Junior Caminero tops Bulls roster

20-year-old Junior Caminero is expected to have a brief stay in Durham before heading back to Tampa Bay to join the Rays. (Ena Sellers/La Voz)

The Durham Bulls are expected to be one of the top contenders in the International League this year. They’ll also have one of the top prospects in all of minor league baseball to start the season.

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

Since affiliating with the Tampa Bay Rays 26 years ago, the Bulls have won 16 division titles and eight International League crowns, including most recently in 2021 and 2022.

That was under manager Brady Williams, who got promoted to MLB after four years and two rings in Durham. He’s currently the Rays third-base coach, while Morgan Ensberg, who hit 110 home runs in an MLB career with the Astros, Padres and Yankees, moves up from Double-A. Ensberg returns to North Carolina after previously managing the Buies Creek Astros to the 2018 Carolina League title.

Welcome to Bull City

Now he makes his Triple-A managing debut. Ensberg is excited to be doing it in a place with a baseball pedigree like the Bull City.

“Everybody in the organization and people that I know have been speaking so highly of it,” he said. “I kind of think of it as kind of a kid who’s never been to Disneyland. Everybody’s telling them you know, ‘Have you been to Disneyland? It’s awesome,’ and I haven’t been there. So it’s been nice to get in here, and it’s much better than I even expected.”

Making it even more awesome, Ensberg inherits a roster packed with talent. Returning Bulls include slugging outfielder Ruben Cardenas and top-30 Rays prospects Kameron Misner (26) and infielder Ronny Simon (27). Outfielder Oselvis Basabe, who has spent time with the Rays, is also starting the year in Durham.

The pitching staff is also loaded with returnees Trevor Brigden and Justin Sterner, top 40 prospects Mason Montgomery (9), Jacob Lopez (14) and Joe Rock (19). Jake Odorizzi, who pitched the Bulls to the 2013 title before winning 74 MLB games, returns to Durham as a veteran leader.

“I think the one thing that’s overriding with the Rays is just we have such good players and such good talent,” Ensberg said. “And our scouts do such an incredible job of getting us talent. They really make the coaches and managers look good, right? I mean, when we have excellent players to coach, teach, we can do some things that are a little bit more advanced, and that’s more advanced at each level. So I’m very thankful. I’m extremely aware of how lucky I have it and how lucky we have it. But it’s just really an honor to be able to play or to be able to coach such great players.”

‌The Junior Caminero Show

The most promising name on the roster, however, is a 20-year-old who is likely headed for bigger things very soon.

Junior Caminero actually skipped Triple-A Durham altogether, getting promoted from Double-A last year to help contribute to the Rays’ postseason run. Now he’s back and is arguably one of the top two prospects in all of minor league baseball. Odds are good that he will be headed to the big leagues to stay after a month or two more seasoning, following the same path that Wil Myers, Wander Franco and other Rays stars did in previous years.

“He’s an exciting player,” Ensberg said. “I mean, depending on where you get your information, he’s anywhere from third to sixth-fastest bat speed and all baseball. He’s somebody that really works hard, but he is a tremendous talent, and we see this as an incredible responsibility. You know, he has things to work on, and we’re going to work on him. But he’s a hard worker, and he is an absolute great kid. And I’m telling you the fans are going to absolutely love this guy.”

The Dominican-born Caminero said he wants to work on his defense, as he makes the switch to third base after spending most of his time at shortstop so far. As for the timeline of when he gets the call to the bigs, he said, through an interpreter, “I want to play the best and as hard as I can. I don’t control how much time I’m going to be here.”

He’ll also have plenty of support while he’s here.

“My family is here with me,” he said. “My mother, my father, my little brother and my girlfriend. We are staying at a house. My mom does the cooking for me.”

Having already hit his first Triple-A home run during the Bulls’ season-opening road series, Caminero is clearly ready to start cooking for himself on the field.