SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — After the Chicago Cubs designated outfielder Tony Campana for assignment on Feb. 10, he wasn’t sure where he’d go next or how he’d stay sharp — he ended up utilizing a local gym and a public batting cage.
Now with the Diamondbacks following his trade to the team Monday, Campana still faces some uncertainty, but he’s pleased to at least have a new professional home.
“It was a feeling I didn’t really like,” Campana said Tuesday. “You don’t really know what’s going to happen to you. It was a stressful week.
“I heard that it was going to happen (Monday), didn’t know who, so I got the phone call and found out it was the D-backs, and now I’m here. I’m excited about it.”
Campana, 26, said he pretty much knew his days with the Cubs were numbered when he heard they had agreed to terms with free agent outfielder Scott Hairston. The Cubs already had a logjam of outfielders, and someone had to go. It turned out to be Campana, who had spent five seasons in the organization.
“It was kind of sad news,” Campana said. “It’s tough leaving the team you were drafted with and came up with, had my first major league experience with.”
When the Cubs gave Campana his walking papers, he could no longer work out at their facilities in Mesa. Knowing he needed to keep preparing, Campana found a local 24-Hour Fitness and began paying a daily rate. He then sought out a public batting cage where he could pay to hit in half-hour increments.
“It was so weird,” Campana said. “I actually had my fiancé feeding the ball through the pitching machine.”
With circumstances like that, it’s easy to understand why learning he had a new home Monday was a huge relief. He had a place to hit again, a place to lift, a locker in a major-league clubhouse and a number on his back.
But Campana’s role in the D-backs organization remains uncertain. Best known for his speed, he could serve as a weapon off the bench. He could begin the year as an insurance policy in Triple-A. Or his arrival could signal more moves in the works.
“He gives us more depth No.1,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “He’s a guy with major league experience, and he can fly.
“He just got here, so we’ll just sit here and watch him play just like every other player.”
It seems most likely Campana will being the season with Triple-A Reno, but if the D-backs figure out how to find a place on the major-league roster, Campana could be a unique asset.
He contends he could win a footrace against any player in the league. There may be no way to prove that, but Campana’s numbers back up his repuation.
In two seasons of major league service, Campana has successfully stolen 54 bases in 59 attempts. That’s an extraordinary 91.5 percent success rate, highest of any player with 50 stolen bases or more in that period. And according to FanGraphs, Campana ranks second in the majors over the past two season for weighted stolen bases (which measures runs a player adds for his team by stealing a base) despite averaging more than a thousand fewer plate appearances than the rest of the top 10.
Campana also stacks up well defensively, but the problem is whether the D-backs have room for a speed-and-defense outfielder. Campana doesn’t bring much offensively, posting a .306 on-base percentage and .605 OPS in 184 major league games, so the D-backs might like him as organizational depth and a September/October callup.
“Even if he doesn’t break with us to start the season, he’s a nice option to have down (in the minors) if somebody goes on the (disabled list),” general manager Kevin Towers said. “If anything, when you expand the rosters in September, it’s a nice weapon to have offensively.”
Gibson cited starting pitcher Wade Miley making the Opening Day roster last season as an example of how players can surprise in spring training.
“As we piece our team together, we’ll put 25 guys together that we think is the best way to go,” Gibson said. “As the season goes on, we’re always evaluating, re-evaluating, and injuries and those sort of things always happen.”
Campana knows he has to go out and win a major league job. He might get some extra chances with Gerrardo Parra playing for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. Wherever he ends up come Opening Day, Campana is just happy to have landed with another team.
“It’s a lot of weight off my shoulders, so now is just the fun part where I get to go out and play,” Campana said. “Being with (former Cubs and current D-backs broadcaster) Bob Brenly over in Chicago, he always talked about what a good organization they had over here, so I’m excited to finally be a part of it.”