Williams-Caminero – who is the Rays shortstop of the future?

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Circumstances surrounding the future of shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays seem to spiral in a downward trend. This clearly puts the Rays’ organization in a bind and in search of a future.

Consider the immediate depth of competition and the race between Carson Williams and Junior Caminero, a pair of 20-year-old shortstops, in pursuit of driving their clients into the infield at Tropicana Field.

With Franco facing serious accusations and a possible protracted legal history in his home country of the Dominican Republic, the Rays’ search for a permanent shortstop appears challenging at best.  At this point, Jose Caballero, brought over from Seattle in a deal for Luke Raley during the recent off-season, will likely start the season at short. With only one season in the majors, Caballero, at 27 years old, is coming off a season where he hit .221 in 104 games. That included only 14 extra-base hits in 280 plate appearances.

Caballero is projected by Baseball-America to hit .237 in 340 times at the plate. Should he hold those numbers through the current and next season, that would allow Williams and Caminero an opportunity to develop. While Williams and Caminero spent the early weeks of spring training at the major league level, they departed through different paths.

Caminero was assigned to Triple AAA Durham Bulls while Williams is headed to the Double AA Montgomery Biscuits. To give each as much playing time as possible, the reason for separation is obvious.

While the race is on to be the fastest to the major leagues, there is a decided difference in disposition. Williams looks at his stay in the minors as educational and learning how to play the game. Caminero looks at his stay at Durham as temporary and expects a trajectory.

“Me and Cammy are brothers,” Williams said prior to the Rays-Twins Breakout game here on March 16. “He calls me, ‘hermano.’ This kid is something special. I can’t wait to see what he does. We go back and forth, it’s awesome. We bounce off each other and he’s a special player. For you to put me with him is an honor.”

Out of Torrey Pines High School in the San Diego area, Williams is listed as the 20th prospect by MLB.com. By contrast, Caminero, from the Dominican Republic, is listed as the number four prospect.

For Williams, the educational process remains paramount.

“What I learned during camp was really cool to talk to these guys and see how they operate,” Williams pointed out. “I had really good conversations and mostly about how to conduct yourself. It was different, I’m not going to lie. It was business-oriented, get your work in, be smart and I really like the process.”

At the same time, Caminero recognizes the reality of development associated with a 20-year-old. There appears to be an impatience and a realization that his time in the minors could be short-lived.

“I will go where the team puts me,” he said this spring. “Whether it’s on the opening day roster, triple AAA, whatever, I’ll control what I can control. Wherever the team puts me, it’s on them. But, if I go to triple AAA, I will not spend a lot of time there.”

With a pair of 20-year-olds battling for an important part of the future, a natural competition between the two is downgraded. Instead, there’s a comradery, a push to raise the readiness level and be ready when that Call to the Show comes.

“The way the Rays do things, it’s a family,” Willaims pointed out. “We do not see this as competition but just a good opportunity.”

For their short period in camp this spring, both put up relatively equal numbers. Williams went 3-12, with two doubles and scored six runs. Caminero hit .269 (7-for-26) in nine games, one homer, and knocked in four runs.

Securing a rotation spot … Right-hander Ryan Pepiot, in his attempt to secure number three in the rotation, turned in a Jekyll-Hyde effort March 16 against the Minnesota Twins. With only two more starts here in spring training, Pepoit was stretched out to over 70 pitches but was uneven.

Though he pitched four innings and allowed three first-inning runs, Pepiot responded with three subsequent frames of shutout baseball.

“It was inconstant stuff,” Pepiot said after facing the Twins. “Just didn’t execute pitches. I’ll continue working and getting better. Later in the start, I slowed things down and felt better.”

For his effort, he threw 25 pitches in the first inning alone and finished with 71 pitches. Pepiot is slated to start behind right-handers  Zach Elfin and Zack Littell.

Eyeing the number four spot is right-hander Aaron Civale, who threw a simulated game on the back fields at Port Charlotte on Saturday. Afterward, manager Kevin Cash said Civale, like Pepoit, is being stretched out. For his effort Saturday, Civale tossed 4.1 innings and threw 80 pitches, Cash reported.

Getting ready … with less than two weeks remaining in spring training, it appears outfielder Randy Arozarena is finding his stroke, Off to a notoriously start this spring, Arozarena has picked up his game, powered a team-high five homers, including two in one game against Minnesota March 16, and appears ready to terrorize opponents.

“We’ve noticed there is a trend with (Randy) in the right direction,” said Cash after the Rays dropped a 6-5 decision to Minnesota on March 16. “His batting practice and work in the cage is translating. It’s a really good pitcher we faced (Twins’ Pablo Lopez on March 16) and (Arozarena and Yandy Diaz, with a lead-off homer in the first inning) had really good at-bats.” In that loss, outfielder Richie Palacios slammed his third of the spring in the fourth with none on base.

In the breakout game … first baseman Xavier Isaac, rated number 58 among MLB prospects, slammed a pair of homers and displayed the acumen that has encouraged confidence from the Rays organization. During an 8-8 tie with the Minnesota Twins prospects, Isaac went 4-for-4, a walk, three runs scored, and those two bombs.

Splitting last season between Single-A Charlestown and High A Bowling Green, Isaac drilled 19 homers, knocked in 72 runs, and stole 12 bases in an aggregate 102 games. He will likely start the season at AA Birmingham.

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