Detroit Tigers top 20 prospects: No. 8 Roberto Campos

Equipment on the field as the Detroit Tigers take batting practice. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Equipment on the field as the Detroit Tigers take batting practice. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Today we look at promising young outfielder Roberto Campos, who ranks eighth on our list of Detroit Tigers prospects.

For the past month we’ve been offering detailed looks at some of the players in our top 20 prospects. Most recently we wrote about infielders Colt Keith, Izaac Pacheco, and Gage Workman, but today we focus on one of just three outfielders in our top 20.

Roberto Campos is the second youngest member of our prospect list, and that’s only part of what makes him one of the biggest boom-or-bust prospects in Detroit’s system.

Roberto Campos Background

The first public mentions of Roberto Campos came before baseball fans knew to pay any attention to him. Rogelio dug up this old article about an All-Star squad of Cuban tweens, and also found this old ESPN piece about Roberto and his older brother Raul defecting during a tournament in the Dominican Republic.

The world of international amateur free agency is shady and troubling($), with players agreeing to deals years in advance of when they are officially eligible to sign. These deals are an open secret, and sites like Baseball America and MLB Pipeline are usually able to link the top international prospects to specific teams before they actually sign.

So it was a bit confusing when the Tigers weren’t favored to sign any of the biggest names in the 2019 international class. Things got even stranger when it was announced that the Tigers had signed Roberto Campos to a franchise-record deal of nearly $3 million.

As it turns out, the Detroit Tigers got a very early look at Campos, and apparently fell in love. The parties agreed to a deal and then the Tigers squirreled Campos away somewhere in their Dominican complex, far from the prying eyes of rival scouts and evaluators. FanGraphs’ Kevin Goldstein was one of the very few non-Tigers officials to see Campos in action before he signed, as he told us on a recent podcast.

The rest of us had to wait until last year to see Campos in game action. His professional debut was delayed a year by the scuttled 2020 minor-league season, but it didn’t take him long to make his presence felt.

Campos saw some ups and downs in the Florida Complex League (FCL) last year, but in the end he posted solid numbers.

Roberto Campos Strengths

Campos stands out most for his precocious power. He doesn’t turn 19 until June, but he’s already a chiseled 6’3, 200-lb. athlete, and he blasted eight home runs and five doubles in 39 games last season. His .213 isolated power was good for 12th in the FCL, and he only figures to get bigger and stronger. He’s an average runner, but he capably manned center field last year, and he has an above-average arm.

Roberto Campos Weaknesses

Campos showed acceptable strikeout and walk rates last year, but he’ll need to reign in his approach at higher levels or his contact rates will plummet. He takes aggressive hacks at the plate, he can get off balance easily, and his current swing path is a bit too steep to yield consistent hard contact. And while Campos is a good athlete, he’ll almost certainly outgrow center field and move to right field, which puts more emphasis on his offensive development.

Our Take on Roberto Campos

There are two ways to look at Roberto Campos. A pessimist might point to his strikeout numbers and aggressive swing and rightly explain that players with these issues rarely outgrow them. An optimist might rightly conclude Campos’ numbers were actually rather impressive, considering he skipped over the Dominican Summer League, and 2021 was his first real taste of professional baseball.

We are somewhere in the middle. Roberto Campos has tantalizing potential, and we can imagine him developing into an everyday right fielder with a power bat. At the same time, we have real concerns about his contact ability, and if he doesn’t refine his approach and his swing he’ll likely struggle to even reach the Double-A level. Campos would probably benefit from another year in the FCL, but the Tigers may challenge him with an assignment to Low-A Lakeland. He’ll be one of the most fascinating players in the system this year.

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