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October 17, 2022 at 11:00 AM

2022 SoxProspects.com All-Stars: Position Players


Welcome to the 2022 SoxProspects.com Awards week! Over the next five days, we will be presenting our annual awards on the news page, recognizing the standout performers from the season. The schedule will be as follows:

Monday: All-Star position players
Tuesday: All-Star pitchers
Wednesday: Graduate of the Year; Homegrown Player of the Year; Ex-Prospect of the Year
Thursday: Rookie of the Year; Breakout Player of the Year; Comeback Player of the Year
Friday: Player of the Year; Pitcher of the Year

We kick things off with the position players selected by the SoxProspects.com staff for their All-Star performances. While we do consider factors such as age advancement and opponent quality, these awards are in recognition of the players' in-game performances rather than a commentary on any status as a prospect. However, the Red Sox also got notable production from its most highly rated prospects: eight of the nine position players selected rank among the top 22 prospects in the system. This group also represents the injection of new talent into the system, with eight of the nine appearing on the list for the first time. 

Catcher: Nathan Hickey
Often a position of weakness in recent campaigns, the Red Sox boasted several strong performances from their backstops in 2022, with Hickey's the most notable. One of four 2021 draftees who will be receiving All-Star recognition, Hickey was a fifth-round selection out of the University of Florida. Assigned to Salem out of spring training, Hickey reached safely in his first 11 games of the year and did not look back. He hit .271/.429/.507 with 12 doubles, seven homers, and as many walks as strikeouts (39) in 41 games before getting a late-June promotion to High-A Greenville. His play stayed remarkably consistent, with a .252/.397/.539 line after moving up. He finished the year ranked 20th in the system.

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First Base: Niko Kavadas
In June, Kavadas had arguably the greatest month by a Red Sox minor leaguer in memory. After a very solid-if-unspectacular first two months of the year at Salem, the 23-year-old abused Carolina League pitching to the tune of 23 for 61 with 10 home runs, 26 RBI, 18 runs scored, and 20 walks before a merciful promotion to the South Atlantic League on June 23. He was even better after getting the boost, hitting safely in each of his six games, going 9 for 19 with four round-trippers. Overall, the 2021 11th-round pick generated a line so absurd -- .390/.529/1.026 -- that it almost appears to be the misprint. Yes, that is the average, OBP, and slugging, the categories were not accidentally shifted. While Kavadas cooled some from that torrid pace, he did earn himself another promotion, finishing the season with Double-A Portland. The Notre Dame product had a final line of .280/.443/.547 across the three levels, leading the system in OBP, slugging, walks (102), and RBI (86), as well as advanced stats like Runs Created (107.7), and wOBA (.429). He moved up from his season-opening ranking of 46th to finish at 22nd.

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Second Base: Brainer Bonaci
The Salem infield was an impressive place in 2022. This list has five players who were primarily infielders in 2022, and all five began the season in the often-unforgiving hitting conditions of LewisGale Field. Two players in the system walked more than 70 times this season: the aforementioned Kavadas, and Bonaci, who worked 89 free passes. A product of Venezuela who had an outstanding professional debut in the Dominican Summer League back in 2019, Bonaci made his way onto this list primarily through plate discipline and contact ability. He did not have a home run until July 26, when he improbably hit two in the same game in Fredericksburg. After posting just an .083 isolated slugging in his first 75 games, Bonaci had a .215 mark in his last 33. He earned SoxProspects.com Player of the Month recognition in July, and this marks his first All-Star appearance.

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Third Base: Blaze Jordan
After the first month of the season, Jordan's appearance on this list seemed unlikely. The 2020 third-round pick got off to a miserable 11-for-68 (.162) start with just one home run in April. Then it was as if flipping the calendar to May triggered Jordan into "on" mode. He immediately embarked on a 12-game hitting streak, going 18 for 49 and posting a .367/.407/.592 slash line. He continued his solid showing at Salem, posting a .404/.482/.660 slash line in June that would have garnered Player of the Month support had it not lined up against, Kavadas' record-annihilating stretch. Overall, he hit .287/.357/.446 in 95 games at Salem, followed by a .301/.387/.441 line following his early-August promotion to Greenville. Something of a YouTube celebrity for his prodigious home runs as a high school player, Jordan showed surprising contact ability and feel for hitting to the opposite field. The 19-year-old was also a SoxProspects.com All-Star in 2021, making him the only one among the position players to have been previously recognized.

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Shortstop: Marcelo Mayer
The fourth overall pick in 2021 and best player available according to several scouts, Mayer entered the 2022 season with extraordinary expectations that were largely met. He got off to a strong start in his first full professional season, going 19 for 57 with six doubles in his first 13 games with Salem before a wrist injury set him back. He appeared in just four games between April 23 and May 30 and had some elevated strikeout rates upon his return, but he continued to post solid numbers. Despite the missed month, consistency was a hallmark of Mayer's season -- he didn't win so much as a Player of the Week Award all season but also never had a monthly OPS below .770. He hit .286/.406/.504 in 66 games with Salem, including a 1.077 in his final 30 contests at the level, before getting a promotion to Greenville on August 8. After going 1 for 18 with six strikeouts in his first four games with the Drive, he went 3 for 4 on August 13, finishing .265/.379/.449 at the level. Mayer is the top-ranked prospect in the system heading into 2023.

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When 2022 started, Rafaela was best known for his excellent glove and versatility, offering plus defense in both the outfield and infield. After going 2 for 5 with a homer in his first two games of the season for Greenville, the 21-year-old Curacao native signaled that his bat was also a force to be reckoned with. He essentially did not slow down in a sprint through the South Atlantic League, with a .414/.446/.729 16-game stretch in mid-May into June pushing the Red Sox into an aggression promotion schedule, moving him up to Double-A after just 209 plate appearances with the Drive. He continued his strong play in the Eastern League, particularly in the power categories, hitting .278/.324/.500 in 71 games after the promotion. By season's end, Rafaela found himself at or near the organizational leaderboard in nearly every mark. He led the way in hits (144), RBI (86), triples (10), extra-base hits (63), total bases (259), and was second in doubles (32), third in runs scored (82), and fourth in home runs (21), all while showcasing highlight-reel defense.

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Outfield: Miguel Bleis
After signing to a $1.5 million bonus in January 2021 as an international free agent, Bleis arrived stateside as a five-tool phenom with potentially the highest upside of anyone in the system. The 18-year-old from San Pedro de Macoris encountered little resistance in the Florida Complex League. Despite registering only six plate appearances against pitchers younger than he, Bleis hit .301/.353/.543 in 40 games, earning recognition from Baseball America as the top prospect in the circuit. (He went 2 for 4 with two doubles, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch in those six instances in which he was the senior participant). If there was a concern with Bleis during the season, it was an elevated strikeout rate, with 43 in his first 136 plate appearances (31.6%). However, he seemed to conquer that in the final stretch, with just two strikeouts during a sweltering 14-for-28 stretch in his final seven games of the season before getting shut down for the year on August 11. Now sitting third in the SoxProspects.com rankings, Bleis has begun getting top-100 recognition from the national publications as the end-of-season lists start to post.

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Outfield: Phillip Sikes
The only player on this roster without a top-25 ranking pedigree, Sikes clawed his way to All-Star status with a strong season under the radar with Salem and Greenville. Hitting just .164 in mid-May, a run of injuries pushed Sikes into additional playing time, and the 23-year-old responded. He hit .357/.514/.768 in an 18-game stretch beginning on May 29 and found himself getting moved up to Greenville on July 4. Sikes continued his solid play at the higher level, hitting .248/.351/.446 in 44 games for the Drive. The 18th-round pick joins fellow 2021 draftees Mayer, Kavadas, and Hickey. 

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Like then-Salem teammate Blaze Jordan, Paulino's name on this list did not seem likely a month into the season. The 19-year-old was hitting a meager .194/.268/.375 with 23 strikeouts and six walks at the close of April. Like Jordan, the onset of May brought immediate results, with Paulino going 7 for 10 in Salem's first two games of the month. Paulino was a model of consistency from that point on, with monthly OPS marks of .809, .814, .821, and .881 the rest of the way. His solid offensive season came while moving all around the diamond, with 35 starts at shortstop, 32 at third base, 29 at second base, 11 in center field, and one in left field, in addition to four appearances as a designated hitter. He finished the season on a particularly strong note, closing with a 12-game hitting streak (.327/.421/.694) and a 36-game on-base streak (.329/.424/.555). He led the organization in doubles (35) and runs scored (96), and joined Mayer and the Mets' Alex Ramirez as the only teenagers with at least 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 15 steals.

Photo Credit: All photos from Kelly O'Connor