ST. PETERSBURG -- Now, all of a sudden, here comes Junior Caminero.
He’s only 20 years old. He wasn’t on Tampa Bay’s 40-man roster. He hasn’t played in Triple-A. Last summer, he was playing noon games on the back fields of the Rookie-level Florida Complex League.
Knowing he’d have to be added to the 40-man roster this winter, the Rays challenged Caminero this spring with an assignment to High-A Bowling Green. All he did was hit .356/.409/.685 with 11 homers in 36 games, earning a callup to Double-A.
Caminero turned 20 on July 5, made the All-Star Futures Game and continued to rake with Montgomery, slashing .309/.373/.548 with 20 homers and 62 RBIs in 81 games at the Double-A level. The Biscuits’ season ended Thursday night with a loss in the Southern League playoffs, but Caminero will play on.
It’s been a remarkable ascent. This time two years ago, Caminero was a relatively anonymous prospect in Cleveland’s system who signed on July 2, 2019, and had just finished up his first professional season with a 43-game stint in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League.
As the Rays shuffled around players prior to the November 2021 deadline to set their 40-man roster and protect players from the Rule 5 Draft, they sent Rule 5-eligible right-hander Tobias Myers to the Guardians for Caminero. It was reminiscent of a similar move Tampa Bay had made two years earlier, shipping out pitcher Cristopher Sánchez for a little-known Australian infield prospect straight out of complex ball: Curtis Mead.
Moves like those are a credit to the Rays’ professional scouting staff, which relentlessly covers everything from the lowest-level complex league to the big leagues in pursuit of talent. (Good reminder: Scouts are important.) The night they completed the Caminero trade, Rays vice president of player personnel Kevin Ibach spoke highly of the young Caminero while mentioning their in-person evaluations of him.
“We just saw a really talented hitter. We’re fortunate enough on the scouting side, we have a lot of boots on the ground down there, both with our amateur group and our pro group, in the Dominican Republic,” Ibach said on Nov. 19, 2021. “Pretty exciting what he can do at the plate. Really good, above-average bat speed -- I think that’s the first thing that jumps off the page.”
It still does. Caminero has quickly climbed up prospect rankings due mostly to a quick and powerful right-handed swing that generates incredible exit velocities. He’s a capable defender at third base who has shown enough athleticism at shortstop to start 24 games there this season, but it was evident early on to the Rays that he had a potentially special bat.
“When you acquire players in the Complex Leagues, whether it’s domestically or internationally, I’d rather be a year early than a year late acquiring that profile,” Ibach said then. “You’re not always going to get them right, but when you do, those players make such strides over the course of a calendar year that they may not be accessible a year from now.”
We’ll soon see where Caminero fits and how long he’ll stay. He is eligible to join the Rays’ postseason roster if they want to carry him, even though he wasn’t in the Majors by Sept. 1, because he was already in the organization.
It was only March that Caminero stepped into a Spring Training ballpark in North Port, Fla., and said of his proximity to the Majors, “I don’t think I’m too far, but I don’t like to think I’m too close.”
Turns out, he wasn’t that far -- and he was closer than he thought.