Isaiah Campbell was a well-regarded MLB draft prospect coming out of the Kansas high school ranks in 2015. He remained loyal to his commitment to the University of Arkansas, despite being projected as a top-10-round selection.
After a solid freshman campaign between the starting rotation and bullpen, Campbell had higher expectations for his second college season in 2017. Those hopes quickly vanished, as the right-hander recorded two outs before exiting his first appearance of the season with an elbow injury. He missed the entire season and received a medical redshirt.
He returned as a redshirt sophomore last year and experienced mixed results, especially early in the season. Although he was eligible for the draft and heard his name called in the 24th round by the Los Angeles Angels, he declined the opportunity and returned to Arkansas for another year.
He’s Arkansas’ No. 1 starter this season and will be 21 years old when this year’s draft begins on June 3. Campbell returned for his redshirt junior season in hopes of displaying more consistency. If he can accomplish that task, he will be a potential first-round pick in this year’s draft.
“Going through the draft process is tough,” he said. “You are talking to scouts, and you have your advisor talking to you. Going through it for the first time was tough, but now going through it, I know exactly what I have to do. I am not going to let that get into my head because I know what I need to do to be that type of guy.”
Campbell, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander, throws a fastball, curveball, cutter and splitter. He’s difficult for opposing batters to read as he throws from an over-the-top arm slot.
His mid-90s fastball is his best offering, as he consistently throws it for strikes. He also mixes in his secondary pitches well with his cutter being his second-best pitch. He started throwing the pitch while at Arkansas and it features hard, late break and generates swings and misses.
His 1-7 curveball looks like a slurve and resembles his fastball until breaking late, he said. In the months leading up to this season, Campbell switched from throwing a changeup to an 85-89 mph splitter, he added.
“My biggest strengths are my mentality and pitch repertoire,” Campbell said. “For me, when I am on, my four pitches are the best in the country, in my opinion. They can get anyone out, and I can throw all four of them for strikes.”
As he was working his way back from the elbow injury in 2017, Campbell and then-pitching coach Wes Johnson, who’s now in the same role for the Minnesota Twins, discussed implementing a cutter into his arsenal.
It’s an offering that has made major strides since he first started throwing it and has become his go-to option after his fastball.
“Coach Johnson is very into analytics and everything about cameras and tracking,” Campbell said. “We had a sit-down conversation and came to the consensus that if I want to be a big starter in college and have a career as a starter, I needed a fourth pitch to have a separator between my other pitches.”
After missing a season with the injury, Campbell posted a 4.26 ERA with 75 strikeouts and 29 walks allowed in 69 2/3 innings last year. He said he didn’t have confidence in himself and his pitches until about midway through the season.
In three starts this season, Campbell has a 3.12 ERA with 23 strikeouts and three walks allowed in 17 1/3 innings. His best start came Friday against Stony Brook when he went seven innings, posted 13 strikeouts and allowed one walk.
Becoming consistent with his command and having an aggressive mindset on the mound are two areas Campbell hopes to improve this season.
He also prides himself on being a team leader. He said his top priority is getting back to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska after Arkansas was one out away from winning the event last year.
“We need to go out and do what Arkansas baseball does and that’s compete every day and be the best we can be,” Campbell said. “For us, it’s always going to be Omaha. If we don’t make it to Omaha, it’s going to be a letdown season, especially for the whole state of Arkansas because they pride themselves on baseball here.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.