Campana seeks fast start to first camp

Campana ready for first big league camp

Campana seeks fast start to first camp
MESA, Ariz. -- You thought Tony Campana was fast last year? Now, he's even faster.

He's also stronger and well aware of what he needs to do to make the Cubs' Opening Day roster.

Campana led the Cubs last season with 24 steals, but this will be his first big league Spring Training camp. The slender outfielder had a perfectly timed callup on May 17 when the Cubs were in Cincinnati, near his hometown of Springboro, Ohio. He was batting .342 at Triple-A Iowa at the time, and he hit .259 in 95 games with the Cubs.

After a month off, he arrived in Mesa on Nov. 1 to start his offseason program under strength coach Tim Buss.

"I didn't get the at-bats I usually get, so I was kind of fresh after the year. So why not jump right into it?" Campana said Tuesday at Fitch Park, which has been his second home this offseason.

Buss' program included adding nearly 12 pounds to Campana's slight frame. Won't that slow him down?

"I think it's just a matter of lifting the right way," Campana said. "If you get a little stronger and keep your flexibility, you can even get a little bit faster -- and I think I did that. It was a successful offseason."

He did drills to increase his speed. Look out Nyjer Morgan, Michael Bourn and Dee Gordon.

"It's mostly mechanics," Campana said. "I'm naturally pretty fast. You just work on mechanics and if you're right, you can be faster."

Maybe not fast enough. Veteran Marlon Byrd walked by and said Campana was the "second fastest guy in baseball." Who's No. 1? Byrd believes he is after losing 20 pounds this offseason.

"He thinks he can challenge me," a smiling Campana said. "but I'll have to put him in his place."

Expect some competitive sprinting this spring.

Campana swiped 66 bases in the Minors in 2009. The last -- and only -- Cubs player to reach 60 steals in a single season was Frank Chance in 1903. The Cubs begin organizational meetings on Wednesday and one of the topics will be the lineup. Chicago manager Dale Sveum suggested last month that he will consider Campana for the leadoff spot.

"That would be awesome," Campana said. "I have to go out and show I can hold my own offensively. And if I can show them what I can do offensively, maybe I'll get my chance. They'll probably start out that I'll get my spots and it'll increase from there."

He has to show he can get on base. Told that a veteran scout suggested Campana should be fined every time he hits the ball in the air, the outfielder nodded.

"I agree," Campana said. "Me hitting the ball in the air, I'm not making any money up there. I'm not going to hit even 10 home runs a year -- maybe a couple. Why would you hit the ball in the air?

"You can hit line drives, and I have to be able to hit the ball in gaps, so I can get a little respect," he said. "You don't want outfielders playing 10 feet from the infielders. I got a little stronger so I think I'll get that respect. Then it's just putting bat on ball."

He does have one home run in the pros, a two-run, inside-the-park homer Aug. 5 off the Reds' Mike Leake at Wrigley Field. His only other professional homer came during the playoffs in 2010 with Double-A Tennessee, and that also was an inside-the-park dash. His last homer before that was his last hit for the University of Cincinnati in 2008. He used an aluminum bat then.

Campana has a career .303 batting average and .359 on-base percentage in the Minors. He's working on improving his bunting, but knows he also has to be able to make contact, especially if the opposing third baseman is so far in on the grass he can shake Campana's hand.

"There's a lot of advantages of me being able to bunt," Campana said. "Bringing [the third baseman] in will make it easier for me."

The long days at Fitch Park usually began around 8 a.m. and ended at 2 p.m., with just enough time to work on his golf game. The good news? Being in Arizona helped Campana lower his handicap.

He also joined other Cubs Minor Leaguers making a hospital visit in Mesa and stopped by an orphanage to say hello. In January, Campana received the 22nd annual Tony Conigliaro Award, which is presented to a Major League player who has overcome adversity through spirit, determination and courage. Campana has survived Hodgkin's lymphoma.

"I was really nervous and I had to give a speech in front of almost 1,000 people," he said. "It was a blast. I got to meet [David] Ortiz -- he's a really funny, good guy."

He's not the only one on the Cubs who has overcome Hodgkin's lymphoma. So has first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and the two shared stories at the Cubs Convention in January.

"He's huge," Campana said of Rizzo, who is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. "It's hard to imagine we're the same species, me and him."

Campana is big enough. The Cubs are hoping he's still fast enough, too.

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter@CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.