Should Rays call up Junior Caminero? It’s complicated

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays would seem to have reason to call up Junior Caminero, their 20-year-old top prospect who has been swinging a sizzling bat for Triple-A Durham during a stretch when the big-league team has been struggling.

But they have many more reasons not to.

That includes his readiness physically, with the bat and glove. Where and how he would fit on the current team. The list of young top prospects with other teams who have struggled this season, and the Rays’ own history. And the financial component, which seems lesser.

In sum, barring an injury to a key player, it doesn’t seem likely that Caminero will get the call anytime soon.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the week he’s had — it’s only reinforced the potential that he has offensively, without question — and he’s putting in the work right now, and those are things that are really important,” Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander said Friday.

“For us, as much as any team, a young player, when they come to the big leagues, they have to be able to hit the ground running. We’re in a position where we’re trying to compete, we’re trying to win games, and we need to have confidence that when a player gets here that they’re here to stay, and they’re here to play regularly.”

When the Rays, besieged by injuries, made the unusual move in September 2023 of calling up Caminero from Double A and including him on their playoff roster, they were just hoping he could provide some help against lefty pitchers.

The responsibilities would be increased this time.

“Now, it’s about hitting lefties, it’s about hitting righties, it’s about hitting righties’ major-league breaking balls, it’s about playing defense, and it’s about posting every single day,” Neander said.

“There’s a little more that comes with doing all those things.”

Cautionary tales abound with other top prospects in their young 20s.

The Orioles called up Jackson Holliday then sent him back to Triple A after he went 2-for-34 in 10 games with a .170 OPS. Entering Saturday, Jackson Chourio was hitting .212 for the Brewers with 34 strikeouts in 108 plate appearances. Colt Keith had a .156 average with two extra-base hits and .406 OPS for the Tigers. Wyatt Langford’s hitting .230 for the Rangers. Jackson Merrill’s at .259 with a .674 OPS with the Padres.

“That should be a cautious reminder that it’s really difficult to play here,” Neander said. “And it’s as difficult as it’s ever been to make the transition from Triple A to the big leagues on the offensive side.”

The Rays have had their own recent experience.

They traded Austin Meadows to put Josh Lowe on the 2022 opening day roster, then sent him down after a rough first month. Isaac Paredes had an up-and-down 2022 season. Curtis Mead is scuffling now.

Even Wander Franco, who was ranked more highly than Caminero, struggled through his first month (hitting .184 over 19 games after homering in his June 2021 debut).

Also a factor is that Caminero, while successful, has played only 15 games at Triple A (hitting .328 with a 1.115 OPS through Friday) and 81 at Double A (.309, .921).

“When that time is coming, and if he continues to perform the way he is, that time will come sooner than later as long as the work is there, as long as the defensive side is there,” Neander said.

“We’re not oblivious here. But we need to make sure that when he gets here, that he’s as equipped as possible to come in and have success. And that’s something that for us requires a little bit more time to have that level of confidence.”

There is also a question of where Caminero would play.

His defense is obviously a concern, with third base his best (and thus far this season, only) position. So the Rays would then have to move Paredes to second, potentially weakening an already bad defensive team at two positions. (Plus starting second baseman Brandon Lowe is working his way back).

DH could be an option, but that’s a tough assignment for a young player used to being on the field. And Neander made clear they aren’t ready to give up on Harold Ramirez or any of their other struggling veterans.

Plus, the Rays were scarred enough by their first Franco issue — when he was benched two games last June for being overly emotional and immature in dealing with frustrations and failure — to want to be cautious with other top young prospects.

Though waiting at least into June to promote Caminero could save the Rays from a potential fourth year of arbitration eligibility and the increased salary, that has not been prohibitive for them with some other players. Doing so also limits the chance Caminero could be a top-two finisher for AL Rookie of the Year and be awarded a full year of service. As of now, his free agency has been delayed to 2031.

Rays rumblings

Barring rehab setbacks, the big-league roster will look significantly different by mid May. ... One initial impression of the otherwise cool-looking new City Connect uniforms: It’s hard to see the numbers on the back. Another is that the players look a bit like the umpires. … Caminero is No. 3, Double-A shortstop Carson Williams 33rd, rehabbing starter Shane Baz 57th, Class A first baseman Xavier Isaac 58th and top 2023 draft choice Brayden Taylor 77th in Baseball America’s updated prospect rankings. … In a departure from usual practice, Bally did not televise post-game interviews from three games last week, the result of staffer scheduling conflicts. … Though Spectrum is the dominant cable company in the Tampa Bay area, those with Comcast/Xfinity lost Rays coverage in a dispute over fees with Bally’s parent company. … Related, the price of Bally’s Rays season pass, which includes streaming access to all programming, was cut from $105.99 to $84.99. … Rays officials didn’t have a name for the new logo combining the ray and the Sunshine Skyway bridge but after seeing fans on social media calling it SkyRay opted to start using that. ... In an MLB Network segment on which team was more likely to rebound and make the playoffs, Dan Plesac picked the Rays; Carlos Pena and host Greg Amsinger went with the Astros. ... Pirates veteran Andrew McCutchen commented on an Instagram post of Randy Arozarena modeling the new uniforms: “I thought this was me for a sec.”

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