Last August, when Luis Campusano played in San Diego’s Petco Park at the Perfect Game All-American Classic, he instinctively performed a little ritual when he stepped onto the warning track.
“The first thing I did when I got on the field was throw some dirt over my shoulder and told myself I was going to be here one day,” Campusano said. “I told myself whichever organization picks me I was going to be on this field. I ended up getting picked by the Padres so it was a blessing for myself.”
The San Diego Padres used the 39th overall pick of Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft on Monday night to take the Cross Creek catcher in the second round.
“Everybody went wild; it was really emotional,” said Campusano of the draft night celebration in the Cross Creek auditorium with a few dozen family, friends, teammates and coaches.
Campusano was the first catcher selected in the draft and the highest selected player ever taken out of an Augusta-area high school – 18 spots earlier than former Cross Creek catcher Jon Egan was picked in 2005.
“It’s pretty cool to be that pick,” Campusano said the morning after. “It’s an honor and a blessing. Today is another day and this is where it starts. I can’t just say I got picked 39. The work starts today.”
That’s certainly a lesson Campusano can learn directly from the experience of Egan. The fellow Razorback backstop was taken 57th in 2005 by the Red Sox who coveted his power and arm strength and wooed him away from his Georgia commitment with a $625,000 bonus.
But a year after a promising rookie league debut, Egan struggled with the South Atlantic League’s Greenville Drive and retired from baseball after the 2007 season.
“That fire wasn’t there anymore,” Egan said in 2014.
Campusano has heard a few shared stories of his Cross Creek predecessor and understands what it will take to make it further.
“You’ve got to have that love for the game and that’s something that I’ll always have,” Campusano said. “I’ll never lose the fire and the passion I have for the game. I think it’s going to take me a long ways.”
Campusano wouldn’t commit yet to signing a professional contract – his suggested signing value is roughly $1.76 million – or sticking with his commitment with the South Carolina Gamecocks. “We’ll see,” he said. As insurance, the Padres used their competitive balance round B pick (69th overall) on Blake Hunt, another prep catcher from nearby Santa Ana, Calif.
“In Luis Campusano and Blake Hunt, we have two guys that we targeted near the top of our board,” Padres general manager A.J. Preller told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “We felt (Luis) was as good as any of the catchers at the high school or college ranks. … It wasn’t about a need or anything like that. Obviously in the system it’s important to have catching. We feel like we’ve got a lot of pitching prospects and just felt like those were the two best guys on the board at that time and we’ve got two big-league prospects.”
Campusano didn’t find out about San Diego picking Hunt until Tuesday morning, but he isn’t shy about a little competition.
“I’m sure there’s going to be some head-to-head competition but at the same time I’m excited for him and ready to get to know him and play with him,” Campusano said. “Of course, I don’t want anybody outworking me. I’m going to do whatever it takes just to be above the next guy. I think with my work ethic and the love I have for the game, it’s going to really push me above my limits.”
While the Padres may be 14.5 games behind in the National League West with the second worst record (26-40) in the majors, San Diego’s farm prospects rank among the best in the leagues with some of the most talented teenage pitchers like right-hander Anderson Espinoza, 18, left-hander Adrian Morejon, 17, and Monday’s No. 3 overall pick, lefty MacKenzie Gore, 18.
If he signs, Campusano is most likely to start catching some of those prospects at one of the Padres’ two Arizona League rookie teams, which start up their 56-game schedule June 24 at the franchise’s spring training and minor-league home in Peoria, Ariz. The Padres farm system comes nowhere close to his Georgia home, but that doesn’t concern Campusano.
“I think I’ll handle it pretty well,” he said. “I had to deal with it this past summer and just being ready as a professional is something I’m prepared for. You’ve got to grow up someday. I’m just ready to play ball.”
That Campusano’s father, Genaro, spent four seasons as a minor-league farmhand in the Pirates’ and Rangers’ organizations was a big selling point for the Padres.
“For us, that was important, coming from a professional background,” Preller told the Union-Tribune of Campusano. “You start to talk to him, see his work ethic, see him talk about the game, break down minor-league catchers, break down other prospects, guys that he wants to be better than, guys he emulates — that’s a high school catcher who’s been around the game.”
Campusano believes the lessons of his father, who never made it past the Class A+ Carolina League, will pay dividends for his development.
“My dad played pro ball and he sacrificed a lot for me and showed me what the baseball life is about – the grind and day-to-day,” Campusano said. “He’s done a lot for me in terms of helping me as a catcher and a hitter, just an overall well-rounded person and being consistent with yourself every day and never changing your character.”
Campusano hopes his hard work and success rub off on the Cross Creek athletics community he leaves behind as he tries to fulfill the promise to himself to make it back to Petco Park.
“I hope after this a lot of kids will open their eyes and see that anything’s possible for themselves,” he said. “I hope next few years down the road there’ll be another draftee out of Cross Creek High School.”