'Something new every day' with Rafaela's glove

March 6th, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Take any defensive cliché you prefer, and it applies to Ceddanne Rafaela. He’s a future Gold Glove contender. Water covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface; he covers the remaining 29 percent. He’s a highlight reel all to himself.

OK, that last one is true, and we can prove it.

The No. 86 overall prospect is one of the most gifted defenders in the Minor Leagues, so much so that he could be a plus glovesman at both center field and shortstop. The Red Sox have moved the Curaçao native between the grass and the dirt the last two seasons, trying to take advantage of his impressive instincts and quick-twitch movements at both spots, and that elite versatility earned Rafaela a 40-man roster spot last offseason when he first became Rule 5-eligible.

“I think some of the normal routine plays that he makes are probably not as routine as people think,” said Boston director of player development Brian Abraham. “That's really what makes him special. When he was even younger, he just had a knack for the baseball and really good instincts. That’s really hard to teach. I don't have one [favorite play], but it’s something new every day, which is a pretty cool thing.”

From Spring Training camp in Fort Myers, MLB Pipeline sat down with the No. 3 Red Sox prospect with the above montage of his best plays from the 2022 season with Double-A Portland to get his commentary on his defensive work in the outfield and at shortstop. Below are highlights of those plays and highlights of that conversation.

Let’s start with a bang. Rafaela was no stranger to the classic center-field home-run robbery in 2022.

Rafaela: I knew it was a high wall, so I couldn’t just jump and catch it. So I know I have to put a step and jump. So I was just timing it and made the catch. … As an outfielder, you know when they hit it if it’s going to the warning track or it’s just a fly ball. You have to see it right from the bat.

Rafaela initially signed with Boston as an infielder and made 21 starts at shortstop last season between Portland and High-A Greenville, including this July 29 game in Hartford where his instincts with both his glove and arm came into play.

Rafaela: I anticipate every play. I like to do that, imagine plays in my mind before they happen. I was infielding, and I was thinking fly ball back and check right away [for the runner]. Maybe if I dive, check if he was [running] on contact or not. So that’s why I knew I had to go right away to the plate.

The 22-year-old batted .288 with an .880 OPS in ’22, showing the potential to be an average overall hitter. But considering how he can make Superman-style leaps in the outfield, he knows his value comes on the other end.

Rafaela: Making those plays for me, it’s huge because a lot of baseball players only think offensively. They want to hit home runs and doubles and stuff. I love to make plays, too. I think I like to make plays more than I do to hit a home run. It doesn’t only help me because I’m helping my teammate too, the pitcher, and that makes me feel good that I’m helping the team.

Dykstra: They started giving you more center field in 2021 coming off the pandemic year. What was that discussion like?

Rafaela: I mean, it was just to see more and play more, I think. More opportunity. I was happy. I was really happy to go out there. Growing up, that’s where I played in the [2012] Little League World Series. I played outfield coming up.

Dykstra: So did you get to feel like being a kid again?

Rafaela: Yeah [laughs].

Rafaela: That was one of my favorite plays.

Dykstra: That one right there. Why is that?

Rafaela: Because it was almost impossible to catch that ball. If you see, I catch the ball on the grass before it enters my glove. I knew my guy is there to back me up, [Wilyer] Abreu, so I was just jumping to see if I can catch it. That’s why it’s one of my favorite plays.

Dykstra You know that’s a risk, like you’re not 100 percent that you’re going to catch that?

Rafaela: That one? No. That one, no because it was a low line drive that just keeps carrying.

The Red Sox have said they anticipate Rafaela playing four games per week in center and two at shortstop in 2023 to keep him fresh at both positions. And while his favorite plays may come as he's flying toward the gaps, he still has the mind of a player at the six, which comes in handy with plays like the above.

Rafaela: I think the only time I throw as an outfielder is [during] the game when I’m playing as an outfielder. But practicing and everything, I keep doing like I’m an infielder.

But to circle back around to the top, nothing is going to make Rafaela a star quite like leaping over a center-field wall and turning a possible dinger into a surefire out. Those options may be limited with Fenway Park’s tall walls, but Rafaela mentioned he’s especially looking forward to making Boston’s 420-foot triangle part of his territory.

Rafaela: That one is exciting because that day, I was practicing in BP, and I robbed one too. So I was like, 'I want to rob one today.' And then it happened. It was crazy.

If Rafaela's defense is any indication, his Minor League highlights may become Major League web gems quickly in 2023.

Rafaela: They know what I can do defensively. They know what I’ve got. So I don’t have to really try to do much more than I can do. Just keep being myself and trying to make the right decisions at the right place. … I think I just have to wait for my time. Wait for the call and do my thing.