Campana has big opportunity to play small ball

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Campana has big opportunity to play small ball

CINCINNATI The Cubs dont know exactly where Tony Campana fits into the plans, but theyre willing to find out. And its not like many in the clubhouse have guarantees anymore.

Thats part of the reason why Theo Epsteins front office paid the Boston Red Sox to take on Marlon Byrd and create an opening in center field.

The Cubs are going to make top prospect Brett Jackson earn his promotion and improve his two-strike approach, base-running angles and overall game at Triple-A Iowa.

Its an awesome opportunity for me, Campana said. Bretts a good player down there and everybody knows hes going to be up here when hes ready. But until that comes, hopefully I can be here and prove that I deserve to be here.

Campana was back home at Great American Ball Park before Tuesdays game against the Reds was rained out. Almost a year ago, the old administration promoted Campana, and he instantly became a feel-good story for the local media.

The University of Cincinnati graduate had overcome Hodgkins lymphoma as a kid and was all set to make his big-league debut on May 17, 2011.

The night before, then-manager Mike Quade had seen enough sloppy play and addressed the team in a closed-door meeting. The Cubs responded by committing four errors and giving up seven unearned runs in a 7-5 loss to the Reds. In between, the team announced that Andrew Cashner was being shut down after an MRI revealed right shoulder inflammation.

Thrown into the middle of a team that was unraveling Quade called it pretty damn close to rock bottom Campana made an immediate impact.

Campana entered the game as a pinch-runner and scored, and hit an RBI double in his first major-league at-bat. He may fit in even better now with a new coaching staff that values aggressive running and preaches the idea of capturing bases.

That kind of speed, you cant teach it, manager Dale Sveum said. You cant do anything about it. Sometimes its indefensible. If you do worry about it, then sometimes it gets you in trouble.

Campana, who will turn 26 later this month, is listed at 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. He has game-changing speed, and questions about how high his ceiling will be.

As long as he hits, he can be an everyday player, Sveum said. As long as he can get on base, hes going to be an impact-type guy with that kind of speed. Hes just got to be able to hit and get his bunts down and do the things hes doing right now on an everyday basis.

Hes going to get an opportunity here for a little while.

Campana disrupted Phillies ace Roy Halladay, who likes to work fast, with machine-like efficiency. Campana didnt have to hit the ball out of the infield and went 2-for-5 with a stolen base and two runs scored in Fridays 5-1 victory.

When he gets on first, as a pitcher, you have to change, said Paul Maholm, the winning pitcher that night. You cant have big leg kicks. Hes going to take off and thats a positive in having a guy like that. Thats like having Ichiro or Michael Bourn or one of those guys that can change a game once they get on base.

Campana reached base six times and scored six runs during the four-game series in Philadelphia over the weekend. Since being recalled from Iowa, hes hitting .370 (10-for-27) with two walks and seven stolen bases in his last seven games.

Tonys just been an amazing spark to our lineup, utility man Joe Mather said.

When will it burn out? The Cubs want to see what theyve got in Campana, who didnt earn a job out of spring training. Jacksons coming fast, but this is Campanas big opportunity to play small-ball.

I knew I was going to be back, Campana said. I didnt do well in spring training. I didnt hit enough. I knew I didnt really deserve to split with the team. But I knew that I would get at-bats every day down there in Triple-A and get my swing back.

And I have something that people can use a little bit.

The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers

The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers

LOS ANGELES – A man stepped to the microphone during a Q&A session at Cubs Convention and called Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman “the two boy geniuses.” The fan told Epstein how his friends used to call the Dodgers baseball boss “your Mini-Me,” asking about their personal rivalry and if beating L.A. in the playoffs had any extra meaning.

“We have a friendly rivalry,” Epstein told a packed hotel ballroom in downtown Chicago in January. “First off, didn’t he interview for an internship with us and we turned him down way back in the day?

“And then like nine months later, he was GM of the Rays. When he was with Tampa and I was with Boston, we never spoke, because we were in the same division. It was kind of a heated rivalry. We literally never called each other on trades or anything like that.”

But where it’s so difficult for the small-market Rays to keep up with the ultra-rich Red Sox – and replace Friedman’s vision and Joe Maddon’s star power and survive a string of wasted first-round draft picks and find a long-term stadium solution – the Cubs and Dodgers are positioned to be superpowers for years to come.

That’s what makes this Memorial Day weekend showdown at Dodger Stadium so compelling beyond the National League Championship Series rematch. It’s not just upcoming free agent Jake Arrieta returning to the site of his onesie no-hitter on Friday night, a reigning MVP (Kris Bryant) and Rookie of the Year (Corey Seager), two of the best closers on the planet (Wade Davis and Kenley Jansen) and a classic Jon Lester vs. Clayton Kershaw matchup on Sunday afternoon.

The Cubs eliminated the Dodgers less than a month after Epstein finalized a five-year contract worth in the neighborhood of $50 million, likely surpassing Friedman as the game’s highest-paid personnel executive.

“Jed developed a pretty good relationship with him, because I didn’t like talking to him,” Epstein said, referencing GM Jed Hoyer, another Boston transplant on the Cubs Convention panel that day. “But then when I came out here with the Cubs, a different league and everything, I developed a much better relationship with Andrew and we became friends, so now it’s much more of a friendly rivalry.

“I will say that losing to the Dodgers would have been a bitter pill to swallow on a number of fronts, including that one. But they’re developing a powerhouse out there.

“We see them as a team we have to go through each year to get where we want to be.”

[MORE CUBS: Summing up the Cubs' impressive, potentially season-altering homestand]

Backed by Guggenheim Partners’ financial muscle and flush with new TV money, the Dodgers have won four straight division titles and 90-plus games each season while ramping up a farm system that’s now ranked fourth, fifth or sixth by Baseball America, ESPN and MLB.com.

“Everyone’s got their own style and their own approach,” Epstein said. “Ours was more kind of bottom-up (where) they needed to keep it rolling at a high level in the big leagues while retooling their system and nurturing the talent that was already there.

“We had to go out and transact and bring some stuff in. We were at different points of the success cycle. They’ve done a really nice job of winning while kind of establishing something new at the same time.”

The blue-blooded franchise that produced 17 Rookie of the Year winners last month rolled out Cody Bellinger, a 21-year-old, left-handed first baseman with nine homers in his first 28 games in The Show. Julio Urias – who might be the next Fernando Valenzuela – is supposed to be conserving some innings at Triple-A Oklahoma City for another October where the Cubs could be standing in the way of the Dodgers’ first World Series title since 1988.

“They’ve been producing great young talent for a long period of time,” Epstein said. “If you go back and look at some of the young studs they have in the big leagues that (former scouting director) Logan White and (the previous regime) brought in, some of the guys are still coming.

“They’re stocked and the Dodger tradition runs really deep. With Andrew and his front office, we know they’re going to be dynamic. They’re going to have more resources than anyone. And they’re a big threat to the whole league for a long period of time.”

Could Derrick Rose reunite with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota?

Could Derrick Rose reunite with Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota?

Tom Thibodeau was without Derrick Rose for the first time in his head-coaching career last season, coaching the Timberwolves while Rose suited up for the New York Knicks.

But a reunion may be on the horizon. Rose is an unrestricted free agent and the Timberwolves, though they don't have a real need at point guard, are showing interest in the Chicago native. We'll have to wait until July 1, when free agency begins, to see what happens.

See what special guest Nick Friedell, Bulls beat reporter for ESPN, had to say about the topic on SportsTalk Live in the video above.