'It was awesome': Rafaela cracks first Opening Day roster

March 24th, 2024

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- With the days before the Red Sox traverse to Seattle for Opening Day dwindling to five, manager Alex Cora wasted no time in getting to roster considerations on Saturday before their 8-6 Grapefruit League win against the Twins.

Cora announced that , the club’s No. 4 prospect and baseball's No. 76 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline, would make the Opening Day roster and break camp with the team. With the news, an all-important puzzle piece in the middle of the field fell into place for Boston, giving it another primetime athlete to roam center field when the season kicks off.

With any 23-year-old prospect, there were questions at the beginning of Spring Training about Rafaela’s readiness to be a mainstay in the Red Sox lineup. This spring, he's done his part to answer those questions.

“Everything we asked him to do in the offseason, he did. Everything that we asked him to do in Spring Training, he did,” Cora said. “He’s very dynamic, athletic, versatile and he’s a good kid, too, which is awesome. … He’s going to get a lot of at-bats, and most of the time he’s going to be in center field. I do believe that he makes us better.”

From the very outset, there was a good chance that Rafaela would break camp with the Red Sox. Cora and chief baseball officer Craig Breslow were extremely high on Rafaela's ability to be a game-changing presence on the defensive side of the ball combined with his plus-speed and aptitude for finding the barrel. Concerns about over-aggressiveness and pitch recognition, though, were present.

In his brief debut stint with the Red Sox last season, Rafaela slashed a meager .241/.281/.386 with two homers and five RBIs in 28 games, striking out 28 times (31.5 K%) while drawing just four walks (4.5 BB%). In 20 Grapefruit League appearances this year, Rafaela is slashing .278/.339/.556 with three home runs, four steals and eight RBIs after collecting a single and two steals against the Twins on Saturday. Sure, it’s just Spring Training, but he’s cut down on his strikeouts (12 in 59 plate appearances), and Rafaela's ability to put together professional at-bats are a welcome sight to the Boston brass -- a product of the work he underwent in the offseason.

“It’s not a final product, we know that, and he knows it,” Cora said. “As [Breslow] has said, the development of the player is not over in Triple-A. Offensively, he’s done a few things that we’ve asked him to do, as far as his hands, and attack the ones [pitches] that we like and take the ones we don’t have to swing at.

“He’s been really good in Spring Training, but it’s still Spring Training. But you can see the trend, and the intent is there.”

Knowing that he had the inside track to making the team, Rafaela understood that he just had to control what he could control if he wanted to break camp with the club for the first time in his career. Yet, he couldn’t shake the nerves when his manager called him into his office this week.

“Obviously I was kind of nervous, because I didn’t know what was going to happen at that moment,” Rafaela said. “I’ve been waiting for it all spring, so I was excited to see what the plan was.

“[I called] my mom, I called my wife and then my brother. … It was awesome.”

Over the past couple of weeks, Rafaela has given the Red Sox plenty of reasons to be excited about his on-field impact. The potential upgrade with the bat simmers below the surface, but his versatile wizardry with the glove in center field (diving plays and ranging grabs seem to be second nature) and at second base have the club raring to see more of him.

They understand that Rafaela's development is going to be a process. Cora is confident in his abilities at the plate and thinks Rafaela's presence in the field will single-handedly elevate the team’s defensive capabilities. Cora understands that Rafaela will experience normal growing pains, but at the end of the day, they believe that team is better with Rafaela on the roster.

He’s more than willing to prove them right.

“I think first, I’m a good teammate, I think that helps” Rafaela said. “But then I’m a good defender, I put [together] good ABs, I run the bases well. So I think I can do all the things that are controllable to help the team, and that’s why they feel they can call on me for Opening Day.”