Heading into this season, Eric Campbell was expected to spend most of his time on the bench for the 51s. But he had greater expectations.
Entering today’s regular-season finale at Cashman Field, Campbell is best in the Pacific Coast League in on-base percentage (.428) and leads Las Vegas in several offensive categories, including games (118), walks (65) and steals (12).
The corner infielder/outfielder — the 51s’ leading active hitter with a .310 average — delivered two key walk-off hits in three days in August to help propel Las Vegas to the Pacific South Division title and was chosen the team’s Most Valuable Player by the 51s coaching staff.
“He’s done a lot more than was expected of him,” manager Wally Backman said. “He was going to be a bench guy, but he wasn’t satisfied with that. He worked his ass off and got himself a job.
“Without a doubt, for someone who’s been here all year, he’s been our best player.”
Campbell also is humble, saying the MVP award could’ve gone to just about anybody.
“Honestly, it could’ve gone to probably 10 different guys on our team. Everybody’s put up similar numbers and we’ve all played well defensively,” Campbell said. “To be singled out by the coaching staff is a real honor.”
A 26-year-old who was drafted in the eighth round by the New York Mets in 2008 out of Boston College, Campbell has made great strides since hitting only .247 in 2011 under Backman for Double-A Binghamton.
“The difference between ‘Soup’ and a lot of other players is he’s more determined than a lot of guys,” Backman said. “He takes it personal when he goes out between those lines. He’s not someone you have to motivate.
“You don’t have to worry about him coming to the park and saying he doesn’t feel good today or something is sore, because if it is sore, he’s going to play through it. He’s an old-school type of player.”
Campbell bounced back last season to bat .297 for Binghamton and has thrived at the plate for Las Vegas in his first Triple-A season — hitting .346 with runners on base, .366 with runners in scoring position and .327 with runners in scoring position with two outs.
“Anybody in that position turns it up a notch and focuses a little more,” he said. “I try to go up there, look for my pitch and put a good swing on it.”
The right-handed hitter has lit up left-handed pitchers this season, batting .330 against them, and Backman said that ability could be his ticket to the big leagues.
“He’s a guy who hits left-handed pitching very well and he’s done that over the course of his whole career,” Backman said. “To me, there’s a place for him in the big leagues.”
Backman compared Campbell to Tigers utilityman Matt Tuiasosopo, who played for him at Triple-A Buffalo last season and is batting .278 for Detroit this season.
“He’s the same type of player,” Backman said. “When used the right way, there’s a spot for those guys on certain clubs. To me, he can play in the big leagues.”
Being proficient at four positions — first base, third base, left field, right field — also helps Campbell’s cause, as does his high on-base percentage. He has more walks (65) than strikeouts (60) this season.
“That’s something I’ve always taken pride in — trying to put the bat on the ball and swing at pitches inside the strike zone — and this year it’s probably gone better than in years past,” Campbell said. “The Mets preach a really good hitting approach and I just try to follow it.”
Campbell — who drilled a tying, pinch-hit RBI double in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Tucson at Cashman Field — also attributes his success to adhering to a solid daily routine that includes eating bacon, eggs and toast at 11 a.m. and a peanut butter sandwich when he arrives at the ballpark.
“I do the same thing every day,” he said. “If I can stay consistent with that, I usually end up OK.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354.