Campbell University is not exactly a household name, but the small school in Buies Creek, NC could have baseball fans crying “Roll Humps!” as a result of the MLB Draft. That’s because there could be two Campbell Camels selected on Day 1, including one who might be a Cubs target at No. 27.
Outfielder Michael Barefoot, who was the MVP of the Cape Cod League in 2018, should find his way into the second round. But the big name everyone is raving about is pitcher Seth Johnson, who now looks to be a first round pick.
Johnson is a 6-foot-1, 200-pound right-handed pitcher who checks a lot of the boxes Cubs SVP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod likes. Campbell is a good athlete with a repeatable delivery, a low-mileage arm, and he hails from a lesser-known school. Well, until this year, anyway.
A junior, Johnson came to Campbell from Louisburg College, where he pitched a whopping total of 6 innings his sophomore year as he mostly played shortstop and cranked out 9 home runs over two years. When Johnson arrived at Campbell last fall, the buzz about him began very quickly when he took the mound.
There appears to be no wasted motion in Johnson’s almost effortless delivery and he has two plus pitches: A mid-90’s fastball — he hit 98 in his season debut — and a knee-buckling curve with lots of bite. When the curve comes (0:35 in the video above), it is a righteous moment. His changeup is going to need some work, but that might just come with experience.
The thing about Johnson converting to mound relatively late is that there’s a ton of upside as he learns to pitch every game. Learning to develop and maintain his arsenal won’t always be easy and there are going to be a lot of highs and a lot of lows.
Johnson has thrown just 39 innings so far this season, striking out 43 and walking 14 while facing some decent competition in NC State and UNC Asheville. Despite a 3.46 ERA (and sinking), his batting average against is just .187 as hitters have a hard time squaring him up. Most of the 15 earned runs he’s given up this year have come in two starts on a pair of homers.
— Campbell Baseball (@GoCamelsBSB) March 30, 2019
Any team that drafts Johnson will be buying a lottery ticket since he’s loaded with raw talent that hasn’t been refined yet. He could remain a starter, but he could move to the bullpen to make full use of that elite velocity. The ceiling is pretty high either way.
What I like about Johnson is that, even though he has not been pitching full-time for very long, his mechanics look to be almost perfect. There won’t be a lot to tweak mechanically, so his development is going to be more focused on pitching strategy and game experience.
While the Cubs are more likely to go with a power bat this year, Johnson is a tempting pick and could hit it big if everything falls right. At the rate he is moving up draft boards, though, he might not even be available when the Cubs pick first.