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Ventura, California —— Self-awareness is a rare trait in the baseball world.

Listen to a slugger tell you about his ability to draw walks only to pull up his stats later and find a career 6% walk rate. Talk to a pitcher who says he sits in the low 90s and then watch him touch 85 mph in a game. It’s not just baseball players—we all see ourselves differently than we really are—but when you deal with this sugary-sweet overly optimistic lack of self-awareness again and again, it’s refreshing to come across a ballplayer like Taylor Campos who knows exactly where he fits.

For the Ventura College righty, that fit has come in the back end of the Pirates’ bullpen, where the converted infielder has been flat-out filthy this spring: a 1.64 ERA and 29 strikeouts against just eight walks and ten hits in 22 innings over 14 appearances. Batters are hitting .128 (!) off Campos. He’s whiffing 11.86 of them every nine innings. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Oh, except that Campos is just 5’9”, and 145 lbs.

This is where that self-awareness comes into play, because he’s not the typical closer—and yet he’s using that to his advantage.

“I have a chip on my shoulder,” he told Baseball Census after a recent Ventura College game. “I know I’m a smaller guy, and when I face bigger guys in the lineup, I know they look at me and say, ‘oh, this kid is 5’9″ and 145 lbs., it’s time to go to pound town.’”

Campos paused, and grinned.

“And then I go up there and make them look stupid.”



That’s the thing about Taylor Campos.

He’s self-aware enough to understand he’s a small ballplayer with an underwhelming fastball—the combination of which typically spells death at the college level—and yet he’s learned to work around those limitations and miss bats without lighting up a radar gun. It’s made him the best relief pitcher on an exceptional pitching staff this spring; if we’ve seen Jackson Hickert as the up-and-coming, unpolished-but-projectable bullpen arm on this Ventura College team, then Campos is the finished product towards which Hickert is aiming.

Baseball Census looked at it a bit in our video scouting report on the Ventura College righty last month, but Campos survives in the Pirates’ bullpen with two great pitches: a very tight, hard slider, and an absolutely unfair splitter. There’s no other way to describe his split-fingered fastball; it falls off the table about five feet in front of home plate, producing some truly laughable swings from poor hitters who thought, as Campos put it, that they were going to ‘pound town.’

It helps that he learned the pitch from the game’s best.

Well, sort of.

“I actually learned the splitter from watching Koji Uehara on TV one day,” he said. “I started playing catch with it, and it was moving a lot, and I went, ‘hey coach, let me get on the bump.’ It was moving there too, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to go from here.’ It’s just a freak thing, but here it is, and here I am now.”

It’s not everyday that a player picks up a go-to wipeout pitch from watching a big leaguer do it on TV. Big leaguers are big leaguers for a reason, after all: they can do things you cannot, and when you try to go in the backyard and throw a Clayton Kershaw curve, or a Koji Uehara splitter, or a Jon Gray fastball, you end up breaking a window or throwing out your shoulder.

It’s doubly impressive Taylor Campos did this considering his position player roots; he’s an infielder by trade, and has 28 at-bats this spring so far for Ventura College. He’s hit just .214/.389/.250 in those at-bats, though, so maybe the mound is fast becoming the right place for him. Ask him about that splitter, and you get a guy who’s already thinking like a pitcher, too.

“I really make sure that I have my fastball hand speed, and just locate it over the middle of the plate and see what it does,” Campos said, grinning like a little kid with a secret who knows you won’t get it out of him. “I just try to throw it like my fastball, take the same motion, the same everything, and just execute it. Hope for the best.”



What does the future hold for a guy like Taylor Campos?

It’s difficult to imagine a scout ever going to his cross-checker with a report on a 5’9” right-handed pitcher who tops out in the upper-80s, and yet Campos’ off-speed feel is better than most of the low minors arms I just finished watching on the Cactus League backfields. Division I baseball, too, has become a haven for high-velocity, high-projection arms, and so you wonder whether a big-time four-year coach will take a chance on a kid five or six inches shorter than an ideal closer for that level.

It makes me question my sanity a little bit to watch Taylor Campos pitch. Is everyone else seeing what I’m seeing? Don’t you get what this kid could become? Give him a year or two, let him add a couple miles per hour, and he’ll be beyond lights out—can’t anyone else see that?

Maybe it doesn’t matter whether scouts or coaches can see it, because Campos sees it. There’s that self-awareness again, mixed with a little bit of self-assuredness that you need to throw in late innings: he knows exactly what he needs to do next, and he realizes the future of his career on the mound hinges on it.

“I’m really trying to get bigger and stronger, and hopefully I can get my fastball up there to 90 or 92,” Campos said. “I’ve seen the velocity increase a little bit already, early on in the year I was 84-86, and now I’m more 86-88, so that’s helped. But that will come. I’m really trying to make sure that I have good mechanics all the time. If I can repeat my mechanics every pitch, and work on location, that will help me. I need to locate pitches now, and then I can work on throwing harder if it’s not going to happen for a while.”



Talk to a minor league pitcher that’s seen a velocity bump and that’s the first thing they mention. I smoothed my mechanics out. The organization got me more efficient in my mechanics.

Long toss matters, the weight room is critical, arm care and proper nutrition and flexibility and weighted balls and all that other stuff is crucial—and Campos needs to do it all if he’s to have a future in this game—but mechanics really matter. Velocity increases really only come, and stick, when tied to optimal mechanics and total intent. Taylor Campos already has the intent; he even has a decent mechanical look to him now, with the clean, short arm-action you’d expect from an infielder. But if he can find consistency there, he’ll quickly see himself working up in the 90-92 mph range.

And yet for him to be self-aware enough to realize it’s more important to find a release point that it is trying to blindly light up a radar gun to catch a scout’s attention? Don’t look now, but the infielder with the TV splitter is becoming a full-fledged pitcher.

“I know I’m not exactly the biggest guy, so the fastball has to get harder,” he conceded at the end of our conversation. “But I like to work off it because I know hitters are sitting on a splitter a lot of times, and I can sneak a fastball by in those sequences. They work off each other.”

Man, Taylor Campos is going to be a sight to see in another couple years.


To read our scouting report on Ventura College RHP Taylor Campos, please click here.

To visit Taylor Campos’ Baseball Census player profile page, please click here.


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In this Taylor Campos Ventura College feature:

Western State Conference | Ventura College | Cuesta College | Moorpark College | Taylor Campos | Jackson Hickert

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Bobby DeMuro

Bobby DeMuro is the founder of Baseball Census. A former college and independent league baseball player, he now watches more than 200 games a year working full time for the site. You can follow him on Twitter @BobbyDeMuro for more.

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