Many ballplayers’ time in the minor leagues can feel like an eternity. Not every player is lucky or talented enough to reach the big leagues, let alone to do it quickly. Eric Campbell’s rise through the Mets’ organization has certainly been unconventional. But after an extensive minor league career, the 27-year-old is finding his place in the majors in one of the most valued roles in professional baseball: that of a super utility man.
Born and raised in Norwich, Connecticut, Campbell’s baseball journey began in high school at the Norwich Free Academy. A third baseman on the school’s 2003 state championship team, Campbell was a decorated player and earned an impressive list of accolades. Among these was his selection to Baseball America’s Preseason All-America team and the All-Northeast Region first team, and his receipt of All-Conference and New Haven Register All-State honors. This was all in addition to serving as captain during his senior year, setting his school’s career records for hits, home runs, batting average, stolen bases, runs, walks, and at-bats, and playing three seasons of varsity basketball.
Campbell’s prowess on the baseball diamond caught the attention of Boston College’s then-head coach, Peter Hughes. Hughes offered Campbell a scholarship to come play baseball for the Golden Eagles, and Campbell did not disappoint. As a third baseman and outfielder, he hit .306 with 114 RBIs in three seasons at BC. At this point, several big league clubs had their eyes on him, resulting in his selection by the New York Mets in the eighth round of the 2008 MLB Draft.
Campbell debuted with the Single-A Brooklyn Cyclones in 2008 but showed little promise in his first few seasons in the minors. From 2008 to 2009, the utility man hit just .253 with a .359 slugging percentage in A-ball—although he did post an on-base percentage of over .350 in both years. Campbell’s 2010 season was his first big step forward, as he hit .335 with Port St. Lucie and found himself in Double-A with the Binghamton Mets for the second half of the season. He stagnated in Double-A until 2012, when he broke out with a .297/.391/.439 batting line.
In his age-26 season, Campbell earned a spot with the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s. At that age, he was past the point of being considered a top prospect, and time was not on his side. But Campbell took advantage of his opportunity and tore up the league in 2013 and a chunk of 2014, hitting a combined .326/.437/.490. After six grueling seasons in the minor leagues, Eric Campbell had finally reached his goal and earned a call-up to the New York Mets.
The great thing about Campbell is his versatility and rare ability to play pretty much every position. Some players (e.g., Buster Posey) are forced to abandon these skills when they transition into professional ball. But Campbell has channeled his inner Ben Zobrist and found his place as a super utility man. In his six seasons in the minor leagues, Campbell spent 277 games at first base, 15 games at second, two games at shortstop, 194 games at third, 168 games in left, 42 games in right, and even pitched in one game.
In 2014, his abilities as a "Swiss Army Knife" made him invaluable on the Mets’ bench, as he appeared in 63 games and played every position but pitcher and catcher. To top it all off, Campbell worked out a bit as a catcher in spring training in an attempt to add that position to his arsenal. In an interview with Newsday, Campbell said, "I realized years ago, that was going to be my ticket as a utility guy and if another position needs to be added, I’m all for it."
Despite hitting just .263/.322/.358 in 211 plate appearances with the Mets last year, Campbell provided value as a bench player. His ability to play so many different positions could make him a key piece to the Mets’ 2015 puzzle. After all the hard work he put in to get this far, it would be nice to see Campbell cement his spot in the major leagues.