The Red Sox called up one of their most promising candidates to the big leagues on Monday afternoon.
In the hours leading up to Boston’s opening game against the Houston Astros at Fenway Park, the Red Sox announced that they had called up outfielder/infielder Ceddanne Rafaela from Triple-A Worcester.
Rafaela, 22, is expected to make his big league debut on Tuesday as Jarren Duran landed in the IL with a toe injury and more midfield replays are available.
Rafaela is considered one of baseball’s most intriguing youngsters because of his versatile skills, putting him on the same level as Boston #3 prospect (and #77 in MLB) by MLB Pipelinewhile The Athletic’s Keith Law called him the Red Sox’s second-best pick in his preseason rankings and the No. 48 contender in baseball in its midseason update.
So what do the Red Sox have in a player like Rafaela? Here are five things you should know about the Curaçao native.
1. Rafaela already has Gold Glove potential in midfield
Rafaela’s path to the big leagues has seemed all but inevitable in recent years, thanks in large part to his outstanding defensive skills. A versatile defender, Rafaela has made 84 starts in midfield and 15 as shortstop during his stints with Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester this season.
And although Rafaela is a plus defender in the infield, his talent shines when patrolling the outfield. His highlight roles with Portland and Worcester are littered with instances of him erasing extra base hits and going off the scorecard with diving grabs and fence-climbing snags.
“Defensively he’s ready now” Worcester Red Sox manager Chad Tracy told Alex Speier about it The Boston Globe last week. “He could go up there and play a midfielder as good or better than most of the guys up there. I firmly believe that.”
Rafaela, who was named the Red Sox’s minor-league defensive player of the year in both 2021 and 2022, should be good for at least a Web Jewel or two no matter how long he stays in MLB this season.
“This is my 20th year with the organization. I’ve never seen anyone who could get two top positions on the diamond and play at that elite status. I’ve just never seen anything like it,” said Sea Dogs manager Chad Epperson said Speier in September 2022. “He gets to the balls with ease and has a knack for playing the infield, always in charge of the jumps… You hear coaches you talk to on the other team [say] He’s the best player in the league.”
2. He has drawn comparisons to a former Red Sox star
Rafaela’s defensive talents would likely see him into the big leagues at some point, even if he was more of a utility player.
But his improved performance on the field has allowed him to rise in the Red Sox farm system rankings.
So far this season, Rafaela has averaged .302/.349/.520 with 20 homers and 79 RBIs in 108 combined games between Portland and Worcester.
Despite the jump in competition, Rafaela has actually improved since she was called up to the Triple-A at the end of June. After hitting six home runs and 37 runs in 60 games with Double-A Portland, the Curacao native has hit 14 home runs in just 48 games with Worcester.
While he’s not exactly the most imposing figure on the plate (1.70m), Rafaela’s quick hands and shot speed mean he can generate plenty of power on the plate. From August 1-5, Rafaela was a home run in five straight games for the WooSox.
Because of his ability to throw the ball consistently without putting a lot of strain on his body, Rafaela has drawn some comparisons to another smaller Red Sox player who had a lot of punching power.
“I really think of Mookie Betts when I see him” Rafaela’s Portland teammate, David Hamilton, told MassLive.com’s Chris Smith last year. “He can do anything. He can hit. He can be a field player. He can run. He can throw. So he’s a great player.”
3. His disc discipline still needs to be worked on
Given Rafaela’s already polished defensive play and performance on the field, why did it take Rafaela until the last week of August to earn a long-awaited call-up to the big leagues?
It depends above all on the record discipline, which the promising young player had to overcome regularly as a hurdle during his years in the minor classes.
“Definitely swing choices,” Tracy said of Rafaela’s primary focus in an interview with Boston.com earlier this season. “We knew he was a talented guy. We knew he would be able to hit, defend and all that. But the swing decision part was the next piece of the puzzle that needed to be further improved.”
Part of Rafaela’s performance is the result of his aggressive playing habits, with the outfielder prone to chasing pitches and challenging whatever is thrown at him.
So far this season, Rafaela has hit 103 strikeouts and completed just 26 walks in 444 at-bats between Portland and Worcester.
Improving plate discipline has long been a directive from the Red Sox’s development team when it comes to Rafaela’s growth.
As Alex Speier noted earlier this yearThe Red Sox even limited Rafaela to just one shot per shot during spring practice to emphasize their goal of not chasing pitches.
Rafaela has made great strides on the out-of-zone pitches, leading to his call-up on Monday. It’s a guideline he must continue to follow given the challenges that await him against MLB pitchers.
“Even the best hitters in the world sometimes chase,” Tracy told Boston.com. “They will hunt up or down, they will hunt out of the zone. The point for him is, let’s refine this back down to a range that’s about average for what the rest of the league is doing.
And when we do that, with your skills, your stick-to-ball skills, suddenly we’re eliminating 15 percent of the balls that we’re swinging that we can’t really throw. We’re refining that and then we want to see how many balls are still hitting the barrel of your racquet, allowing you to do some serious damage.”
4. Rafaela set a Sea Dogs record for steals in a game
Rafaela’s defense and punching power have allowed him to become a promising asset in Boston’s up-and-coming talent. But his speed and aggressiveness on the basepaths add another element to his repertoire that Boston is looking to capitalize on this season.
Rafaela has stolen 36 bases in his 108 games between Portland and Worcester this season, most notably a record performance in May.
In a 6-2 loss to the Somerset Patriots on May 13, Rafaela stole six Bases for the Sea Dogs on their way to a new franchise record. Rafaela was originally credited with seven stolen bases, with his last third base steal in the ninth inning being turned into defensive indifference by the official scorer after the game.
Rafaela’s six steals in a single game have only been achieved by four players in AL/NL history and equaled just once in the 21st century. Carl Crawford stole six bases from the Rays in a game against the Red Sox on May 5, 2009.
“He is very skilled. He pretty much has everything. He can hit, hit to gain power, he can throw, he can run.” Red Sox outfielder coordinator Corey Wimberly told Speier last July. “It’s hard to project guys but I think he’s going to be pretty good man. I think he will be better than people think. I think he’s really going to be a superstar player. I really think so.”
5. Rafaela’s family was clearly a huge Atlanta Braves fan
As noted by Pete Abraham of The Boston Globe, Rafaela’s full name is Ceddanne Chipper Nicasio Marte Rafaela.
In fact, Rafaela was named after former Braves third baseman Chipper Jones in part because his mother, Rechilena, was a huge fan. Like many baseball fans who grew up on Curaçao, the Braves, featuring Curaçao’s Andruw Jones, were an easy team to win.
Yes, Rafaela admitted Chris Smith of MassLive.com that he always liked the Red Sox as a kid, with Manny Ramirez being his favorite hitter and Dustin Pedroia his favorite defenseman.
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