| Detroit Free Press
Tour the Detroit Tigers’ Dominican Republic academy
Free Press sports writer Anthony Fenech tours the Detroit Tigers’ Dominican Republic academy in March 2020.
Baseball and family are the reasons Detroit Tigers outfield prospect Roberto Campos defected from Cuba as a 13-year-old in 2016. His team won the Punta Cana International Tournament in the Dominican Republic, but Campos didn’t return to his home country.
Campos, the tournament MVP, stayed with his brother in the Dominican Republic. Their father, who left Cuba the year prior, picked them up. Together, they began a new life. Three years later, that decision paid off with a Tigers contract in July 2019 with a $2.85 million signing bonus, which he used to purchase his family’s home in Juan Dolio, about nine miles from the Tigers’ Dominican academy in San Pedro de Macoris.
“This has been a dream,” Campos, now 17, said Thursday. “When you leave a country and get to another one and fulfill your dreams and reach your goals, one of the first things you do is think about the family, everyone that’s supported you since you were a kid to make this dream come true.”
Someday soon — possibly in 2021 — baseball will take Campos from the Dominican Republic to Lakeland, Florida. The Tigers believe Campos, boasting plus-power projections, is on the path to MLB success. When they signed him, he looked the part of a future major-league slugger, considering his height, weight and strength. He is already the team’s No. 20 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
“We’re really excited about what Roberto can start showing on the field once he gets on the field,” Tom Moore, Tigers director of international operations, said earlier this month. “He’s falling into suit. Just anticipate him getting bigger and stronger as he matures.”
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Campos has hit in the Nos. 3-5 spots in the lineup since he was a kid; at one tournament as a 12-year-old, he hit .600 with four home runs — all of them line drives over the fence.
That’s when Campos knew baseball was calling him, so his family began preparing to defect from Cuba. Yet understanding how good he can become forces immense pressure on him. Meeting expectations as an international stud from Cuba isn’t simple.
“We know that we have this burden over our shoulders,” Campos said. “This type of pressure is the same pressure that every professional athlete has. This is the only thing I know I can do, so I’m dealing with it.”
He leans on his family for motivation.
His father, Yuniel, taught Campos about baseball, although he never played professionally. Sure, the budding outfielder has taken tips from many coaches, including former Tigers outfielder Alex Sanchez, but one thing has never wavered — support from his family.
“They have been the engine in my career,” Campos said. “Sometimes, you get down, you feel sad. They are there to lift you up and push you to where you want to be.”
In a year where baseball has been ripped away from Campos and many other prospects because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced academies and leagues to shut down, he found the positive aspect by enjoying his family. Once he gets to the U.S., he won’t be able to spend much time with them.
Still, Campos missed out on what would’ve been his first professional season. He was on track to play in the Dominican Summer League in 2020, but the minors were canceled. Instead, he took at-bats against a few of his friends, focused on hitting to both sides of the field and lifted weights to increase his strength.
His next step, if the Tigers allow him, is to compete in minor-league camp this February in Lakeland, home of the organization’s spring training facility. That’s where Miguel Cabrera — someone Campos describes as synonymous with the Tigers — has played for years in preparation for MLB’s season.
And then, Campos could get his chance in the Florida’s Rookie-level Gulf Coast League during the 2021 season.
“Talking about the Dominican Republic and USA, I heard the league up there is not the same way it is down here,” Campos said. “It’s harder, it’s tougher.
“But (hitting) is what I do. This is the thing I know how to do, so I’ll make adjustments.”