Ahead of a crucial three-game series against the Astros that started on Monday night at Fenway, the Sox recalled Rafaela from Triple-A Worcester in one of a series of roster moves.
In the bottom of the eighth, Rafaela blooped a single to right in his first MLB at-bat. Moments later, he was doubled off first on a short popup down the right-field line by Rob Refsnyder.
All in all, it was a joyous day for Rafaela.
“It means everything,” Rafaela said. “I don’t want to say I’m nervous. I’m just excited and very proud of myself to be in this position right now.”
With the WooSox enjoying an off-day on Monday, Rafaela figured it would be a leisurely start to the week. Then, things got crazy.
“I was playing PlayStation with my brother and the [Triple-A] manager, [Chad Tracy], called me and I didn’t respond a couple of times,” Rafaela said. “And then I responded and he told me, ‘You don’t want to play in the big leagues?’ I was like, ‘Of course I do.’ It was a very exciting moment.”
It is uncertain at this point how long Rafaela’s first stint with Boston will last. The Sox made the move after placing outfielder Wilyer Abreu on the paternity list and moving infielder Pablo Reyes to the 10-day injured list with left elbow inflammation.
“We’ll talk about it,” said Red Sox manager Alex Cora. “But for now, this is where we’re at.”
Rafaela’s key point of development this season has been to improve his plate discipline.
“In my routine, I focus even in BP and flips to only swing at balls in the zone,” Rafaela said. “That has helped a lot.”
“It’s been better,” said Cora. “I talked to Chad today, just now. He's doing a lot of good things. I think the swing decisions are improving. We know the athlete. Obviously, there's a different level, but we expect him to come here, and if he plays, whenever he plays, just go out there and have fun. He can play center. He can play short. He can run. He’s been hitting for power, discipline has been a lot better the last few weeks, which is very important at this level.”
Rafaela is hitting .302 with an .870 OPS across 108 games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A this year with 20 home runs, 79 RBIs and 36 steals in what’s been the best offensive Minor League season for him thus far.
His rise has been somewhat meteoric. Rafaela only had a .729 OPS in Single-A Salem in 2021 before raising that number to .880 last season across High-A Greenville and Double-A. Along with improving his bat, he’s also improved his plate discipline, as he’s already tied his walk total from last season (26) despite playing in eight fewer games.
“I think I’m much better now,” Rafaela said. “I’ve learned a lot. I think that’s just trusting the process. I know what I’m capable of.”
Rafaela has spent most of his season in center field, but he can play any position except for first base and catcher. Cora indicated that the Sox will limit him to center and shortstop for now.
MLB Pipeline describes him as "a Gold Glover waiting to happen with outstanding range along with plus arm strength” in the outfield, and he boasts 20 outfield assists across his Minor League career, along with a .956 fielding percentage at shortstop.
“I wouldn’t want to compare him to others, but his ability to play a plus center field and a plus shortstop is pretty special and valuable,” said Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham. “His glove provides a lot of value and is a game changer on the dirt and in the grass. He takes pride in what he does on the field and I only see him continuing to improve with the work he puts in and more thorough understanding of positioning and opponents at the upper levels.”
Rafaela, a native of Curaçao, is hoping his family can get to Boston in time for Tuesday's game. Having a mentor like Red Sox closer Kenley Jansen, who hails from the same island, is special for Rafaela.
“That’s crazy,” said Rafaela. “Two players from such a small island, it’s special for us to play on the same team.”