The Detroit Tigers rather long history of failure in developing hitters, as well as their lack of success with international free agents, has been discussed often here at Bless You Boys over the last half decade or more. One must look all the way back to 2014, when Eugenio Suarez provided a solid rookie campaign at shortstop in place of the injured Jose Iglesias, to find a notable success. That was the same year the organization dealt a fine teenaged shortstop prospect named Willy Adames to the Tampa Bay Rays in the David Price deal.
We can take a bit of comfort from the fact that the Tigers have at least found talent in the past, even if both players were drafted over a decade ago. The Tigers front office and player development overhaul also included a new Director of Latin Player Devleopment in Euclides Rojas last fall, so it will be interesting to see if that decision pays dividends in the years to come. Currently, and after a long drought, the Tigers again have at least two really appealing position prospects from the international side in shortstop Christian Santana, our seventh ranked Tigers’ prospect, and Cuban outfielder Roberto Campos, who checks in 14th this season.
For now, Santana’s superior contact ability and potential fit as a middle infielder has him on a higher tier than Campos, but if the latter’s bat takes a step forward, we should see a display of power hitting that will send his stock substantially higher.
18-year-old Roberto Campos was treated as top secret by the Tigers until they signed him as a 16-year-old for $2.85 million back in July 2019. Campos was born in Cuba, and his family defected to the Dominican Republic at age 13. Campos made few, if any, appearances at the many good baseball academies and tournaments in the DR, and presumably was set on the Tigers early on. He trained with former MLB player, and former Tiger, Alex Sanchez until signing day.
The first glimpse of Campos in his signing press conference revealed a teenager with a fresh face but a grown man’s body. Standing 6-foot-3 with a well-built frame that still has projection to add even more muscle, Campos already looked the part. Reports also suggest a mentally mature player with some leadership ability and an outgoing personality. Slated to make his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2020, Campos then watched as the start of his career in pro ball was delayed due to COVID. In 2021, he came stateside to play Florida Complex League ball, and did not fail to impress.
The very first swing he took, against the first pitch he saw as a pro, swatted a 400-foot blast over the left field fence. Notice was served. He dealt with some soft tissue injuries that cost him a little playing time, but managed to launch eight homers in 39 games anyway. Overall, a solid start to what could develop into a fine pro career.
While Campos’ developing raw power is his key selling point, he has a fairly well-rounded skillset. He played center field in Florida last summer, and while his speed is just average, he showed off solid athleticism and an average throwing arm on defense. Ultimately, he should profile best as a corner outfielder, with right field a possibility.
Against his first taste of pro pitching, Campos showed a fairly good eye and decent pitch recognition for his age, despite an aggressive approach at the plate. He already packs above average raw power and is expected to top out with plus raw. However, despite the eight home runs, he didn’t make all that much hard contact overall despite solid enough contact numbers. His strikeout rate was 26.5 percent against an 11 percent walk rate, and he showed a pretty good balance of line drives and fly balls versus grounders, all while very rarely popping up. That last bit, despite a very small sample size, and the dangers of taking too much from batted ball marks at that level, is encouraging.
Campos holds his hands high with a slightly spread out stance, standing tall at the plate before working into a little more crouch as a pitcher goes into his motion. His swing still looks like it could use some work. His hands will sometimes work away from his body because of the higher load position, and he can look a little disjointed at times with his top hand getting too involved, too early. Suffice it to say it’s not quite the template for the modern power hitter though there’s no shortage of loft. It’ll be interesting to see if new hitting coordinator Max Gordon and the coaches make some changes this year.
Still, it’s a bit early to be too worried about those issues. It’s a powerful stroke and with some refinement an eventual average hit tool is possible. Despite the swing and aggressive style, he’s pretty capable of staying inside a ball and striping it to right field, and his overall athleticism bodes well for improvement. He’s still just 18 and even in his first exposure to pro pitching he wasn’t overwhelmed by better breaking balls and showed a decent idea of the strike zone. There is time.
FanGraphs puts a future 50 on his hit tool, but acknowledges substantial risk with a lot of development remaining. That risk is somewhat cushioned by the fact that his power won’t require him to necessarily be a good contact hitter at the major league level, just one who can get to his power consistently with the eye to draw his walks and crush mistakes. His solid defensive attributes help give him a reasonably strong floor for a player his age as well. We’re very much looking forward to seeing him progress to the A-ball levels this season.
Projected 2022 team: Low-A Lakeland Flying Tigers
While he didn’t get as many game reps as the Tigers would’ve liked over the past two years, Campos should be ready for his Florida State League full season debut. He signed for the equivalent of a late first round pick in the MLB amateur draft, is clearly talented, and handled himself pretty well in year one. He’ll be able to keep working with the development staff in Lakeland while testing himself against a better class of pitcher. He won’t even turn 19 until June, however, so a nice season of progress there would be plenty. If he’s raking enough to get to West Michigan this summer, great.