Caminero, Mead, rehabbing Baz making noise for Triple-A Rays

FSS Plus got a recent opportunity to work at the beautiful Durham Bulls Athletic Park on Friday night, and we lucked into a strong pitching matchup, with a rehabbing Shane Baz facing Nashville Sounds starter Carlos F. Rodriguez.

The main attraction, however, was to be Junior Caminero, who is No. 1 on FSS Plus analyst Joe Doyle’s Top 30 Tampa Bay Rays prospects rankings, and No. 2 overall in his preseason Top 100 MLB prospects list, one that has Baz at No. 77 and another Bulls standout, recently sent down Curtis Mead, at No. 79.

Caminero, however, wasn’t in the starting lineup…but, we were in luck. Another rehabber, Brandon Lowe, was pulled after just one inning and one at-bat due to what the team called precautionary reasons — likely due to some scattered light showers that hit the area shortly after first pitch, but did not delay the game in any way — so we got to see one of the top prospects in the game after all.

So, what did we see? Who else stood out?

Junior Caminero, INF — FSS Plus Tampa Bay Rays No. 1 Prospect

Caminero rocketed through the Rays system last year, starting in High-A Bowling Green and getting all the way to the big leagues at just 20 years old, skipping Triple-A entirely at the time. He hit .235 with a homer and seven RBI in 36 plate appearances, and also made his MLB Postseason debut, getting into both games of the team’s Wild Card Series loss to the eventual champion, Texas Rangers.

Listed at six-foot-one and 157 pounds, he seems significantly more bulked up than what those numbers would allow, and also seems to be suffering from the affects of an early season quad injury that knocked him out for two weeks. He wasn’t moving as well as he had in the past on the basepaths, and also wasn’t able to show all of his range at third base…he got through several routine defensive chances just fine, but threw a ball away on his first chance, seemingly hesitating a bit on trying to finish what would have been a 5-3 DP ball.

Caminero is lauded for his bat speed, and it showed on Friday; a somewhat routine grounder back up the middle sailed back up the box at a still-impressive 98 miles per hour, and he showed an approach at the plate indicative of someone looking to do damage with every pitch he sees. A consensus top five prospect in the game, and at worst listed at two or three for most, he’ll likely continue to develop in the minors for the majority of this season.

2023 A/AA 510 .324 31 94 5 .976
2024 AAA 93 .318 6 16 1 .965

Curtis Mead, INF — Tampa Bay Rays No. 6

Mead is another example of the Rays development process gone right; the Rays made a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for him after the 2019 season, and the track had been upward ever since. He hit the Arizona Fall League in 2021, was named to the Futures Game in 2022, and the Australian made his much-anticipated big league debut the following year in an early-August call-up.

A versatile infielder who can play all four positions — yes, he played a little shortstop in the bigs last year — the 23-year-old made his first MLB Opening Day roster this year, but struggled at the plate, hitting .218 in 94 PA’s before getting sent down to Durham the second week of May. As seen below, the six-foot, 171-pounder smashed a 104.1 MPH off the bat hard single to center field in his only hit of the night, although it’s also been a sluggish start with the Bulls as well as he continues to try to find his game.

Shane Baz, RHP — Tampa Bay Rays No. 5

Once one of the brightest pitching prospects in all of baseball, Baz saw the end of his 2022 season and all of last year taken from him after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Now 24, the power righty is still working his way back slowly to get back to the big leagues, and he still seems to be early in that process if Friday is any indication.

Baz faced 11 Sounds batters and walked five on Friday, using mostly a four-seamer that sat between 93-96 and touched 98 as well as a high 80’s slider. He needed 59 pitches to get through 1 2/3 innings, and just 29 were strikes. While results in a rehab appearance largely don’t matter, he’ll need to continue to improve his command as he works to keep building up his pitch count for that much-anticipated MLB return.

Ruben Cardenas, OF/INF — Tampa Bay Rays N/A

At 26 years old and still without any big league service time, Cardenas has largely been ignored in a very impressive farm system from top to bottom. But, the career .272 hitter in the minors impressed on Friday with a 392 foot homer to left field that left the bat at 101.3 MPH and seemed like it was just a somewhat effortless flick of the bat against a very strong starter in Rodriguez. In another org., perhaps Cardenas would have already received an opportunity for his big league debut. With the Rays, he remains something of a depth piece who’s on the precipice of that first chance.

Justin Sterner, RHP — Tampa Bay Rays N/A

It’s cutters, sweepers, and four-seamers for Sterner, who has never been on the Top 30 radar. But, the one-time undrafted free agent out of BYU was touching 95 in a very effective relief outing of Baz, and is pitching to a strong 0.934 WHIP this season while striking out 25 batters in 20 1/3 innings. Historically, his numbers at 3A haven’t been fantastic, including over a large, full-season sample size just last year, but the 27-year-old, who is also still looking for his MLB debut, could pitch his way into consideration for that if he can sustain this early start.

Mike Ashmore
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