'He can fall out of bed and hit': Caminero homers in return from IL

April 14th, 2024

flexed his home run power in the innings before a late March left hamstring strain sidelined the prized Rays phenom for two weeks.

Fittingly, in his first game back from the injured list, MLB's No. 4 overall prospect scorched a three-run homer that proved crucial in Triple-A Durham's 12-9 win over Lehigh Valley on Sunday at Coca-Cola Park.

Caminero left no doubt he was fully healthy as he rocketed the ball over the right-center fence at 110.5 mph. It was his second-hardest-hit ball at the Triple-A or Major League level, trailing only his first MLB hit on Sept. 23, 2023 (112.0 mph).

"Junior, obviously, he can fall out of bed and hit," said Bulls skipper Morgan Ensberg, who also managed him last year at Double-A Montgomery. "We certainly didn't expect him to have the type of day he would have. You would think that there'd be some adjustments, but then you realize that he's just special. This guy, when he makes contact, it's a lot of loud sounds."

It’s hard to miss the 20-year-old slugger's 70-grade power. In addition to his second homer of the season, Caminero also roped a two-run double off the wall and stung a sinker in his final at-bat at 104.3 mph that wound up becoming a double play. Among the 350 players at Triple-A with at least as many at-bats, Caminero's average exit velocity of 94.7 mph ranks 11th.

Although it likely didn't come the way he imagined, this marked the 11th time in his pro career that Caminero homered in consecutive games (including three instances of back-to-back-to-back contests). Eight of them came last year when he went deep 31 times, tied for sixth-most in the Minors.

Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic native has also been making big strides on defense as well as he transitions from shortstop to third base. Ensberg, who played eight years in the Majors at the hot corner, works with Caminero daily and sees him becoming a "solid, solid" defender with more reps.

Caminero put that growth on display just one frame after smoking his massive homer. With runners on second and third, he quickly ranged to his left to stop a grounder by Scott Kingery and keep the IronPigs from putting a crooked number on the board.

"When you're at shortstop, you have more time and more angles," Ensberg said. "At third base, you really have to cut it off and you're much more of a hockey goalie. So his ability to accelerate to his glove side to get that ball, I think, was impressive."

Ensberg isn't worried about the hamstring injury that befell Caminero while running out a ground ball on March 31, and Sunday's all-around play backed that up. The manager added that the Rays are being particularly cautious with low-grade soft-tissue injuries, especially early in the year so nothing develops into larger problems down the road.

And with how consistently impressive Caminero is when he's on the field -- he's reached base eight times with a 1.186 OPS through four games this year -- Ensberg sees many more homers in the infielder's future.

"I had him last year in Double-A and saw him in Spring Training and then I'm getting him now, and he's been really been very similar with the bat," he said. "When people have this special talent, they just have an uncanny knack on being able to hit the sweet spot with the bat."