Rays promote 'a special talent' in top prospect Caminero

September 22nd, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- One way or another, Junior Caminero was going to be at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

The Rays invited their top prospect, along with several others, to take part in their annual Minor League awards ceremony before the big league club’s series opener against the Blue Jays. Caminero was set to accept a big prize, Minor League Player of the Year, then head home to the Dominican Republic for the offseason.

But when Caminero trotted out of Tampa Bay’s dugout to receive his award, he did so wearing a No. 1 Devil Rays jersey. In pursuit of their fifth American League East title, the Rays called up Caminero -- ranked as baseball’s No. 6 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline -- from Double-A Montgomery on Friday.

 As a corresponding move, infielder/outfielder Luke Raley was placed on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Thursday, with a cervical strain, and to make room on the 40-man roster, right-hander Trevor Kelley was designated for assignment.

Caminero is not going home yet. His season is not over.

“I was honestly mentally checked out. I was ready to be home, ready to go home, ready to be there,” Caminero said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “Once I got the call, and the news, I said, 'Forget going home. Forget everything else.' I didn't think I'd be in uniform here, but I'm glad I'm here.”

The 20-year-old infielder admitted that he was stunned when Double-A manager Morgan Ensberg announced the news, but Caminero’s joy was also evident in the smile that spread across his face.

Video surfaced on Thursday night of Caminero learning of his promotion in the clubhouse and happily celebrating with teammates after Montgomery’s season ended with a 5-1 loss to Pensacola in the Southern League playoffs.

“It felt very good. I was very surprised, a little bit in shock, kind of lost my breath there a little bit,” Caminero said through Navarro. “It was a very proud moment for myself.”

Tampa Bay has clinched a spot in the postseason for the fifth straight year, but the club has its sights set on catching Baltimore in the AL East race. The Rays’ lineup has been beaten up by injuries lately, with Raley going on the IL and second baseman Brandon Lowe undergoing further imaging on his sore right knee.

In need of another hitter, the Rays promoted the best one in their system straight from Double-A.

“Not something that we normally do, but we know we're a little bit banged up here,” manager Kevin Cash said. “Not an easy decision, but hopefully the right decision.”

Caminero will add a high-impact bat to Tampa Bay’s lineup, although Cash noted his role is “kind of to be determined.” After dominating the High-A level over 36 games for Bowling Green, the right-handed-hitting infielder slashed .309/.373/.548 with 20 homers in 81 games for Montgomery. Caminero is primarily a third baseman, but he has also shown the ability to play shortstop.

Caminero, who just turned 20 on July 5, became the youngest active player in the Majors upon his promotion. The Rays acquired him from Cleveland in a November 2021 trade for right-hander Tobias Myers, a relatively low-profile acquisition at the time, considering Caminero had only played 43 professional games in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.

But the Rays’ scouts who saw Caminero immediately recognized his “tremendous bat speed and the way he was able to impact the baseball,” vice president of player personnel Kevin Ibach said.

And Caminero’s career has taken off since joining the Rays. He began the 2022 campaign as Tampa Bay’s No. 30 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He started this year as the No. 96 overall prospect and wound up climbing 90 spots and making the All-Star Futures Game on his way to the big leagues.

“He is a special talent,” director of Minor League operations Jeff McLerran said. “There's some things that he does at the plate that you just can't teach, and that was pretty evident from the moment that he joined us in the Dominican Academy.”

Between High-A and Double-A, Caminero’s .591 slugging percentage is the best in the entire Rays organization (Majors and Minors combined), while his .324 average is tied with All-Star first baseman Yandy Díaz for the best mark in the organization. Caminero’s 31 homers are tied with Triple-A infielder Tristan Gray for most in the system.

Still, Caminero couldn’t imagine this season ending in the Major Leagues. As early as Spring Training, when he joined the Rays for a couple games, he took on the mentality that he needed to work toward a 2024 debut.

It came sooner than expected, but those who know Caminero believe it’s not too soon.

“Man, that kid's a ballplayer. He can swing it,” Minor League teammate Carson Williams said. “I am very excited for him, and I'm so proud of him. You guys are going to see something special, that's for sure.”