Padres Prospect Luis Campusano Grows Into Offensive Force

Image credit: Luis Campusano (Photo by Bill Mitchell)

RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. — The Padres made Luis Campusano the first catcher selected in the 2017 draft because of the strength of his all-around game.

He spent his first full season in 2018 primarily showcasing his defense. Now, in year two, he is showing his offensive promise.

Campusano had three hits for the second consecutive game Thursday night, lifting high Class A Lake Elsinore (Padres) to a 14-8 victory over Rancho Cucamonga (Dodgers).

Campusano, the Padres’ No. 19 prospect, raised his batting average to .323 to move into the lead in the California League batting title race. He began the day trailing Lancaster (Rockies) outfielder Matt Hearn, but Hearn went 0-for-3 to cede the lead to Campusano.

“I’m feeling very comfortable when I’m in the box right now,” said Campusano, 20. “Knowing I can play both sides of the ball is really good for me. My priority is always going to be defense, but I’m just doing what I can to help my team win, whether that’s call a good game or drive in some runs.”

Campusano’s presence on Cal League leaderboards goes beyond his batting average. He ranks second with a .400 on-base percentage, is fourth with a .495 slugging percentage and is tied for fourth with 15 doubles. His .895 OPS ranks second in the league.

For anyone to be so prominent on a league leaderboard is impressive. For a catcher to do it, and one who is nearly three years younger than the league average, invites another adjective.

“He’s really special,” Lake Elsinore hitting coach Doug Banks said. “He does some special things. There’s things he can do because he’s just so talented. For him to do what he’s doing at his position, catching, being as young as he is, it really is incredible.”

Campusano, the Padres’ second-round pick in 2017 out of Cross Creek (Ga.) High, has shown patience and contact ability before. He hit .288 with a .345 on-base percentage last year at low Class A Fort Wayne before a foul ball of his mask resulted in a season-ending concussion in July.

What’s different this season is Campusano’s power. He slugged just .366 last season with 14 extra-base hits in 70 games. This year, he’s slugging more than 100 points higher and has already doubled his home run total from last season.

“It’s just my position to hit,” Campusano said. “Last year, I had a toe tap and my hands and my body were together, there was no separation. I got rid of my toe tap and the result is just being in a better position to hit and being able to launch balls a little bit more.”

While Campusano’s exit velocities have always been loud, the result in previous years was most often a hard grounder.

Not anymore. On Wednesday night, Campusano finished 3-for-4 with a double, a walk and three RBI. Most notably, he put the ball in the air each at-bat.

Campusano opened the scoring with a sacrifice fly in the first inning and lined out hard to center field in his second at-bat. He followed with a hit in three consecutive innings to help Lake Elsinore bust the game open. He lined a hard single off the pitcher in the fifth inning, ripped an RBI double to center in the sixth inning and stroked a single over the second baseman into right field in the seventh.

Five contacts, zero ground balls.

“That was one of the things we talked about back at the start of instructs, just wanting to get some balls more put into the air with some backspin,” Banks said. “We looked at some numbers and obviously—instead of balls that were hit straight into the ground that were hard—we wanted balls to be more backspun. It was something that he was aware of and then we just worked on some things to get it to start trending that way, and it’s good to see that it is trending that way.”

Campusano’s power is up, his average is best in the league, and his reputation as a potential above-average defender behind the plate remains intact.

In an elite Padres farm system full of promising prospects, he is standing a cut above.

“I don’t really think of stuff like (batting titles) or anything like that,” Campusano said. “I just try to come out here and try to put good at bats together, not give away any at-bats and just stick with my approach and hit the ball hard. So far, it’s been really good.”


— Dodgers’ No. 17 prospect Michael Grove started for Rancho Cucamonga and pitched three innings, gave up three hits and four runs (three earned), walked two and struck out six. The 22-year-old righthander was pulled after 54 pitches, his rough pitch count limit this year in his first year season after Tommy John surgery. Grove’s fastball sat 89-92 mph early before kicking up to 93-94 mph in his final inning. His main secondary was an 81-84 mph vertical slider, and he mixed in a 77-78 mph curveball that is new to his arsenal as well. Grove had success with his fastball up in the zone but got hit hard when he didn’t elevate it, with a triple by Allen Cordoba to lead off the game and a two-run home run by Aldemar Burgos the biggest blows.

— Padres’ No. 26 prospect Esteury Ruiz reached base four times in the rout, drawing three walks and getting hit by a pitch. Ruiz has reached base in 10 of his last 12 games and is slashing .286/.386/.491 since May 1.

— Padres’ No. 29 prospect Gabriel Arias went 0-for-6 with five strikeouts. He struck out in his first five at-bats and avoided tying the league record of six strikeouts in a game by flying out to right field in his final plate appearance.

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