much any amount of ground to get to a ball," Wright said.

With a hit in all but seven of his 41 starts, Campana is enjoying his best season yet. He entered the day Tuesday only four points behind Jacksonville's Osvaldo Martinez for the best average in the Southern League and is in the top five in on-base percentage.

The Cubs drafted Campana from the University of Cincinnati in 2008 in the 13th round. In his first professional game for short-season Class A Boise later that summer, he broke a bone in his left hand sliding into second base and would miss over a month while recuperating from the injury at the Cubs' Spring Training and rehab facilities.

But the left-handed batting outfielder showed his potential at the plate last season by batting .283 in 126 games, even though he was still bothered by the hand injury early on in the season. He walked 39 times and had an on-base percentage of .340.

This season, Campana has been a big reason why the Smokies are the best-hitting team in the Southern League, with a .287 average and in turn, a first-place record.

"I'm a guy that's a scrappy player," Campana said of himself. "I'm not going to hit for a lot of power, but I think I'm going to get my hits and bunt a lot. I might steal some bags and hopefully score a lot of runs because the guys behind me can drive me in."

Campana this season has scored 29 runs. He was recently on base five times in a game against Jacksonville on May 20, going 4-for-4 at the plate with a walk. He scored in a key three-run, seventh-inning rally that helped the Smokies pull away for an 8-4 victory.

But the biggest thing Campana has improved on from last season, he said, is pitch selection. It's shown. After all, he wasn't always a .360 hitter.

"Last year was my first full year and I was so anxious that I swung at pitches out of the zone," he said. "This year, I'm taking more walks and waiting for pitches I can handle."

With his versatile approach at the plate, Campana has been able to spread the ball over the field. He can pull it to right, slap it to left, or just lay down a bunt.

Campana describes himself as "mostly a singles hitter," but he has eight doubles and two triples this season. "I think I have enough ability to get the outfield to respect me (knowing) I can put one in the gap."

Campana's stolen base totals are a bit off pace from the 66 bags he swiped last season, but he says that's a product of pitchers being more aware of the type of threat he poses.

"Because I stole so many last year, everybody knows I'm a guy that wants to run," Campana said. "A lot of pitchers are throwing over every other pitch or side-stepping or stepping out. Mostly, the word is out that I'm going to run."

To that end, being fast is only half the battle for Campana on the bases. He also has to be smart and know when and where to pick his counts to run in.

"I have pretty good instincts," Campana boasted. "I know when a good count to run in is and when a guy is going to throw a breaking ball to where I can go and make it a little easier. And also knowing that when a catcher is really good and a pitcher is quick to the plate, that's just not a good time to run."

The Cubs see that speed, and those instincts, as things that can't be taught.

"Tony has a tool that never slumps – his speed," said Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita. "He has played a great outfield, bunted, and brought excitement to the ballpark every day. He's a fun guy to watch play."

In addition, Campana strives to be a good clubhouse presence as well.

"I try to lead as much as I can off the field and just kind of lead by example: show up every day and go about my business," Campana said. "I think everybody here respects everybody because we're all that way."

Away from the field, Campana is like most ballplayers in that he's occupied with video games. Specifically, he likes to take in some virtual golf swings.

"I play a lot of video games. I do like the golf games, and I played a little golf in high school, so it's something I like to do," he said.

But on game days, it's all business for the 23-year-old outfielder.

"I've gotten off to a real good start. I hope I can keep it going," Campana said. "When we started out with guys like (Starlin) Castro, (Robinson) Chirinos, Wright and (Blake) Lalli, I knew I had to get on base for them to drive me in. That was something that was really important to me."

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