Ceddanne Rafaela has taken a major step forward, putting him in the Boston Red Sox outfield mix for next season.
Ceddanne Rafaela has emerged as the breakout prospect of the year in the Boston Red Sox farm system. The middle infielder/outfielder has gone from total unknown to potential impact contributor in a matter of months. Before the season, FanGraphs did not mention Rafaela on their list of Red Sox prospects, but in their midseason update, Eric Longenhagen moved him all the way up to sixth. Longenhagen views Rafaela as a 45 future value prospect, which implies that he would be a very useful role player on a good team or an everyday player on a weaker one.
Rafaela’s single-year jump is remarkable and extremely rare for any kind of prospect. Let’s look at how he has improved throughout his professional career.
The Red Sox signed Rafaela in 2017 as an international free agent for a paltry $10,000 when he was 16 years old. He comes from Curacao, a small island that has stunningly become a baseball hotbed. The nation of 155,000 people claims 16 Major Leaguers born on the island, including Andruw Jones, Kenley Jansen, Andrelton Simmons, Ozzie Albies, Jair Jurrjens, Jonathan Schoop, and Jurickson Profar. Rafaela, like many of them, comes from Willemstad. The capital city will also be playing in this year’s Little League World Series, which Rafaela also played in back in 2012.
In his first pro season, with Red Sox 1 of the Dominican Summer League, Rafaela put up an unassuming line. He had a .705 OPS and only three home runs in 54 games, but that was enough to earn a stateside promotion. In 2019, he played 41 games with the rookie-level Gulf Coast Red Sox, where his slash line improved slightly, resulting in a .754 OPS.
That earned him a brief stint with the Lowell Spinners of the now-defunct New York-Penn League, where he was almost three full years younger than the average short season player. Like most minor leaguers, Rafaela missed all of 2020 when the minor league season was cancelled. He returned to game action in 2021 playing the whole year with the Low-A Salem Red Sox. He put up another roughly league average line with a .729 OPS, but he stole 23 bags.
Rafaela entered this season with the High-A Greenville Drive, a year and a half younger than his peers. Out of nowhere his OPS increased by over 200 points in 45 games. His batting average jumped 80 points to .330, and his slugging percentage shot up 150 points. His 30 extra-base hits with Greenville came close to the 39 he hit with Salem, in less than half the number of games.
The outstanding stretch forced the organization’s hand, as the Red Sox pushed him to AA. Rafaela is now three years younger than the competition as he continues to hit well. His numbers have unsurprisingly dropped a little with Portland, but not by much. In 46 games as a Sea Dog, he has an .869 OPS boosted by a .524 slugging percentage. His .287 average is still good, but upper-level pitchers are starting to expose some plate discipline issues. Rafaela is walking at a 5% clip this year, which is below-average.
Playing multiple positions is valuable to any team, btu Rafaela is best in centerfield, one of the most important defensive positions. He has plus speed and good instincts to run balls down. Similar to org-mate and playoff hero Enrique Hernandez, he can also play a capable second base, along with some shortstop and third.
FanGraphs is not the only outlet to notice Rafaela’s exponential growth. MLB Pipeline, which is slower to move prospects up or down rankings, placed him 24th on their current Sox list. Baseball America has been the boldest, moving Rafaela into the back of the Top 100. Last month the 5’8” hitter was rewarded with a spot in the Futures Game. He was the only Red Sox representative at the game, as SP Brayan Bello was supposed to go but reached the Majors instead.
Ceddanne Rafaela must be added to the 40-man roster this coming offseason. GM Chaim Bloom will surely give him a spot, along with a promotion to AAA. If Rafaela plays well there, he has a very good chance of debuting at Fenway Park in 2023.