Everything was set up for Noah Campbell to have an explosive 2019.
The highly-touted South Carolina baseball prospect had a solid freshman year, hitting .270 while playing regularly, mostly at DH. He had then torn up the Cape Cod League, the most prestigious summer league in America, hitting .364 and earning All-Star honors. Heading into February, he was named a preseason All-American and All-SEC player at second base.
And then, nothing. Campbell started the season 0-for-13 and wound up hitting .239, striking out 47 times and driving in just 19 runs. He committed eight errors, second most on the team, and finished with a .940 fielding percentage, well below his Cape Cod League stats.
Expected to be a crucial leader for coach Mark Kingston’s club, Campbell slogged through a textbook “sophomore slump.” In his post-season press conference, Kingston blamed those expectations in part for Campbell’s struggles.
“I think with him, it was just a matter of, it was probably a combination of putting a little too much pressure on himself, got into a little bit of a funk and had a hard time getting out of it,” Kingston said.
Kingston also pointed to just plain bad luck — citing data collected by the team, he said Campbell’s batted balls found fielders at a high rate despite being well struck.
But that’s not to say that the Gamecock coach thinks Campbell has nowhere to improve upon. Specifically, he said he wants Campbell to swing less for the fences — he averaged 31.3 at-bats per home run, fourth-worst on the team.
“I think he learned the bunt needs to be a big part of his game, and coming off the success he had in the Cape, sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘Hey I did great in the Cape Cod League, and I’m going to stay status quo,’ but sometimes the game will humble you a little bit and you learn other parts of the game need to be developed as well,” Kingston said. “And I think he’s learned some very important things about the player he needs to be, as a guy that really needs to use that speed, has line drive pop.”
As a team, South Carolina’s power numbers were solid in 2019 — USC slugged an average of 1.34 home runs per game. But that wasn’t enough to avoid a historically poor offensive season, and Kingston wants his entire lineup to adjust.
“The kind of offense we want is guys that have line drive power, not just swing as hard as you can, hope you hit a home run and if you strike out, so what? That’s the furthest thing from what we want,” Kingston said. “We want an athletic lineup that provides power, but not at the expense of 12 strikeouts a game.”
For Campbell, the path to getting back on track starts once again in the Cape Cod League, where he is slated to return to his team from last summer, the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox.
“I think he’ll have a really good bounceback year, I think he’ll have a good summer in the Cape again and be prepared to have a really good junior year,” Kingston said.