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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Paul Campbell

New to both the Marlins and the major leagues, Campbell brings an unorthodox profile that the club hopes can play out of the ‘pen.

2021 Miami Marlins Photo Day Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

RHP Paul Campbell

Opening Day age: 25 | Bats/Throws: L/R | Listed: 6’0”, 210 lbs.

Acquired by the Marlins in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft (Dec 10, 2020)

Paul Campbell isn’t very big. He throws a fastball with roughly average velocity, and has an offspeed arsenal best described as vanilla. Those descriptors generally won’t inspire a ton of curiosity about a prospect, but Campbell has been able to stand out in other ways as an amateur and young pro, enough to draw the interest of two of the game’s most progressive clubs in Tampa and Miami.

Campbell’s pro career started humbly. A Massachusetts native, Campbell was an excellent prep pitcher but didn’t have any real pro interest at that stage of his career, instead opting to play college ball at Clemson. Playing at an ACC school afforded him a lot of attention from scouts, but unfortunately injuries derailed his college career and he was only able to record a total of 30 innings over two seasons with the Tigers before he opted to turn pro.

Entering the 2017 draft, Campbell was only on the radar of the most rabid MLB draft enthusiasts, but ended up going to the Rays in the middle of Day 3. Nobody made much of the selection at the time, and early in Campbell’s pro career he didn’t garner much attention. After a strong pro debut in 2017 at the Rookie level, he successfully transitioned to full-season ball the following year. Observers started to note his superlative spin rates at this point, particularly on his 92-95 MPH fastball, which could get up to 2700 RPM, which is among the highest on any fastball in the world.

The eye-popping spin figures, though not enough to sustain a prospect’s stock on their own, put Campbell’s pro performance in a new light. At every stop, he had done a great job of limiting hits, runs and walks, but without missing very many bats, or producing a high rate of ground balls. Generally, pitchers with this kind of statistical profile aren’t able to maintain their run avoidance rates as they progress to higher levels of play, but occasionally we do see mold-breakers who have middling bat-missing ability, but excel at inducing weak contact—could a 99th percentile spinner like Campbell be one such arm?

Thus far, evidence suggests that it’s a possibility. Campbell only has 85 23 innings in the upper minors, all with Double-A Montgomery in 2019, but he was able to maintain his bizarre markers (18.4% K rate, 34.3% GB rate, 74 hits, 6.1% HR/FB) there, successfully handling the biggest jump on the minor league ladder.

The eye test also backs up this hypothesis, at least to a degree. Both Campbell’s fastball and curveball, despite not picking up a ton of whiffs, do have a good deal of movement, most of which comes close to home plate. The heater has hard late run that seems to make hitters uncomfortable. While the curve rainbows out of his hand a little bit and has vanilla shape, it breaks tightly and pro hitters have had issues squaring it up, even if they can identify the pitch.

While the Marlins surely hope to see Campbell’s weak contact skills translate to the highest level, they may also feel they can help him miss a few more bats with a change in approach. Campbell’s curveball is an effective tool in his kit, but players who can spin it like this can typically accumulate whiffs at high rates, so it could be worth experimenting with a new breaking pitch in the hopes of eking out a few more strikeouts. Thus far in spring, reports indicate that Campbell has been mixing in a slider more liberally, which definitely bears monitoring as he continues to fight for a big league role.

The Double-A stop was Campbell’s last live action until this spring with Miami, for whom he has made two appearances thus far. The first was dazzling, as the young righty fired two scoreless against Nationals backups without allowing a baserunner, striking out four along the way while relentlessly attacking the zone. He’d get another appearance against the Nats a few days later, and while he was again able to navigate his outing without allowing a run, he walked three consecutive batters on the way. His ability to escape the bases loaded jam showed guts, and control generally isn’t an issue for him, so it probably didn’t raise any alarms within the organization.

Locked in a battle for one of the final bullpen spots as of now, there’s a chance that Campbell may no longer be a Marlin come Opening Day, but as things stand currently, he very well may break camp with the club. Entering Monday, he has struck out five of his 12 batters faced in three hitless innings of work. If he does make the cut, he could bring a unique look and the ability to contribute in long relief, both of which likely appeal to Mattingly and his staff.