His teammates tried to kid Derek Campbell that his sixth-inning home run Sunday just barely cleared the left-field fence at Bowman Field, a point he couldn’t really argue.
But even to get the ball just over the 13-foot high fence some 345 feet from home plate, a player has to hit the ball nearly 370 feet. And whether it went 370 feet or 470 feet, it still counted as a home run, the first of Campbell’s professional career.
“It still counts,” the Williamsport Crosscutters’ second baseman said. “I’ll take it.”
The homer finished up a 3 for 3 day for Campbell in which all three hits went for extra bases. It helped back a stellar effort from starting pitcher Preston Packrall as the Cutters managed a split of their four-game series with Auburn with a 4-1 win in front of nearly 2,800 fans.
It took Campbell about a week to get adjusted to pro baseball when he was assigned to Williamsport after being selected in the 20th round out of California in last month’s draft. The pitching patterns, even in the New York-Penn League, are much different than the ones he saw with the Golden Bears.
There’s not as much junk being thrown to the plate, and far more fastballs at higher velocity have come his way. The change took its toll. A week into his pro career, Campbell was hitting just .130. But even as he was struggling, Williamsport manager Shawn Williams saw something in the Swiss Army Knife of a player and stuck with him.
Campbell’s day Sunday was part of the reward the 23-year old has given to his manager for sticking with him. Since June 23, when Campbell started the day with a .130 average, he’s been one of the best hitters in short-season minor league ball.
His .419 batting average during that 11-game stretch is fifth-best in the New York-Penn League, and ninth-best among all Class A short-season teams. His eight extra-base hits during that time are second-best in the NYPL.
“He plays the game the right way. He plays 100 percent. He gives you everything he’s got every night,” Williams said. “It’s fun to watch, especially when he’s successful. But even when he doesn’t get any hits, he’s a catalyst. He gets the team going.”
He’s such a facilitator for the Cutters’ offense that when Cord Sandberg was away from the team for two days this weekend, Williams had no problem plugging Campbell into the leadoff spot for both games of Friday’s doubleheader.
Sunday he was right back into the sixth spot in the lineup, and he was still being a catalyst. He led off both the second and fourth innings with doubles, the first a ringing shot to the left-center field gap, and the second down the left-field line. He was stranded at third each time as Williamsport went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, finishing the series 4 for 35 with runners in scoring position.
With one out in the sixth inning, Campbell hit the first pitch he saw from Auburn reliever Deion Williams down the left-field line for his first professional home run. Campbell hit seven home runs for Cal this spring, and 22 of his 50 hits with the Golden Bears went for extra bases.
So he’s definitely capable of driving the ball. His two doubles yesterday lifted his total with the Cutters to eight, the second-best total in the NYPL.
Campbell said he wanted to improve upon batting average and on-base percentage numbers from his college season he wasn’t particularly thrilled with. In turn, it’s got him being more selective at the plate and getting better pitches to drive.
“I think the power will come more when I focus on changing those two things,” Campbell said. “I’m seeing the ball and trusting my swing.”
“He’ll show that power in BP, too. He’ll pop a few out,” Williams said. “He’s just got that really short, compact swing. He just puts together good at-bats.”
Campbell’s homer helped build upon a lead which started with a Rhys Hoskins RBI double in the first inning on a pop-up which fell into the Bermuda Triangle of fielders in shallow right-center field. Two innings later, Jiandido Tromp blasted his sixth home run of the year, a two-run shot, to left-center.
Tromp is now alone in second place in the NYPL in home runs, five behind State College’s Rowan Wick, who already has 11.
It all backed the best outing of Packrall’s young career. The five innings thrown by the 24th-round pick out of the University of Tampa were a season high. Packrall started the season as a reliever, but has been in the starting rotation since Ricardo Pinto went down with an elbow issue during his second start.
Packrall allowed just two hits and one run over his five innings. He faced just two batters over the minimum and struck out three. Thirty-seven of his 60 pitches went for strikes.
“I felt a little more comfortable tonight,” Packrall said. “I felt a little more in control. It’s big when you try to get ahead and can throw strikes early in the count.”
But Packrall did more damage to Auburn’s offense when he fell behind in the count as he did when he threw strike one. The Doubledays were 1 for 9 when Packrall got ahead in the count, and 1 for 7 with a walk when he fell behind.
He used his change-up often behind in the count to induce some soft contact to his infield. He recorded eight of his 15 outs on the ground.
“The most important pitch you can throw is strike one. It’s something we preach around here,” Packrall said. “But when you get behind in the count, it’s important to me to make the next pitch a strike. It’s definitely something I was able to do.”
“He can throw anything for a strike and he’s not scared to throw a sinker right down the middle and say, ‘Here you go, roll it over to second,'” Williams said. “He believes in his stuff and that’s the most important thing.”