Billy Eppler cast a wide net this offseason to compile his pitching depth, spending much of his time fishing in waters where former top prospects go to swim. Vicente Campos just might be the most intriguing catch of the season. Signed by the Mariners as a 16 year-old, Campos (at the time known as “Jose”) made a name for himself by dominating low-A ball as an 18 year-old. Armed with a mid-90’s fastball and unusually good command, the Mariners raised eyebrows when they included him along with Michael Pineda in the now-laughable trade for Jesus Montero. He continued to dominate the lower levels of the Yankees system before Tommy John surgery cost him the entirety of his 2014 season.
Campos recovered enough to make 11 starts at high-A in 2015, though struggled to the tune of a 7.05 ERA. His command was still spot-on, walking only two batters per nine innings, though his strikeout rate dropped to 6.25 per nine innings, after averaging roughly a whiff per inning in his first four seasons. He came back strong in 2016, recovering his velocity and earned a promotion to AA, where he maintained a 3.02 ERA to go along with 7.62 K/9, 2.22 BB/9 and only one home run allowed across nine starts. Despite promising results, the Yankees made the curious move of flipping him to Arizona for expensive veteran reliever Tyler Clippard, apparently to absorb some relief innings after cashing in on Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. It was in Arizona where Campos got his first sip of coffee, pitching one game in relief, throwing 5.2 innings while allowing two home runs and two walks, striking out 4 batters.
Despite a modestly successful major league debut, something was off. Scouting reports had his fastball sitting 93-95 MPH in the minors, while the radar gun readings in his big league debut had him sitting around 89 MPH. Shortly after it was announced he had a broken arm and would require surgery, putting him on the shelf for 8 months. It was a fractured ulnar, right below his surgically repaired right elbow. And there’s the rub. If not for his history of injuries, he would very likely be top 5 on this list. If we are being honest, if there were no health concerns, he would probably be fighting for a spot in the D-Backs rotation this spring.
Should Campos make a full recovery, he has a plus fastball, excellent change-up and unwavering command. He has a rich baseball pedigree, being a cousin to former Angel Kelvim Escobar, Alcides Escobar, Edwin Escobar and a nephew of former shortstop Jose Escobar. He is not expected to be ready to pitch until mid-season. For a team with no pitching depth like the Angels, he makes perfect sense as a waiver claim. He is out of options, so any minor league time he sees once he recovers would have to fall under the rehab classification, forcing the team into a decision if he shows he’s healthy. He would be fine out of the pen, though a guy with his injury history would likely benefit from a regular routine. If he does return to form and forces his way into the Angels’ rotation, it could be viewed as the steal of Billy Eppler’s tenure thus far.