What to expect from Ceddanne Rafaela in the Majors

August 28th, 2023

A special glove will help a prospect climb the Minor League ranks. An improving bat on top of that glove will punch his ticket to The Show.

The Red Sox called up No. 77 overall prospect Ceddanne Rafaela to the Majors on Monday. The move came ahead of Boston's crucial three-game series with Houston at Fenway Park. The Sox sit 4 1/2 games back of the Astros for the final AL Wild Card spot at the time of the callup.

Rafaela’s promotion comes after fellow outfielder Wilyer Abreu was transferred to the paternity list, but with rosters set to expand to 28 on Sept. 1, there’s a chance the Red Sox No. 3 prospect, who was already on the 40-man roster before Monday, could stick around a while longer once Abreu returns.

The 22-year-old brings instant highlight-worthy defense to Boston’s Major League roster, and it’s a glove that can play at multiple spots, particularly center field and shortstop. Rafaela has plus speed that would help track down balls anyway, but he doesn’t always need it because his instincts and reactions off the bat are so exceptional that he’ll be in the right place at the right time regardless of wheels.

“Making those plays, for me, it’s huge because a lot of baseball players only think offensively,” Rafaela told MLB Pipeline in Spring Training. “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.”

Since making his Triple-A Worcester debut on June 29, the 5-foot-9 prospect has made 41 of his 47 defensive starts in center with six more coming at short. While Rafaela does have previous experience at second, third and both corner outfield spots, he has only played those two premium positions in 2023. He’ll bump up against the red-hot Adam Duvall for playing time in center while the healthy Trevor Story remains a lock at short, but it’s a safe bet that manager Alex Cora will value Rafaela’s versatility from the bench.

A right-handed hitter, Rafaela had also shown impressive gains in the box leading to Monday’s promotion. He hit .312/.370/.618 with 14 homers and six steals in 48 total games with Worcester. Combined with his six homers and 30 steals from his previous stint with Double-A Portland, he’s one of 14 20-20 performers in the Minor Leagues to this point in 2023, and he’s one of only two repeat 20-20 guys alongside fellow Top 100 prospect Ronny Mauricio.

Dig beyond those numbers, however, and there’s reason to believe Rafaela will be more of an average power hitter in the Majors. Of the 151 balls he batted into play at Triple-A, 69 exceeded the hard-hit standard of 95 mph. That 45.7 percent hard-hit rate would rank fourth among Red Sox hitters with at least 150 batted-ball events in 2023 -- right between Triston Casas (46.2) and Masataka Yoshida (41.5) -- while his max exit velocity of 106.4 mph would rank last.

Rafaela has done a better job of elevating the ball on contact as he’s moved up the Red Sox ladder, but 25.9 percent of his flyballs ended up over the fence at Triple-A -- a rate that isn’t expected to be sustainable in the Majors, especially with the relative lack of raw pop.

What deserves closest watching will be Rafaela’s aggressiveness at the top level. He walked only 5.5 percent of the time with Worcester, the 11th-lowest BB rate among 336 Triple-A players with at least 200 plate appearances in 2023. Rafaela swung at 55.1 percent of the pitches he saw with the WooSox; the Major League average swing rate in 2023 is 47.3 percent. He especially tends to expand the zone on the inner-third of the plate, both up and above the zone, and that’s a level of aggression that Major League pitchers could take advantage of in ways their Triple-A counterparts weren’t.

Regardless of how the bat plays upon arrival, Rafaela brings energy through his glovework and speed to Fenway at a time when Boston should be making an all-hands-on-deck charge toward the postseason. The Green Monster and right-center triangle have a new protector.