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Is top prospect Junior Caminero ready for majors? Rays will be talking

Notes | The 20-year-old, who got a late-season call-up from Double A, most likely will be headed back to the minors. However ...
 
Rays shortstop Junior Caminero is impressing again, this time in winter ball for the Dominican team.
Rays shortstop Junior Caminero is impressing again, this time in winter ball for the Dominican team. [ JEFFEREE WOO | Times ]
Published Dec. 5, 2023|Updated Dec. 6, 2023

NASHVILLE — The Rays weren’t sure what they’d get when they made the surprising late-September move to call up 20-year-old infielder Junior Caminero straight from Double A.

Given limited opportunity — 36 plate appearances over seven games — Caminero still showed enough to give them something to think about for the coming season.

It’s most likely that Caminero — who has played just 290 pro games; 81 above Class A before his promotion — is headed back to the minors as one of the game’s top prospects.

But coming off what so far has been a strong winter ball performance for Escogido in the Dominican league (.333, five homers, .936 OPS in 21 games), with Wander Franco’s playing status for 2024 unknown and Taylor Walls’ recovery from hip surgery putting his season-opening availability in question, Caminero has made himself a subject of spring conversation.

That he hit only .235 (8-for-34) with a .631 OPS in his big-league debut wasn’t much of a concern. The Rays like his ability to play defense, and where between second base, shortstop and third he could fit — with little developmental benefit to be on the big-league team but not play regularly.

“We’ll see where the winter goes,” baseball operations president Erik Neander said. “The offensive potential, we spoke about at the end of last year. The ability to impact the baseball, do it from line-to-line at that age, it’s unique. It’s special. There’s no denying that.

“You’ve also seen how we’ve constructed rosters over time, that we appreciate and prioritize well-rounded players. ‘Camy’ has the abilities to be a well-rounded player. But when you move someone quick, usually the draw of that, moving somewhat fast, is what they do best. And you need to make sure that the entirety of the player is supported — that goes to the physical abilities and that goes to just the overall maturation of the player.

“So that’s not to say our mind’s made up one way or the other. He came up last year for a reason. He was on our postseason roster for a reason and we’re excited about him. How it all shakes out will be some on him and some on the players around him.”

Rays’ Bobby Heck to receive industry-wide honor

Rays infielder Brandon Lowe, left, leaves the batting cages as Bobby Heck greets him during spring training last February.
Rays infielder Brandon Lowe, left, leaves the batting cages as Bobby Heck greets him during spring training last February. [ PHELAN M. EBENHACK | AP ]

Bobby Heck has played a large role in the Rays’ success during his 12 seasons on the staff, most recently as a special assistant to baseball operations president Erik Neander.

Wednesday, Heck will be honored as one of the game’s best at what he does, as the East Coast Scout of the Year. (Original Rays general manager Chuck LaMar is among others being honored by the Professional Scouts Association as the Midwest winner.)

Noting Heck’s love for his family, food and the New York Giants, Neander lauded his contributions since joining the Rays from the Astros, where as assistant general manager and scouting director he had a big hand in the foundation of Houston’s extended run of success.

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“It has been an honor and a privilege to work alongside Bobby back to 2012,” Neander said. “An incredible talent evaluator, but an even better person. ... Somebody that has been a friend to me, has been — I’ll use his terminology, which I’ve wholly adopted — my left tackle in many respects. Great evaluator, a great teammate, great mentor for a lot of our younger staff. He’s strong in his beliefs, strong in his convictions and his opinions when it comes to players. …

“He has done this a long time with great success because he owns the responsibility of being thoughtful, of having opinions and clarifying your opinions, but also by being adaptable and growing as the game evolves as well. So much of our success, it’s due to a lot of people. He’s at the forefront of that list.”

Miscellany

Through the somewhat convoluted rules of the lottery process, the Rays will pick 18th in the first round of the July draft. Though their 99 wins were fourth most last year, draft order is also determined by playoff success, revenue sharing status and luxury tax payroll limits. ... Gerry Fraley, a Clearwater High product who died in 2019, was voted winner of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Career Excellence Award and will be honored at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in July. ... Pitcher Cole Wilcox and outfielders Kameron Misner and Shane Sasaki are among Rays that could be taken in Wednesday’s Rule 5 draft of minor-leaguers not on 40-man rosters.

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