The Rule 5 draft pick pitched to a 8.74 ERA in limited action prior to serving his half-season ban.
You haven’t thought about him since the first week of May, but yes, rookie right-hander Paul Campbell remains in the Marlins organization. Beginning on Wednesday, he’s eligible to return to their major league roster after a three-month absence.
Need a refresher on his situation? Me too.
The Marlins snagged Campbell with their first-round pick in the 2020 Rule 5 draft after the Rays left him unprotected. He showed enough potential in seven innings of Grapefruit League performance (four appearances) to merit an Opening Day roster spot.
Campbell’s major league debut was unscripted. He entered out of the bullpen in the top of the third inning on April 3 immediately after Elieser Hernandez suffered a biceps injury. He allowed three runs—all earned—and five baserunners in two innings of work, though the Marlins ultimately won the game.
Campbell would have to wait 10 days to pitch again, when on April 13, he struggled in mop-up duty against the Braves. Next on April 20, he had arguably his best outing as a Marlin, providing two innings of middle relief.
Meanwhile, Hernandez and top prospect Sixto Sánchez were unavailable to fill their projected preseason rotation spots and Nick Neidert showed poor command of his stuff during a brief audition. Myself and others urged the Marlins to pursue veteran arms from outside the organization. Instead, they began stretching Campbell out to be a starting pitcher.
Here’s how that went:
- April 25 vs. Giants (behind opener Ross Detwiler)—3.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 5 K (73 pitches)
Paul Campbell was bad in this game, but you can talk yourself into giving him the start when this rotation spot comes up again next weekend.
The triple(!) from the pitcher’s spot and the bunt single before that brought all the runs home. Unlikely to see that happen again.
— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) April 25, 2021
- May 1 vs. Nationals (first career start)—3.2 IP, 9 H, 5 R (4 ER), 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR (71 pitches)
Even in a tiny sample size, Campbell’s knack for allowing constant traffic on the basepaths was concerning. However, his Rule 5 status prevented the Marlins from optioning him to the minor leagues.
How much longer would they have put up with this before biting the bullet and designating him for assignment?
We will never know. On May 3, Major League Baseball announced that Campbell had accepted an 80-game suspension without pay after testing positive for the steroid dehydrochlormethyltestosterone. He’s the first player at any level of the Marlins organization since 2017 to get popped for performance-enhancing drugs.
I assumed that the Marlins would quietly cut ties with Campbell, but I was wrong. On July 20, they sent him to Triple-A Jacksonville on a minor league rehab assignment. Right out of the gate, Campbell tossed 71 effective pitches, a workload that implies he had been on a throwing program for several weeks prior. His next turn in the Jumbo Shrimp rotation went even better—81 pitches, 30.8% of which were called strikes and whiffs.
On Sunday, he was done for the day after only two hitless innings in what was presumably one of his final tune-ups.
Campbell’s standout quality is his spin rate—up until his suspension, he was averaging a team-best 2,614 RPM on his pitches. While he was sidelined, MLB and MiLB began enforcing a long-overlooked rule that forbids pitchers from applying foreign substances to the ball. Since June 21, umpires have conducted brief, in-game inspections of every pitcher. The main consequence of that has been a decrease in the spin rate and effective movement of pitches.
More so than the typical pitcher, Campbell profiles as somebody who would be particularly inconvenienced by the sticky stuff ban, so to see him look not-terrible at the highest minor league level is a pleasant surprise.
The Marlins currently have Sandy Alcantara, Trevor Rogers and Zach Thompson locked into their starting rotation. Hernandez and Cody Poteet are expected back from their rehab assignments within the next three weeks. Pablo López is slightly behind their pace, while Edward Cabrera lurks as a likely September call-up. In the meantime, there is a void for Campbell to potentially fill as an innings-eater…provided that he can actually get outs more efficiently than he did in April/May.
Campbell accrued 32 days on the active roster prior to his suspension. The Marlins should be motivated to get him to reach 90 days before season’s end, otherwise his Rule 5 roster restrictions roll over into 2022. Therefore, expect Campbell to be reinstated by August 7.