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Padres call up pitcher Leonel Campos

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Of the players known to be heading to San Diego for September, Leonel Campos is the least-heralded. Starting pitchers Joe Wieland and Robbie Erlin are familiar names who are returning from injury and are expected to figure prominently in the Padres' near future, and infielder Cory Spangenberg was the team's top pick in the 2011 draft. Each of the three has had far, far more inked spilled about him than Campos has, as have the others who will be up but haven't been announced yet.

In fact, I could find next-to-nothing in English about his promotion. There was Bernie Wilson's tweet, then there were crickets. When I searched "leonel campos call up", there were two news results; each was an article about something else. USA Today mentioned it in passing at the end of their game recap.

Minor league INF Cory Spangenberg joined the Padres on Sunday but won't be eligible to be added to the roster until Monday. The nameplate at his locker had to be replaced after the first one was spelled Spangberg. Pitchers Robbie Erlin and Leonel Campos will join the team Monday, and Joe Wieland will join the Padres on Tuesday.

It wouldn't be USA Today if they didn't get something wrong. The other news result that made mention of Leonel Campos getting called up was Chris Jenkins' Union-Tribune article about Spangenberg. It didn't say anything more about Campos, but it did have the correct version of USA Today's inaccurate account.

The day before he began making major league money, Cory Spangenberg needed to buy a vowel. The name plate above his locker in the Padres clubhouse said "Spangenbrg." Typo.

Sorry, got a little sidetracked there. Back to Jenkins' mention of Campos. As I said, it was minimal, but Jenkins did make clear how a spot on the 40-man roster will be cleared to make room for the 27-year-old right-hander.

Left-handed starting pitcher Robbie Erlin will be called up, along with Double-A right-hander Leonel Campos. Joe Wieland, who started Sunday's game for Triple-A El Paso, is highly likely to join the Padres as well on Monday. Meanwhile, left fielder Carlos Quentin and first basemen Yonder Alonso both were moved to the 60-day disabled list.

That's a season wrap on Carlos Quentin, but this is a post about Leonel Campos getting promoted, so we'll talk about Q some other time.

Campos came into the season ranked number 19 on John Sickels of Minor League Ball's list of the top-20 Padres prospects. Sickels gave Campos a grade of C+; he defines a C grade as "the most common type. These are guys who have something positive going for them, but who may have a question mark or three, or who are just too far away from the majors to get an accurate feel for." This was his assessment of Campos at the time:

Older prospect at age 26 but with just one full season under his belt since he was pursuing a soccer career in Venezuela before turning to baseball. Throws hard, all pitches have excellent movement, fanned 106 with only 33 hits in 67 innings last year, finished strong in Double-A, 1.61 combined ERA. Very, very interesting relief arm.

While Campos did put up those excellent numbers in 2013, there were many question marks about him that kept him from receiving a B grade. Aside from a single two-inning appearance with the short-season Eugene Emeralds in 2011 before missing all of 2012 due to his Tommy John Surgery rite of passage, 2013 was his first season. The fear that his performance may have been an aberration seem founded after a shaky 2014 between the AA San Antonio Missions and the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas.

You may recall Leonel Campos from Spring Training. A non-roster invitee, Campos got hit hard in five appearances before being sent to minor league camp. He pitched a total of 4.2 innings, allowing seven runs (six earned, for an ERA of 11.57) on 11 hits and four walks while striking out four. Once the season began, Campos was assigned to AAA.

Campos picked up in El Paso right where he left off in Spring Training, posting an 11.70 ERA in 10 innings over 11 appearances before getting bumped back down to San Antonio. Not only did he allow exactly two hits per inning, he also walked 13 batters, the same amount he struck out. He put up better numbers when he went to the Missions, but it would be difficult not to.

In his first stint in San Antonio, in the second half of 2013, Campos was exceptional. He pitched 30.2 innings over 26 games, allowing just three earned runs for an ERA of 0.88 that even Bob Gibson would be jealous of. In 2014, he matched those three earned runs in his third inning of work. He then gave up exactly one earned run in each of his next three appearances before going on a nine appearance, 11.2 inning scoreless streak from May 18 through June 8. It was at this point that the decision was made to move him into a starting role.

Campos moved into the San Antonio rotation on June 11. He pitched only an inning that day, but went progressively deeper in his next four starts. The owner of a plus-slider to go with mid-90's heat and a sinker, he reached the five-inning mark for the first time on July 24, also picking up his first win of the season. His second win came on August 20 against the same opponent, the Frisco RoughRiders. Campos set a new career-high by lasting six innings; six shutout innings, at that. He surrendered just two hits and one walk while tying his high of eight strikeouts. The next day, Missions pitching coach Jimmy Jones, who you might recall from his stretch as the Padres' interim bullpen coach in 2012, spoke highly of Campos to MiLB.com's Kelsie Heneghan.

"One thing about him being a starter as opposed to a reliever is being able to mix in all his pitches and that's one thing he did. He seemed to be more composed," Jones said. "That's what we want to see -- the idea of keeping that same tempo, same intensity, almost like a machine out there with some emotion.

"You don't want to get out of hand, you don't want to get too much aggression. You just want to make a pitch and make a pitch and be aggressive and that's what he did."

[...]

"You want to see the craft go up as far as development. Each start out, there's been a development, there's never been a backslide," Jones said. "You want to see that graph going upward, and to me with him, that's what I see. I see a guy who is more clean mechanically. He is more of pitcher than he was as a reliever."

The numbers bear Jones out. In addition to progressively hitting innings marks and higher pitch counts, Campos has been becoming more efficient with his pitches. He still manages to keep the ball out of play his fair share and then some; since moving to the rotation he has continued to strike out an average of at least a batter per inning in each and all of his starts. His ridiculously impressive 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings this year is actually down from 2013's astronomical rate of 14.2. The walks are still there, too; he had 38 in 72.1 innings with San Antonio this year after his disastrous stretch in El Paso, compared to his 38 walks in 67 innings overall in 2013.

Very few September call-ups are immediate impact players, and Campos almost definitely won't be this year's Francisco Rodriguez or Jack McDowell. If any real impact is made, it will likely be to him, not by him. Regardless of how much action he sees, having this time at the big league level will be beneficial as far as receiving hands-on top level tutelage, and being able to observe the habits of and pick the brains of veterans.