Cross Creek’s Campusano is Georgia baseball player of year

Luis Campusano’s emergence as one of the top high school catchers in the 2017 draft class happened in the blink of an eye.

 

His molding, however, was a long process full of hard work, sacrifice and love.

Whether it’s one of Augusta’s sweltering summer days or a biting winter night, the Cross Creek star and two-time Augusta Chronicle Georgia Baseball Player of the Year can likely be found working in the cage or behind the plate. It’s also a good bet that his father is there to help.

The 18-year-old has narrowed his spot in the national rankings to among the best prep catchers. He’s been pegged for the first few rounds of the draft, which starts Monday, after showing well this past summer, including making the 40-man cut for the USA Baseball 18-under National Team and playing in Perfect Game’s All-American Classic. He knocked one over the Green Monster at Boston Red Sox’s JetBlue Park in Florida during an early-2016 showcase, and scouts have cut his batting practice sessions short with satisfaction after blasts over a big oak tree at his high school field.

He followed it up by hitting .622 with 13 doubles, six home runs, 27 RBI and 25 walks to only seven strikeouts this past season.

“It’s been a fun ride,” Campusano said. “Everybody is just as good as you or better. To come on the national stage like that, you really have to bring your A-game. You always want to be ahead of that next guy, especially at your position. It’s been really humbling. It’s tough, but you have to grind it out and see where you stand against other people.”

He was relatively unknown in national baseball circles before then. Missouri was the first to come calling in 2016, and the Tigers’ coaching staff was all in right away. Even after his commitment to Missouri, it took a big summer for the national spotlight to find the south Augusta catcher. Now, he dons South Carolina apparel as a Gamecock signee and received handfuls of scouts at nearly every game as a senior.

Before the watchful eyes of scouts and college coaches, Campusano was morphing into his eventual strong, compact frame as a pudgy freshman and sophomore. While the body would form over time, the talent was already evident. He showed advanced barrel control and caught pitches out front with authority from a smooth swing as early as his sophomore season. He has slightly quieted his weight transfer since and has learned to sync his halves exceptionally well for his age.

Campusano shows the potential to avoid the one-way catcher label, which is something his high school coach, Tavis Cummings, has stressed from the beginning. Although he has only caught for a little more than two years, his footwork is advanced and pop times have flashed under 1.9, the time between the catcher making the catch and the infielder catching his throw at second base. His times are considered above-average.

He then strolls to the plate and blasts light-tower home runs.

“We talk about two-way catchers, guys who can do it offensively and defensively,” Cummings said. “That’s one thing that I’ve been stressing to him when we talk about things. That’s one of the reasons why, if he may have an unsuccessful at-bat, I don’t really get on to him about it, because I know it’s a very demanding position.”

His quick development in all phases is due in large part to natural hand-eye coordination and athleticism. It can also be attributed to the hours spent in the backyard, cages or fields with his father, Genaro Campusano.

Genaro, born in the Dominican Republic, played parts of five seasons professionally between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers organizations. He caught for the South Atlantic League’s Augusta Pirates in 1991 and eventually settled in Augusta after not reaching higher than the Class-A Advanced Carolina League.

Genaro quickly poured his heart and soul into Luis by showing him what hard work looked like.

“Working 10 hours and spending an extra two or three hours with me, whether it’s in the cage until 11 at night, not a lot of guys will do that for you,” Luis said. “He’s just a really strong person. He works really hard. Nothing was ever given to him. He’s from the Dominican Republic. They earn what they got. That’s what I want to do. I want to work just as hard as him, if not harder. He’s pushed me a whole lot and I thank him a lot for that.”

The devotion goes beyond baseball instruction. Luis’ parents can be found at every game. His mother constantly takes photos and videos when Luis comes to the plate. His father calmly sits and watches. They continue to work hard to support Luis and his dreams.

Luis is doing his part to fulfill those aspirations. He sits with Cummings for hours talking baseball, from Giancarlo Stanton’s exit velocity on a line drive the night before, to Miguel Cabrera’s approach with runners in scoring position. He watches hours of YouTube videos featuring major league catchers like Salvador Perez and Yadier Molina. He’s talked to Dominican stars such as Pedro Martinez and Starling Marte.

Cummings has previously described him as his generational talent, the rare combination of his best player and hardest worker. It’s a tireless pursuit of being the best at his position and, ultimately, a major leaguer.

After a booming summer vaulted him into early-round consideration entering this spring, Luis is on track. He’s had an overwhelming amount of attention from organizations in a short span, but his maturity is even more advanced than his on-field play, to the point where one scout was sold after simply watching him stretch pre-game.

All the ingredients of a standout catcher are there, and it all began in the backyard with Genaro after a long work day.

“I tell him, anything you do, you have to attribute to your parents,” Cummings said. “They are great people. They’ve sacrificed a lot for him. I tell him, ‘At the end of the day, if you make your parents happy, you’ll make me happy.’ I think he’ll do that.”

 

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