The most recent summer of the Alcohol. Think Again Perth Heat’s partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays saw five exciting young prospects – two positional players and three pitchers – arrive in Australia ahead of the highly-anticipated 2022-23 Australian Baseball League Season.
The first full tournament following the Covid-19 pandemic, the Heat overcame an early season slump to finish in second place in the South West Division behind Adelaide and progressed to the Championship Series after knocking off Brisbane, owners of the league’s best record, in the semi-finals.
Of the five players assigned to the Heat, two were considered among the Rays’ top 20 farm prospects – versatile infielder Willy Vasquez and the exciting third baser Junior Caminero – which filled the Heat faithful with excitement. The three Rays arms in the 2022-23 batch included Junior William, Juan Rodriguez and Neraldo Catalina, who had each impressed in rookie ball and were sent to Perth to test of their talent against more seasoned opponents.
Wow! There has never been a player like Caminero at the Heat, and may never be again. We’ve been lucky enough to witness some exciting talents here in Perth but few match the young Dominican. Only 19 years old, Caminero, with his big sunnies and chains, carried a confidence and swagger about him that quickly made him a fan favourite, and that was before he’d set foot on the diamond! A true five-tool player, who had power at the plate, speed to burn and was a gun in the infield. Caminero hit .303 and his 47 hits included 14 home runs, bettered by Brisbane’s TJ Bennett with 17. One of those included one of the biggest hits ever seen at Empire Ballpark as it cleared the shed beyond the centre field fence, a hit of 130m+. Caminero also had 37 RBI and showed off his speed with 6 stolen bases. Explosive off the mark in the field, Caminero gobbled up everything hit his way and showed off his ability with a number of bare-handed plays. There aren’t enough superlatives to do justice to just how good Caminero was in season 2022-23. Heaters will undoubtedly watch his blossoming career closely as he’ll always hold a special place in our hearts! His strong ABL showing earned him an immediate shot at High-A when he was assigned to Bowling Green Hot Rods upon his return to the US.
Arrived to much fanfare as the Rays’ #5 prospect, but the Vazquez/Heat love-in wasn’t to be as injury cut short his time in Perth. Heaters were treated to a glimpse of his potential across the first 10 games of the season, however. In that short time Vasquez slashed at .351/.455/.996 with one round-tripper and 5 RBI. Joined Caminero at High-A Bowling Green after rehabbing his injury back in the US.
The Dominican slinger arrived in Perth on the back of a highly-impressive showing in the Florida Complex League, however his success there never quite translated in the ABL. A reliever at that level, with a 5-0 record and 2.87 ERA, Rodriguez started five of his nine games for the Heat and also came in to finish two. He struggled with his control, walking 15 batters and allowed 18 hits and 18 runs in just 12.1 innings of work. Rodriguez finished his Heat stint with a 0-1 record and 11.68 ERA, registering just 4 strikeouts. He has since been released by the Rays.
The lanky and happy-go-lucky Catalina arrived in Perth as the most experienced of the five Rays players, having spent time in Low-A with Charleston and High-A with Bowling Green. That experience did little when it came to facing the seasoned bats in the ABL. Across six relief appearances, Catalina threw just 4.2 innings and gave up 9 earned runs. Like Rodriguez, he struggled with his control, walking 12 batters although he did strikeout 6. Across his 4.2 innings of work he was charged with 3 losses but did claim a victory. Finished with a WHIP of 3.2 and a 17.36 ERA. Has also been released by the Rays.
The flame-throwing 22-year-old righty had limited A-ball experience and showed glimpses of his talent during his Heat tenure. Like fellow Dominican Catalina, he was only used in relief, often coming in late in games. With a fastball that often clocked in at 99mph on the Empire Ballpark radar, William used it to great effect to strikeout 15 batters across his 10 innings. But also like his fellow Rays pitchers, he struggled with control as 9 walks and 2 hit batters attests. Finished with a 0-2 record and 5.40 ERA. He is back in Low-A with Charleston.
Esteban Gonzalez (coach)
Gonzalez had a couple of seasons in the Houston Astros’ farm system as a young player, playing in the Venezuelan Summer League and rookie ball in the Appalachian League in 2004 and 2005 respectively. He joined the Rays’ coaching staff in 2010, first as manager of their Venezuelan Summer League squad in 2010 and 2011, and returning to lead their Dominican Summer League team in 2017, 2019 and 2021. His time with the Heat allowed Gonzalez to gain a feel for pro ball at another level, and add experience to his repertoire.
Levi Romero (coach)
A former right-hand pitcher who spent five years in the systems of the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers, and a further six pitching in Japan. Romero served as the pitching coach for the Rays’ Dominican Summer League squad before taking on the same role with their Florida Complex League arms. Spent a large chunk of his time down under mentoring the Rays’ pitching contingent of William, Rodriguez and Catalina.