Minors report: Who's poised for a big 2022?

November 12th, 2021

BOSTON -- When Chaim Bloom took over as chief baseball officer of the Red Sox in October 2019, one of his biggest goals was to turn the farm system back into a force that could set up the organization for sustained success.

Two years into that mission, the results are already evident.

When MLB Pipeline ranked each team's farm system at the end of August, the Red Sox took a big leap from No. 24 to No. 12.

Boston’s farm system is trending upward due to back-to-back strong Drafts that landed hitting machine and five-tool shortstop . Bloom also deepened the system during the team’s last-place finish in the AL East in ’20 by trading off veterans with expiring contracts for promising Minor Leaguers.

Bloom also inherited some blue-chip prospects who could be closing in on earning a trip to Boston -- sweet-swinging first baseman foremost among them.

Here's a look at some players who made their marks this year and could be poised for a big 2022 season outside of those top prospects, plus one key question that remains to be answered.

3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year

Considering there was no Minor League season in ’20, it was fair to wonder what kind of progress the Red Sox would see from Bello, who struggled in ’19 when he pitched for Low-A Greenville, going 5-10 with a 5.43 ERA.

Give the lanky righty credit for using the controlled environment of ’20 to make all kinds of improvements. Bello split the ’21 season between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, going 7-3 with a 3.87 ERA in 21 starts that included and 132 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings.

Bello was selected by the Red Sox as their Minor League Starting Pitcher of the Year and there is much excitement about his future. He has a fastball that buzzes across home plate in the mid 90s and has topped out at 100. The key will be for the 22-year-old from the Dominican Republic to continue to make improvements on his changeup and slider.

Feltman, a reliever, was very much on the radar when the Red Sox selected him in the third round of the 2018 Draft, and even moreso when he had a 1.93 ERA in 22 outings in his first pro season. But he fell off the radar in ’19, with a disappointing 5.26 ERA for Double-A Portland in which he had 31 walks in 51 1/3 innings.

It took some doing for Feltman to get back on the radar, but he did so by having a dominant ’21 season split between Portland and Triple-A Worcester, which included a 1.06 WHIP and a .215 opponents batting average. The Red Sox were impressed enough by Feltman to recognize him as their Minor League Relief Pitcher of the Year.

This standout defender from Curacao is just 5-foot-8 but he plays big all over the field. He was Boston's Minor League Player of the Year. How versatile is he? Playing the entire season with Low-A Salem, Rafaela started 51 games in center field, nine in left, one in right, 17 at third, 15 at shortstop and six at second base. He has a laser for an arm in the outfield, using it to make nine assists this past season.

The 21-year-old is still growing into his body, and that should help him become a better player offensively as the years ago by. A right-handed hitter, Rafaela led Salem with nine triples and 73 runs. He added 10 homers and 53 RBIs. Athletic players who can play all over the diamond are always intriguing.

2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022

At this point, there isn’t much good the Red Sox can say about the Andrew Benintendi trade. Benintendi won his first career Gold Glove Award for the Royals and the one MLB-ready player the Red Sox got in return was Franchy Cordero, who was designated for assignment and then outrighted to Triple-A in October.

However, Winckowski can quickly change the narrative of how that trade is viewed if he keeps progressing. The 23-year-old was strong at Portland (8-3, 4.14 ERA) and even better in a short sample size for Worcester (2.25 ERA in two starts). If Winckowski continues to make strides, he could find himself pitching at Fenway Park at some point in ’22.

You always love to hear about players who have “plus power.” Then there is Kavadas, who generates plus-plus power from a big and sturdy frame. His tape-measure shots at Notre Dame were legendary. The left-handed hitter proved what he could do with the wooden bat when he tied for the Cape Cod League lead in homers in 2019.

His swing produces natural backspin and he generated some of the top exit velocities heading into the Draft. The Red Sox took him in the 11th round. Because Kavadas lacks speed and will never be a standout defender, the speed of his trajectory through the Minors will be based almost solely on his bat.

1 big question for next season

Will return from his service commitment?
The only reason the Red Sox were able to get Song as low as the fourth round in the 2019 MLB Draft was because of his service commitment for the Naval Academy. The officer training Song began in June 2020 was projected to last between 18-24 months. If he finishes at the shorter end of that projection, Song could be ready for Spring Training.

The owner of an electric right arm, the 6-4, 200-pounder is ranked No. 30 among Red Sox prospects even though he hasn’t pitched for the organization since making seven appearances in Class A Short-Season Lowell shortly after he was drafted. Once Song returns to pitching in the Minors, he will immediately vault in the rankings. Song possesses a mid-90s slider with movement and a wipeout slider. His curveball also has the potential to be a plus pitch.

Given how big a force Song could be for Boston, the question of whether he returns to baseball -- and when -- looms large.