NORTH PORT — Carson Williams found it hard to sit still on the three-hour van ride from the Rays’ minor-league camp at Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex. The 19-year-old was like a kid waiting for Christmas morning as he thought about getting into a big-league spring training game.
“I am a little too excited. So it took a little longer than I wanted it to,” the shortstop said after finally arriving Monday at CoolToday Park. “It’s just, it’s everybody’s goal. I mean, everybody who plays baseball, it’s to get to the major leagues. And when you get to be around these guys, it’s always just, it’s an honor, so I’m just having fun with it.”
That was the goal for this trip south. The Rays brought along top prospects Williams and Junior Caminero for exhibition games against the Braves on Monday and the Twins on Tuesday.
Williams, the Rays’ first-round pick in 2021, made a nice grab and strong throw on a double play in the seventh inning of a 6-5 loss to the Braves. He struck in both of his at-bats, including with runners on the corners in the ninth. Caminero drew a walk and struck out in his two plate appearances.
“It was exciting for them,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Carson made a nice play on the ... double play. He’s got a cannon for an arm. So, excited to see them again (Tuesday). That same group will stay (in North Port) overnight, and then a lot of them will be starting in the lineup (Tuesday).”
Williams was named the Rays’ top defensive player in the minor leagues last season, when he won a Gold Glove as the best defensive shortstop in minor-league baseball. In 108 games, he had 401 total chances, helped turn 59 double plays and had 252 assists. According to Baseball America, he has a 60 (out of 80) score for his fielding and a 70 for his arm.
“Defensively, it’s all there,” Cash said. “(Offensively,) big, big power. I think they want to cut down on some swing-and-miss a little bit, but what 19-year-old doesn’t want to cut down on swing-and-miss? So, it’ll be fun to see.”
Williams’ bat was the question mark even when the Rays took him 28th overall in the 2021 draft, but he’s committed himself to improving that. Last season at Class-A Charleston, he hit .252 with a .347 on-base percentage and .471 slugging percentage. In 452 at-bats last season, he struck out 168 times.
“It was definitely pitch selection and getting my strikeout rate down,” Williams said. ”It was the main thing, and I went into this offseason with that goal, and that’s what I did. I worked on it all offseason, and we’re still working on it in spring training. It’s not something that just, poof, it goes away. So I’m working. I’m working really hard at it, and we’re gonna keep going.”
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Caminero, acquired from Cleveland in a 2021 trade, has always had a bat that caught the eyes of scouts. The 19-year old has raw power and was seen as advanced in his approach at the plate.
The native of the Dominican Republic has never struck out at more than a 20% rate at any level of play, including this past offseason in Australia, where he was playing against much older and more advanced pitchers. Between rookie league and Class A last season, he hit .314 with a .384 on-base percentage and .498 slugging percentage. He struck out just 43 times in 239 at-bats.
“I’ve heard our hitting guys think really highly of him and that he does some extraordinary, special things for, what is he, (19)?” Cash said. “This will be a big year. Not that it’s, like, all-or-bust here, but it’s a big year. Like, does he continue this pace? If he does continue this pace, it’s like, wow, we’ve got somebody really, really elite coming up through the system.”
Camerino said his winter in Australia allowed him to understand how to turn “failures” into lessons. Whatever happens in a game is a great opportunity for him to watch and learn.
He already has started talking with Rays shortstop Wander Franco over social media.
“Usually, what we talked about is him waiting for me up in the big leagues,” Caminero said with a laugh. “And any other little advice he also helps me out with.”
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