Don’t expect to hear much out of Camden Vasquez. His bat does all the talking for him.
Vasquez, a 19-year-old Arizona native who is playing his first summer with the Peninsula Oilers, is one of the hottest hitters this year in the Alaska Baseball League. The slugger currently leads the Alaska Baseball League in hitting with a .417 average and gets on base more than half the time at .522.
Oilers head coach Kyle Brown said the team added Vasquez on the advice of San Diego head coach Rich Hill, with whom Brown enjoys a good relationship.
“He said you’ll love him,” Brown said, listing off his outfielder’s attributes like a checklist.
Great two-out hitter, great contact hitter, has a great two-strike approach and a short and simple swing. Pitch recognition is “off the charts,” and he has good bat control.
“Oh and by the way, he’s got incredible speed,” Brown said last.
Vasquez’s speed was on full display Thursday when he grounded a ball to Anchorage Glacier Pilots’ shortstop Zach Sehgal, who bobbled the ball attempting to throw to first and ended up throwing it into the bullpen.
“That is his speed getting into the internal clock mechanism of the defense, where they recognize his speed and they try to speed up themselves,” Brown said. “You have a kid hitting .400 and you add in he runs a sub-four (seconds) down the line? It’s going to put some pressure on the defense.”
The 2018 graduate of Campo Verde High School in Gilbert, Arizona, said his wheels are something he relies on, but can’t pinpoint where it started.
“I don’t know where my speed came from,” Vasquez said, adding that his main goal each time he comes up to bat is to be a tough out.
“Whether that’s beating a chopper out or getting walked or hitting a line drive, or even reaching on an error,” he said.
Vasquez began the summer with the Oilers on an 11-game hitting streak, which pushed him to an early stat line of .487 batting and 1.144 OPS. He said his plate approach is simple.
“I don’t like to think of it like a chunk of games, I just try to take it one at-bat at a time,” Vasquez said. “Just stick to the approach I was taught at school.”
Fellow Oilers teammate and California native Jonathan Carlos said Vasquez’s attitude makes it easy to get along with him, but dangerous to face him on the mound.
“He’s a good guy, very humble,” Carlos said. “He’s funny, he’s very loose, doesn’t think too much when he plays baseball, he goes out there, has fun.”
The son of Tim and Julie Camden is living this summer with host family Jessica and Robbie Small of Kenai, and tracked his easygoing demeanor to his childhood growing up near Phoenix, where he often spent summers swimming at the local pool, taking day trips to hiking spots north of Phoenix and taking in baseball and football games at Arizona State and watching Arizona Diamondbacks baseball.
His days as a wide receiver in high school were numbered after injuries cost him time in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Vasquez said baseball provided more opportunity for him in college, even though football was where his passion lay, so it was off to play summer ball in 2018, getting time with the Gresham (Oregon) GreyWolves in the West Coast League, which the club has since left to become an independent team.
Vasquez just wrapped up his first year at the University of San Diego, but never saw a pitch due to a foot injury that kept him out. Vasquez ended up redshirting his first year, but was healed up and ready for the summer season with the Oilers.
Vasquez said he does not know how the injury occurred — he was diagnosed with two broken toes — just days before the college season was set to begin, but said the time off didn’t mean he was getting a free vacation.
“For me, it was more about learning as much as I could,” he said.
Vasquez said he spent innings at SDU taking notes and soaking in as much knowledge watching his team play.
“It was good for me to learn pitchers’ sequences and learn from the guys around me that are great players,” he said. “I just took it as an opportunity to just soak it up.”
Carlos played against Vasquez’s USD team as a member of Long Beach State, although the two never squared off individually due to Vasquez’s injury.
As a pitcher, Carlos said he asks Vasquez about what hitters look for in certain counts, and Vasquez’s advice has helped Carlos in his own game.
Plus, he provides a stellar support system.
“When I’m pitching, he always comes in and smacks me on the (butt), tells me whenever I’m (messing) up,” Carlos said. “He’s a great teammate. He plays hard, that’s what I like about him.”
Brown said after hearing good things about Vasquez from Hill, the decision to bring in a player that was motivated to return to the field was a no-brainer.
“I think he showed up here with a drive to play, with a statement to make,” Brown said. “He got an opportunity up here and he’s made the most of it in every facet to this point.”
Even as his position in the batting lineup has had to change due to a hand injury to leadoff hitter Damon Keith, Vasquez hasn’t flinched under the circumstances. The move pushed Vasquez to Keith’s spot as leadoff man.
“He hasn’t missed a beat,” Brown said.