Arkansas baseball fans won’t have to travel very far to see a couple of former Razorbacks on the mound again after they were promoted less than 24 hours apart this week.
Isaiah Campbell was the first to get the call, as the Seattle Mariners moved him up to Double-A on Tuesday, and then the Los Angeles Dodgers called up Lael Lockhart Jr. to Double-A the very next day. Both are now in the Texas League with the Arkansas Travelers and Tulsa Drillers, respectively.
The fact that they arrived at the same level at nearly the same time is quite surprising considering the vastly different routes they took.
One of the Razorbacks’ best pitchers of the 21st century, Campbell was a heralded prospect coming out of Arkansas. He was taken in the second round of the 2019 MLB Draft and received an $850,000 signing bonus
On the flip side, Lockhart began his career at Houston before transferring to Arkansas as a super senior. Following his lone season with the Razorbacks, he was a ninth-round money-saving pick who signed for just $2,500.
Despite the differences at the start of their professional careers, the former Razorbacks are now on a collision course to meet on the same diamond back in the Natural State later this month.
Isaiah Campbell: From SEC Ace to Mariner Prospect
Isaiah Campbell made his first Double-A appearance Wednesday night, closing out a 10-5 victory by working around a couple of hits with two strikeouts in a scoreless ninth inning.
One thing that made the outing special is the fact that it happened with the Arkansas Travelers in North Little Rock, just a 2.5-hour drive from Fayetteville — where he made a name for himself as a bonafide SEC ace.
The Olathe, Kan., product was the Sunday starter for the 2018 Arkansas team that made the College World Series finals and then was the ace of the 2019 team that made it back to Omaha.
As a redshirt junior in 2019, he went 12-1 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.92 WHIP over 18 starts while racking up 125 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings.
Although he was drafted by the Mariners with the 76th overall pick of that summer’s draft, Campbell did not make his professional debut until 2021 because the team wanted him to sit out and learn in his first year and the pandemic wiped out the minor league season in 2020.
This year, he is finally getting to showcase his potential. Across 20 appearances in High-A and Double-A, Campbell has 10 saves and 37 strikeouts in 34 innings. He also has an 0.88 WHIP and minuscule 0.79 ERA, which is the fourth-best mark among minor league pitchers with at least 30 innings. He has not allowed an earned run since transitioning to the bullpen in early June.
Lael Lockhart’s Surprising Rise
Lael Lockhart received his good news almost at the same time as Campbell, with his promotion officially coming Wednesday. He has yet to pitch for them, but he’s now with the Tulsa Drillers.
The left-hander from Friendswood, Texas, was the Sunday starter during his one year in Fayetteville, in which the Razorbacks dominated college baseball before a stunning upset in the Super Regionals. Making 14 starts and two relief appearances in 2021, Lockhart was 3-3 with a 4.47 ERA and 1.17 WHIP while notching 68 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings.
He did get into his best form late in the year, posting a 1.88 ERA over 14.1 innings in his last four appearances before the NCAA Tournament, including a near seven-inning perfect game at the SEC Tournament.
A two-way player at Houston, Lockhart entered the portal when the NCAA granted players eligibility relief after the 2020 season was canceled because of the pandemic. He was solid for the Cougars and Razorbacks, but was not close to being as touted as Campbell when he finally left school for the professional ranks.
The Dodgers spent their ninth-round pick of the 2021 MLB Draft, which was 282nd overall, on him in a tactic used by almost every team. In order to save money to use on their other picks, the Dodgers selected Lockhart — a senior out of college eligibility, therefore giving him no leverage in negotiations — and gave him a tiny $2,500 signing bonus.
In his first full year of professional baseball, Lockhart is making the best of his situation. Pitching for the Great Lakes Loons in High-A, he made 19 appearances, including 11 starts, and posted a 3.16 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with 85 strikeouts in 77 innings.
If he makes his Double-A debut this weekend, Lockhart will also do so in the Natural State, as the Drillers are in Springdale through Sunday for a series against the NWA Naturals.
Together in the Texas League
Despite being drafted two years apart and not being teammates in Fayetteville, Isaiah Campbell and Lael Lockhart are now in Double-A together and could find themselves in opposite dugouts sooner rather than later.
After a series against the Midland RockHounds back in Tulsa next week, the Drillers will return to the Natural State the following week for a six-game series against the Travelers from Aug. 23-28, setting up a potential matchup of Lockhart vs. Campbell on the mound.
The Travelers are using Campbell out of the bullpen and the Drillers have not yet used Lockhart, so it’s hard to tell if the two will get to pitch in the same game, but the potential is there — which is exciting for Arkansas baseball fans.
It is an interesting sight with the 24-year-old Lockhart getting to Double-A at the same time as Campbell, who is also 24. Who’s ahead at this point remains to be seen. Lockhart might have caught up in terms of development since Campbell didn’t play pro baseball in 2019 or 2020 and made only five appearances last year.
Campbell’s numbers for Arkansas baseball in 2018 were not too far off from where Lockhart was in 2021. He had a 4.26 ERA and 1.38 WHIP with 75 strikeouts in 69.2 innings that year. Perhaps if Lockhart had another year at Arkansas he would’ve seen similar growth as Campbell in 2019, when he became a dominant SEC ace.
Nonetheless, with the Mariners taking Campbell’s development slow, the two seem to be on even ground now despite having different levels of success at Arkansas.
It helps that Lockhart has the advantage of playing in the Dodgers’ farm system, which has proven to be one of the best at getting players ready to play Major League Baseball. They have produced an MLB-record 18 Rookie of the Year winners, plus pitchers such as Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urias and Walker Buehler, as well as lesser known players such as Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May who have proven to be quality starters.
Pro Hogs Climbing the Ranks
Both former Razorbacks are showing their full potential now and will hopefully get the opportunity to face each other later this month. Arkansas baseball fans should make their way to Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock to see the two pitchers showcase their talents in the Natural State once again.
Their ascent through the farm systems may be a sign of what’s to come. After all, Campbell and Lockhart aren’t the only ones having success in the minors this summer.
Heston Kjerstad has been producing hits across two levels in Baltimore’s system, Dominic Fletcher is putting up MLB-ready numbers for Arizona’s Triple-A team and Matt Cronin is looking ready to make the step to the majors for Washington, which recently called up Evan Lee to the big leagues.
Arkansas has been one of the best college baseball teams the last few years and produced pro talent at as high of a clip as any other program. It’s exciting to see all the talent rise, creating a potential surge of Razorbacks into the MLB in the coming years.
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