Born into a military family, the United States Air Force toured Isaiah Campbell throughout Europe in his early life.
The first stop of his professional baseball career brought him to Everett, where the last thing the Seattle Mariners want him to do is actually play baseball.
Instead, Campbell, the Mariners’ selection in Competitive Balance B Round of the 2019 MLB draft, will soak in the experience and occasionally play catch during his time with the AquaSox this season after throwing 118.1 innings for the University of Arkansas in his redshirt junior season.
“It’s different, because I’m used to pitching and everything” Campbell said. “Just for me, it’s about getting in the weight room, getting stronger and getting some conditioning in. Just play some light catch and get to know some of these guys, because these are some of the guys I’ll be going up through the organization with.”
Campbell was born in Angra do Heroismo on Terceira Island in the Azores, a set of small islands about 1000 miles from continental Portugal because his father, Parry, was stationed at the United States Air Force base there.
Soon, his family moved to Ramstein, Germany when his father was stationed at the Ramstein Air Base. A few years after that, the Campbells were transferred to the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where Campbell was first introduced to the game of baseball and subsequently fell in love with the sport.
“I just started playing T-Ball and it just stuck with me,” Campbell said.
His family eventually moved to the Kansas City area before ultimately settling in Olathe, Kansas, where Campbell eventually developed into a coveted recruit, enough so to receive an offer to play in the Southesastern Conference with Arkansas.
As a freshman, Campbell appeared in 13 games with six starts, compiling a 3.69 earned run average. But Campbell was forced to redshirt as a sophomore after bone spurs in his throwing elbow derailed his season.
But Campbell emerged as a workhorse starter for the Razorbacks in two consecutive runs to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska, compiling a 4.26 ERA in 17 starts as a redshirt sophomore and a 2.26 ERA in 17 starts as a redshirt junior.
“It was awesome,” Campbell said. “Not many people can say they went to Omaha two years in a row. You get treated like royalty in Omaha. Being at Arkansas these last few years, I grew as a person on and off the field, and getting to Omaha you get more experienced than you’d ever think you’d get. Playing in front of a nationally televised audience, 26,000 fans, that’s what you’re going to see once you get higher up in pro ball.”
Campbell was initially taken in the 24th round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Angels in between his redshirt sophomore and junior years, but elected not to sign.
“The money was tough to turn down, but I just felt like I had to mature a little bit more and find myself as a baseball player,” Campbell said. “(There was) just stuff on the field where I didn’t feel like I was ready for pro ball yet. I just thought another year would give me another year to develop before pro ball and start my career.”
The decision paid off in multiple ways. Campbell added a slider and a splitter to a fastball that can touch 95 mph, and proved he was capable of taking on a full workload, evident in his innings total in 2019.
Campbell signed for $850,000 and is the Mariners’ No. 11 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Those 118.1 innings means Campbell, who arrived in Everett around July 10, won’t touch a mound during his stay.
But Everett pitching coach Ari Ronick has been impressed in limited viewings.
“From playing catch, he has, from what I can see, a really good fastball, he throws a (splitter) and he has a slider and all three look like really good pitches,” Ronick said. “We’ve been messing with his curveball and getting him more comfortable with spinning that pitch.”
Campbell’s signature accessory on the mound are his Oakley goggles, which he began using after his freshman year after airborne allergies and dry eyes made it difficult to wear contacts.
“I tried them out and I just fell in love with them,” Campbell said. “Now every time I pitch, I wear them.”
In his spare time, Campbell is an avid basketball watcher and former player — there’s a clause in his contract that prevents him from hooping. His favorite teams? In college, it’s Arkansas, naturally, and the Kansas Jayhawks since he grew up almost 20 minutes form Lawrence, Kansas. In the pros, it’s the Oklahoma City Thunder, because of his affinity for Kevin Durant — sorry, Sonics fans.
But it shouldn’t be difficult for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander to coexist with Seattle fans.
Especially if he suits up in a Mariners uniform someday, which would make him the first player born in Portugal to play in the MLB since Frank Thompson in 1875, according to MLB Pipeline.
Despite his allegiance to the Thunder, the Mariners are a perfect organizational fit based on his connection with Brian de Lunas, the Mariners’ director of pitching development, who is from St. Louis and has worked with Campbell in the past, he says.
“Being in the organization, it’s awesome,” Campbell said. “Being with them again, it’s a blessing. I’m just ready to get after it and get ready for spring training.”