Red Sox's No. 3 prospect drawing lofty comparisons

Breakout season in Minors nets Ceddanne Rafaela Defensive Player of the Year Award

September 27th, 2022

BOSTON -- Electrifying Red Sox prospect was wearing a stylish gray suit at Fenway Park before Monday night's 14-8 series-opening loss to the Orioles, as he prepared to be recognized as the organization’s Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

Though Rafaela doesn’t take the honor lightly, he has no interest in three-peating that award -- or wearing a suit -- the next time he is on the field at Fenway.

His goal for 2023? To suit up in a Red Sox jersey for his Major League debut.

"That’s the main goal, not just to come here, but come to play here next year," Rafaela said.

Considering the 22-year-old Rafaela’s meteoric rise this season, don’t put it past him. He started the season ranked No. 28 among Red Sox prospects by MLB Pipeline. Now? He's No. 3.

While Rafaela’s defense in center field and shortstop was just as special last year, he made a huge leap offensively in ‘22. It didn’t happen by accident.

"I worked hard in the offseason," Rafaela said. "I worked hard and tried to swing at better pitches, and I think that helped me a lot this year offensively."

In 116 games this season -- 45 for High-A Greenville and 71 for Double-A Portland -- Rafaela hit .299/.342/.538 with 32 doubles, 10 triples, 21 homers and 86 RBIs, while stealing 28 bases.

With that combination of offense, defense and baserunning, not to mention his wiry frame, you can probably guess which player Rafaela is already drawing comparisons to.

Here’s a hint. His first name begins with an M.

"I think of Mookie Betts really when I see him," said David Hamilton, recognized as the organization’s Baserunner of the Year and a teammate of Rafaela’s in Portland. 

"He can do it all," added Hamilton. "He can hit. He can field. He can run. He can throw. So he’s a great player."

Rafaela smiled when asked about the lofty comparison -- but he also shrugged it off.

"That’s big, because obviously he’s obviously one of the best players now in the league," said Rafaela. "It’s a privilege that they compare me to him, but he’s Mookie and I’m Rafaela."

The one fair comparison is that they can both do freakish things on a baseball field. Just ask Niko Kavadas, the organization’s Offensive Player of the Year.

"I got a little taste of it last year in [Single-A] Salem," reflected Kavadas, Boston's No. 21 prospect. "I came up, and in my very first game he makes a diving catch toward the line, down the left-field line, stands up and throws it all the way across the field to me at first base and hits No. 2 on the Top 10 or something like that. I was just like, 'That kid, he's special.' He's different."

What stands out?

"He's really quick," Kavadas said. "He's strong. The frame might not be huge, but there's a lot of strength in there. He moves so well. He's so free and so mobile and so quick-twitch. He's really strong."

The right-handed hitter from Curacao hopes to play for the Netherlands in next spring’s World Baseball Classic, where he could possibly team with Red Sox leader Xander Bogaerts.

"Oh, that would be crazy," Rafaela said of the prospect of sharing the field with Bogaerts on the international stage. "Yes, I have talked to them, but nothing’s for sure yet."

If you want to see Rafaela’s eyes light up, ask him about the best plays he’s made on defense. Though there have been home run robberies chronicled on video, Rafaela says the best catch he’s made as a pro wasn't caught on camera in a game played at Asheville, the High-A affiliate of the Astros.

"I was playing shifted to left field, I was in left-center. It was a line drive to right-center and I made a Superman diving catch. It was crazy," Rafaela said.

Imagine some future summer night at Fenway when Rafaela does something similar. That one will definitely be on camera, and could very well go viral in seconds.

For Rafaela, Monday was just about soaking up the surroundings of the place that should be his home office at some point in the not-too-distant future.

"It’s a privilege to be here," said Rafaela. "I’m so proud to be here, I’m looking forward to playing here. It’s so special to see this ballpark."