What to expect from Junior Caminero in the Majors

September 22nd, 2023

One of the Minor Leagues’ most exciting hitters is headed to the Majors,and shocker, it’s a player the Rays acquired back when he was still in complex-level ball.

Tampa Bay is calling up No. 6 overall prospect Junior Caminero from Double-A Montgomery ahead of his Major League debut, MLB.com’s Adam Berry reported late Thursday night. ESPN initially reported that Caminero was getting the call. He joins Jasson Domínguez and Eury Pérez as Major Leaguers born in the year 2003 and becomes the top level’s youngest player instantly upon arrival.

The 20-year-old infielder just wrapped up his Minor League campaign Thursday when the Biscuits fell in the Southern League postseason. From Aug. 1 through the end of Montgomery’s regular season, the right-handed slugger was tied for the Minor League lead with 15 homers over 37 games. He slugged .685 over that span (fourth-best among all full-season Minor League qualifiers) and posted a .336 average and 1.065 OPS over 160 plate appearances.

Caminero, who debuted with the Biscuits on May 30, finished the regular season with 31 total homers, tied for seventh-most in the Minors, including his time at High-A Bowling Green. He is the only member of the 14-member Minor League 30-homer club to be playing in his age-19 season or younger in 2023. (He turned 20 on July 5.)

With 20 of those homers coming for Montgomery, he and No. 2 overall prospect Jackson Chourio (22) have hit the most dingers as age-19 players at Double-A since 2006, beating out Fernando Tatis Jr. (16), Giancarlo Stanton (16), Jurickson Profar (14) and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (14).

The Dominican Republic native keeps such heady company on the strength of considerable bat speed that can generate exceptional exit velocities, some of which might rank as the best among Rays Major League batters instantly upon arrival. While he certainly swings hard from an open stance and decently high leg kick, Caminero is no simple hacker. He struck out only 17.1 percent of the time in 81 games with Montgomery (down from 25.2 at Bowling Green) and had that K rate down to 13.1 percent from Aug. 1 onwards.

If there is anything that might dull Caminero’s ability to let his plus-plus raw power play in the bigs immediately, he tends to hit the ball on the grass and dirt. He ran a 51.4 percent groundball rate with Montgomery, 12th-highest among 222 Double-A batters with at least 300 plate appearances at the level in 2023. That said, he was the only hitter in that group to run a groundball rate above 50 percent while also slugging above .500 (.548 in his case). That’s because Caminero hits the ball so hard that when he does elevate, he tends to hit the ball out of the stadium. Thirty-one of his 50 extra-base hits in 2023 were home runs.

Where Caminero fits in Tampa Bay’s roster during its chase for an AL East title remains to be seen. He has been third-base-only on defense since July 29, when he last made a start at shortstop, and he plays solidly there with good reactions and plenty of arm strength for the hot corner.

The Rays have rotated Isaac Paredes and fellow Top 100 prospect Curtis Mead – both right-handed bats like Caminero – through that position over the last week with lefty Jonathan Aranda also seeing time there. Potential injuries to outfielder/first baseman Luke Raley (neck) and second baseman Brandon Lowe (knee) could send the Rays infield into further rotation, but it seems unlikely that Tampa Bay – even with its reputation for versatility -- would complicate a young player’s arrival by pushing him to positions he hasn’t played in weeks or, in the case of second base, at least a year.

Even if Caminero serves as a right-handed bat off the bench and occasional starter over the final eight games of the Rays’ regular season, the thunder of his bat is still a major addition for a club within reach of another AL East title. The youngster was going to be Rule 5-eligible this offseason anyway, and his early arrival on the 40-man and active roster gets him experience ahead of a potential full-time role in 2024.

It was a Rule 5-related move that brought Caminero to Tampa Bay in the first place. In November 2021, the Rays moved Rule 5-eligible Tobias Myers to Cleveland for an infielder who had only played 43 games in the Dominican Summer League. Not even two years later, that infielder is headed to Tropicana Field.