Though the season wasn’t fulfilling for the Red Sox at the Major League level, the opposite was true on the farm.
Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and director of player development Brian Abraham have overseen a much-improved crop of prospects in recent years, culminating in a highly-successful 2022.
“Obviously, just focusing on individual players, I think we’ve seen a lot of individual growth through not only some of our higher prospects but throughout our system,” said Abraham. “I think we’ve raised the floor of our system pretty significantly over the past couple of years. It’s been fun to watch.”
This week, we take a look at the prospects who emerged this season and those who could be poised for a notable 2023.
3 PLAYERS WHO FORCED THEIR WAY ONTO THE RADAR THIS YEAR
Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS. Few Red Sox prospects in recent memory --- if any -- have made the type of jump Rafaela made in ’22. He started the season ranked No. 28 in Boston’s farm system as rated by MLB Pipeline. By midseason, he vaulted all the way up to No. 4. Now? Rafaela is No. 3.
The 5-8, wiry prospect has drawn comparisons to Mookie Betts due to his size and athleticism. Look for Rafaela to play his way up to Triple-A in 2023, at which point he will be just a phone call away for the Red Sox. His defensive exploits in center field are already legendary. He is also a plus defender at short. Rafaela was a force at the plate, slashing .299/.342/.538 with 32 doubles, 10 triples, 21 homers, 86 RBIs and 28 stolen bases.
Niko Kavadas, 1B. In his first full season in the Minors, the former Notre Dame standout started the season at Low-A Salem, where he played 59 games. Then came the promotion to High-A Greenville for a dominant 37-game stint. That led to Kavadas getting a second promotion to Double-A Portland, where he played his final 24 games of ’22. In all, the lefty slugger slashed .280/.443/.547 with 25 doubles, 26 homers, 86 RBIs and 102 walks. Kavadas is all but certain to continue on at Double-A to open up '23.
Zack Kelly, RHP. It was a feel-good story when the Red Sox called up the 27-year-old in late August, marking his first stint in the Major Leagues. Kelly was an undrafted free agent out of Division 2 Newberry College who was acquired by the Athletics for the price of $500 in 2017. After subsequent stints with the Angels and Rays, Boston signed Kelly as a Minor League free agent prior to the ’21 season. He has shown continued improvements and held his own for the Red Sox in September, posting a 3.95 ERA in 13 outings while averaging 94.5-mph with his fastball.
2 POSSIBLE BREAKOUT PLAYERS FOR 2023
Enmanuel Valdez, UTIL. While the trade of Christian Vázquez to the Astros was unpopular in the clubhouse and throughout Red Sox Nation, the Red Sox did get a prospect back with an intriguing bat and diverse defensive profile in Valdez. The 23-year-old is a left-handed hitter. In 500 at-bats for three different affiliates in 2022, Valdez mashed 28 homers to go with 107 RBIs and a .918 OPS. He started games this past season at first base, second base, third base, left field, right field and DH.
David Hamilton, 2B/SS. Hamilton is a burner on the bases, as evidenced by his 70 stolen bases for Double-A Portland in ’22. The left-handed hitter also displayed some power with 12 homers. If he can develop enough offense to be a more frequent presence on base, the Red Sox could have something with Hamilton, who was acquired from the Brewers in December of ’21.
1 BIG QUESTION FOR NEXT SEASON
Is Jeter Downs still a prospect?
When the Red Sox got Downs as the key prospect in the deal with the Dodgers for Mookie Betts, the thought was he had a bright future as a hitter, defender and baserunner at the Major League level.
The problem is that Downs is being held back by his lack of offensive consistency. After hitting .190 at Triple-A Worcester in ’21, Downs added just seven points to his batting average while playing at the same affiliate in ’22. The 24-year-old is starting to run out of time to prove he can be what many scouts once projected. Downs also struggled in a 39 at-bat stint with the Red Sox, hitting .171.
What is the record for most career wins by a Red Sox pitcher in the postseason?
Red Sox No. 2 prospect Triston Casas gained 27 games and 95 plate appearances of Major League experience at the conclusion of the 2022 season. He is currently playing winter ball for Licey (Dominican Republic). At the conclusion of the regular season, Casas shared some reflections with MLB.com on his introduction to life in the Majors. We run Part 1 of that conversation this week.
MLB.com: You’ve gotten a chance to face the best pitchers in the world the last month or so. Have you shown yourself that you can compete at this level?
Casas: Absolutely. I think there are uncertainties when you come up to this level because there is such a discrepancy between Triple-A and the Major Leagues. There’s a big difference. So coming up and being able to perform half-decently, it’s a big confidence boost that I’ve been able to hang at this level. I think that’s what this month has been about, seeing where I’m at skill-level wise, maturity-wise, and I felt like I’ve helped myself coming up here. I haven’t excelled and I still have a lot of things to work on in the offseason to hopefully come back next year and show some better results.
MLB.com: What’s the biggest thing you’re going to take from this last month that will help you prepare for next season?
Casas: Every pitcher has an outlier pitch when it comes to a fastball, whether it’s a sinker, or a rise ball. I think this winter I’m going to work a lot on the extremes as opposed to the median because there’s no such thing as a straight fastball. I’m going to work on both of the extremes and how to fail the correct way against those types of pitches and pitchers. Now, having seen some of the quality arms in the American League, it gives me a better idea and a better understanding of what to picture going into next year. The stuff is only going to keep getting better. Going into the offseason, I know to work on the extremes of what I can face and learn how to develop a swing that can play consistently against those pitches that have great characteristics.
THIS WEEK IN '07
Throughout the season, we are taking a 15-year look back at memorable moments from the most underrated of Boston’s four World Series championships this century.
Oct. 18: Beckett staves off elimination
Down 3-1 in the American League Championship Series, there was good news and bad news for the Red Sox. Bad news first: The Sox were on the brink of elimination. Good news: Boston had its best pitcher on the mound in Josh Beckett. In a matchup of the top two finishers in that year’s AL Cy Young Award race, Beckett (8 innings, 5 H, 1 ER, 11 K’s) outpitched CC Sabathia in decisive fashion in Cleveland and the Red Sox prevailed with a 7-1 win that was just 2-1 after six innings. Boston romped in Games 6 and 7 at Fenway to advance to the World Series.
Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling and Jon Lester all won six postseason games during their time with the Red Sox. Beckett is next with five. Nathan Eovaldi and Derek Lowe had four apiece.
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