Get to know these up-and-coming Sox prospects

October 19th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Ian Browne’s Red Sox Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

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 2022. 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 Worcester 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 2022. 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 '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 II Newberry College who was acquired by the Athletics for the price of $500 in 2017. After subsequent stints with the Angels and Rays, Kelly joined Boston as a Minor League free agent prior to the ’21 season. He has shown continued improvement 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 a 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 Betts, the thought was that 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 Worcester in 2021, 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.