ST. PETERSBURG — Junior Caminero was planning, if Double-A Montgomery’s season was over, to be at Tropicana Field Friday to receive his Rays minor league player of the year award.
But when the Biscuits’ season ended Thursday with a playoff loss in Pensacola, the 20-year-old infielder got some plans-changing, life-altering news.
“Caminero,” Montgomery manager Morgan Ensberg announced in the clubhouse, “you’re going to the big leagues.”
The look on Caminero’s face, and eruption of emotions around him, said plenty about how much the surprising promotion meant.
Caminero tried Friday in the Tropicana Field clubhouse to explain how he felt.
“I was very surprised, a little bit in shock,” he said via team interpreter Manny Navarro. “I kind of lost my breath there a little bit. It wasn’t until (Ensberg) put his hands on me to remind me why I was there, and all my teammates all came around and congratulated me. It was a very proud moment for myself.”
The Rays don’t typically call up players to the majors as young as Caminero. At 20 years and 79 days, he will be the second-youngest in franchise history after BJ Upton, who debuted in 2004 at 19 years, 347 days.
Nor do they often promote players straight from Double-A. Caminero is believed to be just the sixth in franchise history and the first position player. Plus, he started the season at Class A Bowling Green, promoted to Montgomery on May 30.
But the Rays have a couple of key players sidelined with injury and a few others struggling at the plate, and Caminero does something special: hit the ball very hard. His .324 average, 31 homers, 94 RBIs and .975 OPS over 117 games are good evidence.
“He can really hit,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He hits the ball as hard as anybody in the game. And he’s doing it at 20 years old.”
Shortstop Carson Williams, who played the first two months with Caminero at Bowling Green and the last two weeks with him at Montgomery, had a glowing review.
“Man, that kid’s a ballplayer,” Williams said Friday at the Trop. “He can swing it. ... You guys are going to see something special, that’s for sure.”
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Cash said plans for how Caminero, a right-handed hitter, will be used were still being determined. He got most of his time at third base this season but was originally a shortstop and can also play first, second and designated hitter. He was not in the lineup Friday but seems likely to start Saturday and Sunday against Jays lefties Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yusei Kikuchi.
“He’s going to come up here and hopefully contribute to some wins,” Cash said.
Caminero has risen quickly to rank among the game’s top prospects, No. 5 on Baseball America’s latest list and No. 6 per Baseball America.
That’s pretty good for a guy who was an 18-year-old with only one pro season in the Dominican Summer League when the Rays got him in a seemingly unremarkable November 2021 trade with Cleveland for Tobias Myers, a pitcher they didn’t have room for on the roster.
“The moment we first saw him, we knew that he was a young kid that had a lot of room for growth but was a special talent,” minor-league operations director Jeff McLerran said. “There’s some things he does at the plate that you just can’t teach. And that was pretty evident from the moment that he joined us at the Dominican academy (after the trade).”
Caminero had a busy Friday, meeting his new bosses and teammates, filling out paperwork, picking a uniform number (1), doing interviews and accepting congratulations at seemingly every turn. His parents and younger brother made the trip from their native Dominican Republic, and his agent and a half dozen other friends also were on hand to see his first day in the majors.
“Honestly, I didn’t ever expect this in my life,” Caminero said. “But very happy that it did, thank God, that I got the call.”
As hectic as it was, it beat his original plans for after Friday’s awards ceremony.
“I was ready to go home on Sunday,” he said. “I was honestly mentally checked out and I was ready to be home. But 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.”
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