Caminero stays ahead of schedule at Rays camp

February 20th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Adam Berry's Rays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Yes, is only 20 years old. Sure, he skipped Triple-A entirely on his way to the Majors last season, and he’s only played 222 games in the Minor Leagues. And of course, the Rays have a crowded corner-infield picture even before you consider Caminero.

But after a brief stint in the big leagues last year, Tampa Bay’s top prospect is ready for more of The Show.

“I'm going to go wherever the team puts me, whether it's on the Opening Day roster or whether it's Triple-A,” Caminero said on Monday morning through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I'm just going to control what I can control, and that's something I can't control. I'm just going to play hard, and wherever the team puts me, it's on them.”

Caminero paused, smiled and turned toward Navarro.

“But if I go to Triple-A,” he added, “I’m not gonna spend a lot of time there.”

Thus began Caminero’s first full Major League Spring Training. There is bound to be plenty of hype surrounding MLB Pipeline’s No. 4 overall prospect, who made the leap straight from Double-A Montgomery to patch up the Rays’ depleted infield down the stretch last September and stuck around as part of their postseason roster.

“He likes to play. He's pretty impressive. I mean, tools wise, he's got a big arm from third base. Power's pretty incredible to watch during batting practice,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He's always smiling. He's always competing. Very young player that we're excited to just see how the spring unfolds.”

Caminero’s talent is obvious, and it stands out even in batting practice. That was the case before one of the Rays’ final regular-season games in Toronto last year, when Caminero received a standing ovation from early-arriving Blue Jays fans after bashing balls off the fence in front of the upper deck in left field at Rogers Centre.

“I've never seen a guy get a standing ovation in BP, and when he did it in Toronto that last series, that was pretty remarkable,” Cash said.

It was on display even in a batting-practice session that also featured Randy Arozarena, Harold Ramírez and fellow top prospect Curtis Mead. Caminero has remarkable raw power, and his all-around ability allowed him to hit .324/.384/.591 with 31 homers in 117 games in the Minors last season.

“He's fun to watch. He generates so much bat speed. The ball jumps off his bat. You talk about those guys that kind of have the 'it' factor with power. He's one of them,” said Cash, who threw to Caminero’s group during the first full-squad workout at Charlotte Sports Park. “He's hitting in a group with some guys that have some legit power, and he's going toe to toe with them.”

Cash said the Rays are advising Caminero to simply get ready for the season, without worrying about where he’ll start. Most likely, he’ll begin the season with Triple-A Durham. The Rays have Isaac Paredes returning at third base -- Caminero’s best position -- with Mead and Jonathan Aranda leading the list of backup-infield options.

Caminero has room to improve defensively, and he’ll have to adjust to big league pitching like any other player. He discovered during his brief debut that there are challenges in the Majors, as he went just 8-for-34 with one home run. But even his response to that experience was encouraging for such a young player.

“I learned how to fail. In this game, you mature with that failure,” Caminero said. “That failure and that maturity helped me. … The discipline before the game, before practices, the mentality that I have to go into my day on and off the field and in the stadium is [what I took from] that.”

Caminero said he took that mindset into the offseason as he played winter ball in his native Dominican Republic for Escogido. Admittedly nervous to play on a big stage like that, in front of his family and friends, Caminero still hit .333/.362/.575 with five homers in 21 games before focusing on his preseason preparation.

“The nerves were there, but it felt really good to be able to represent the Dominican and have everyone watch me play out there,” he said.

Everyone will be watching Caminero over the next six weeks, too, wherever he ends up playing.

“He's obviously a great talent. He could be a generational talent once it develops as a baseball player,” Arozarena said, with communications director Elvis Martinez interpreting. “Hopefully he develops the way the organization hopes that he's going to develop, and hopefully the future brings a lot of good things for him. We're here to help him.”