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June 13, 2022 at 2:00 PM

Scouting the Box Score: The Rise of Ceddanne Rafaela

Welcome to our newest SoxProspects.com feature, "Scouting the Box Score." Beyond our usual scouting coverage, we hope to use this space to look into the development of some players in a little more depth and context, where they stand at present, and how they got there. While we'll necessarily incorporate scouting elements, this feature will focus a bit more on present and past in-game performance. As always, especially with any new content, we look forward to your feedback. We hope you enjoy it!


The week began with the exciting and somewhat surprising news that Ceddanne Rafaela was getting promoted from Greenville to Portland. While Rafaela has been very good during his time with Greenville, the speed of his promotion exceeded some of the best players to come through the system in recent years. 


The Rise

Rafaela originally signed with the Red Sox for a modest $10,000 bonus during the star-crossed July 2017 signing period. Boston made a splash that year, inking seven players to deals worth over $100,000, three of at least $1.4 million. While just one of the $100K players remains in the system (Antoni Flores), Rafaela, Brayan Bello ($28,000), and Gilberto Jimenez ($10,000) have been gems for the scouting department. Years before signing, Rafaela played in the 2012 Little League World Series for his native Curacao. Five years later, his athleticism got him a professional deal. 

At 17, Rafaela made his pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, where he had a solid but unspectacular season. Originally a shortstop, he saw about 80 percent of his playing time at third base in deference to starting shortstop Denny Daza (who'd received a $250k bonus). He hit .271/.326/.379 across 54 games, sporting a 17.3 percent strikeout rate but not showing significant power or patience. 

He came stateside that fall to participate in his first Fall Instructional League, and he would be assigned to the Gulf Coast League out of spring training the following spring. He split his 2019 time at Fort Myers pretty evenly between second base, shortstop, and third, sharing time with a group that included 2019 second-round pick Matthew Lugo and fellow Class of 2017 signee Danny Diaz.  A .248/.330/.425 slash line doesn’t paint an accurate enough picture of Rafaela’s progress. After getting off to a middling start through July, he kicked off August on an 11-for-30 surge that included three triples and two homers in eight games. He then went into an 0-for-18 slump, only to close with a resurgent 10-for-31 effort in his last eight games. Impressing the coaching staff with his contact abilities (15.9 percent strikeout rate for the season) and excellent defense, he earned an end-of-season bump to playoff-bound Lowell. After beginning the season as the 54th-ranked prospect in the system, Rafaela powered into the top 20 by year's end, finishing at 19th.

2020 looked like an opportunity to build on that success, but that chance was lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, Rafaela impressed again at Instructs and went into 2021 with high expectations. Assigned to Salem, Rafaela, now 20, hit safely in his first six games of the season, but was once again inconsistent at the plate. He hit .251/.305/.424 but showed improved pop with 20 doubles, nine triples, and 10 home runs, and he was successful on 23 of 26 stolen base attempts. Where he began to separate himself was on defense. He continued to excel in the infield and was a revelation in his first taste of the outfield, where he ended up appearing in 62 of his 104 games played. He displayed excellent instincts and a plus arm to go with his outstanding range, earning recognition as the organization’s defensive player of the year. Rule 5 eligible following the season, a roster crunch and Rafaela’s distance from the majors left him unprotected, but the lockout and subsequent canceling of the draft kept him in the fold. While it would have been difficult to foresee Rafaela’s bat playing in the majors, his defense could potentially have led to a team trying to stash him as a glove-first utility option off of the bench.


2022 Breakout

Having built a reputation as a player who supplemented superb defense with a broad range of solid offensive skills, Rafaela has spent 2022 as one of the better hitters in minor league baseball. On opening day, he went 2 for 5 with a homer and produced the same line the following day. Through 13 games, the 21-year-old was hitting .379/.429/.776, and his six home runs were just four short of his career-high. Though he didn’t keep up quite with that torrid pace for Greenville, Rafaela also did not particularly slow down. During an 11-game hitting streak from May 20 through June 5, he was 19 for 48 (.396) with seven doubles and two triples. 

At the end of Sunday’s contest, the slash line stood at .330/.368/.594 with a South Atlantic League lead in batting average, hits (65), and runs scored (37). He was just three short of his 2021 mark in doubles. Despite the incredible start, there were signs Rafaela was being challenged. His strikeout rate of 17.6 percent in his first three seasons rose to 24.4. He also supported a .409 BABIP, which is inflated some because of Rafaela’s bat control. 


Promotion in Context

If Rafaela’s boost to Double-A felt like a quick one, it’s because with 209 plate appearances he passed through the High A level faster than even most of the best prospects to go through the system. For comparison’s sake: 

Andrew Benintendi was assigned to High-A Salem out of 2016 spring training after finishing his draft year with Low-A Greenville. In 155 plate appearances across 34 games, he abused Carolina League pitching to a .341/.413/.563 line that included nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts. Fresh off being taken with the seventh pick of the draft as one of the hottest players in the NCAA, Benintendi continued to rake at Portland and, finally, in Boston. A late-season injury preserved his rookie status, and he went into the 2017 season as Baseball America’s top prospect in the game.

- Going back years earlier, Jackie Bradley, Jr. was assigned to High-A Salem for his first taste of full-season ball. The 40th pick in the 2011 draft, Bradley took the circuit by storm, hitting .359/.480/.526. He would close the season as the third-ranked player in the system and a consensus top-40 prospect in the game. 

- More recently, Jarren Duran began the 2019 season at Salem after a torrid pro debut at Lowell and Greenville. Duran’s .387/.456/.543 line in 226 Salem plate appearances almost does his performance at the level an injustice. He spent nearly his entire time at the level over the .400 mark before a 4-for-26 slide in his final seven games brought his numbers back to earth.

Markus Lynn Betts spent a similar length of time in High-A, but in a relatively different context. Betts hit .341/.414/.551 over 211 plate appearances in 2013, his second full season, but his run at the level came after a midseason promotion from Greenville, rather than as an opening day assignment like Rafaela and the other prospects listed above. It’s not impossible that Betts would’ve gotten an end-of-season bump to get a taste of Double-A, but with Salem holding a playoff spot and Portland far out of contention that year, getting Betts extra reps in the postseason while getting a chance to enjoy a run at a title superseded any argument for a promotion at that time. A totally unheralded player headed into the season, Betts went from being unranked on the SoxProspects.com Top 60 at the start of the year to a spot in the Top 100 by both Baseball America and MLB.com at the close.

Garin Cecchini represents the cautionary tale in the group. After a solid 2012 in Greenville, Cecchini was a force in High-A, using an advanced approach and gap-to-gap power. He continued to get on base at an outstanding clip after the promotion, hitting .296/.420/.404 for Double-A Portland. A consensus top-100 prospect heading into 2014, he never really hit in Triple-A the way his scouting profile or previous performance suggested he should. He ended up appearing in 13 games for the Red Sox in 2014 and 2015, going 8 for 35, and he was out of affiliated baseball by 2018. 


As you can see from the chart, Rafaela’s approach numbers lag far behind the rest of this group, and that plate discipline will be challenged at Double-A. His isolated slugging is notably higher than the other quick-promotes, but that comes with something of a caveat: his High-A experience came in Greenville, a much more friendly hitting environment than power-suppressing Salem and Carolina League. Of course, offensive production is not the whole story. Only Bradley, arguably the best defensive player in the minor leagues at the time, was near the level Rafaela is now on that side of the ball. (Betts, who would go on to become one of baseball’s best outfielders, played exclusively second base, improving steadily while paired with Deven Marrero in Salem, in 2013). While organizational need is not a large concern when promoting a top prospect, Rafaela’s glove will be welcomed by a Portland staff that has not had a strong defense behind it. 

The first three games at Portland were an adjustment, as Rafaela went just 1 for 13 with a double and three strikeouts. Then the 21-year-old exploded on Friday, going 4 for 5 with a home run, a double, and three runs scored. He continued to rake into the weekend, going 4 for 8 with another double and homer, driving in four runs, with nary a strikeout. A continued strong showing at Double-A likely puts Rafaela on the radar for top-100 prospect consideration. While that's something short of a guarantee of major league success, it is already an outstanding return on a $10,000 signing. 

Photo Credit: Ceddanne Rafaela by Kelly O'Connor

James Dunne is Managing Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JamesDunneSP.