The 2022 MLB Draft is scheduled to begin on July 17 and is permanently switching to a 20-round draft over three days. The first two rounds— plus the compensation and competitive balance rounds — will come on opening night.
Reaching Royalty is a series designed to keep Kansas City Royals fans in the loop about potential prospects to keep an eye on heading into this summer's draft.
Justin Campbell, RHP Oklahoma State
Justin Campbell is one of the more interesting prospects in the 2022 draft class. Campbell arrived on campus in Stillwater as a 6-foot-7, two-way player that dreamed of throwing shutouts on Friday nights and playing first base or being the designated hitter on days he didn't pitch.
This worked out relatively well in the 2020 shortened season, with Campbell actually seeing more success at the plate than on the mound. He went 12-for-29 in his at-bats as a true freshman and collected three extra-base hits while going 1-2 with a 4.43 ERA in his four starts on the mound. This was enough to convince Oklahoma State that the experiment was worth trying for another season as Campbell continued to progress in his pitching development.
In 2021, Campbell's progression exploded on the mound. He started the year as a midweek starter, but that did not last long. In his second start of the season, I was lucky enough to be covering the game at Missouri State. He threw six scoreless innings while striking out 12 and allowing just two hits and a walk. He made one more midweek start against Oral Roberts — where he pitched seven scoreless while striking out 14 — before being bumped up to being the Cowboys' Saturday starter.
Campell never looked back after the promotion. He went on to make 13 starts on the year and pitched to the tune of a 7-2 record with a 2.57 ERA, including a no-hitter against Kansas on May 8, 2021.
His hitting numbers took a hit with a bigger sample size in 2021, where he hit .269 with a home run and five doubles in his 67 at-bats. With his numbers not jumping off the charts on the offensive side, he has switched to just pitching in 2022.
It was Campbell's command that impressed me the most watching him in person. He has four pitches that he has shown to have great command of. His fastball sits in the low-to-mid 90s and he also has a slider that he throws 80-82 mph, a changeup a few ticks below that at 78-80 and a curveball from 74-78. He is not scared to throw any of his four pitches at any point in the count and he lives in the strike zone.
Standing at 6-foot-7, Campbell's stuff explodes to hitters from his high arm slot and makes it even more difficult to hit. This, paired with his fearlessness to throw strikes, has given Campbell an extremely attractive strikeout to walk ratio. In 2021, he struck out 102 batters while walking only 27 and that ratio has jumped to him striking out 100 so far this year with only 15 walks, which is good for a 6.67 K/BB ratio.
His ERA has seen a slight increase to 3.20 this year, but he still carries a 6-1 record for the No. 3 Cowboys. Campbell should see a ton of exposure down the stretch of the season with him being Oklahoma State's No. 1 starter this season and the Cowboys looking to make a push to Omaha for the first time since 2016. In a draft class where seemingly all of the top prospects are being sidelined with arm injuries, Campbell could see his name fly up draft boards over the next two months.
Why Justin Campbell should intrigue the Kansas City Royals
This draft has the chance to be the first MLB Draft since 1979 that a pitcher is not taken in the top-10 due to all of the injuries to the top guys. This is a position player-heavy draft, but that means some big arms are going to get overlooked a bit. Campbell has not been predicted to be one of the top few pitchers taken, but he very well could be with big performances down the stretch of this college season.
There is a chance that he could choose to not sign and stay another season at Oklahoma State to try and shoot into the top of next year's draft but if he is sitting on the board at pick 35 for the Royals' second pick, I think it would be dumb not to try and get him signed to come to Kansas City. For all of the reasons I listed above, I believe Campbell could fit right in with Asa Lacy and Frank Mazzicatto as the next crop of young pitching to join the Royals if drafted in July.