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October 20, 2022 at 11:00 AM

2022 SoxProspects.com Awards: Rookie, Comeback, and Breakout players of the year

Welcome to the fourth day of SoxProspects.com Awards Week. Today, we introduce our Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, and Breakout Player of the Year. All three players were recognized earlier in the week as members of the 2022 All-Star cohort. 

Rookie of the Year: Luis Perales
This pick comes after a slight change in how the site considers rookies. In previous campaigns, anyone with previous game experience was no longer considered a rookie (hence Triston Casas not winning in 2019), but with the later draft making it hard for there to be a real crop of same-season rookies, we altered our qualifications: hitters with fewer than 50 plate appearances and pitchers with fewer than 20 innings will remain eligible. 

While it wasn't the intent, the change in eligibility made this probably the easiest choice among the 2022 award winners. Perales, who had pitched just two innings in one appearance in the Dominican Summer League in 2021, finally got the opportunity to showcase his talent in consistent game action. The 19-year-old right-hander out of Venezuela allowed two runs in his first appearance of the season with the FCL Sox, and two earned runs in his final appearance of the year with Salem. In 11 appearances in between, Perales allowed three earned runs on 10 hits in 29 2/3 innings.

Perales found himself at or near the top of the leaderboard of several rate stats. Among stateside pitchers with at least 30 innings, he had the best ERA (1.77), ranked fourth in opponents batting average (.163), and fifth in strikeout rate (34.2%). He was particularly dominant during his stint in the Florida Complex League, striking out 34 batters in 25 innings while surrendering just 10 hits and nine walks. Unranked headed into the season, largely due to questions about his health status, Perales in currently ranked 15th in the system.


Comeback Player of the Year: Bryan Mata
Mata had consistently been one of the youngest players at his level in his climb through the minors. Another right-handed hurler out of Venezuela, Mata reached Double-A Portland as just a 20-year-old back in 2019, peaking on the rankings at second in the system, behind Triston Casas. A lost 2020 due to the cancellation of minor league season and a 2021 Tommy John surgery brought his rapid ascent through the system to a sudden halt. 

On June 4, Mata took the mound for a rehab outing with Low-A Salem, his first game work since appearing the the Arizona Fall League 32 months earlier. He threw two hitless innings, and followed with three rehab starts with Greenville before being activated to the Portland roster. Instead of showing the rust of missing two years, Mata surrendered just one earned run in 16 1/3 innings in his first four games with the Sea Dogs, striking out 22. He would make six more starts at the level, finishing with a 1.85 ERA in 45 innings, before earning his first promotion the Triple-A. He posted a 3.47 ERA in five starts for Worcester, putting the exclamation point on his comeback with his first career 10-strikeout game in his final game of the season.


Breakout Player of the Year: Ceddanne Rafaela
Of all the postseason awards, this was the one that generated the most discussion. Eddinson Paulino jumped into the top 10 in the rankings after being outside the top-20 coming out of spring training, Nike Kavadas moved up nearly 30 spots in the rankings with a monster offensive campaign, and Miguel Bleis went from 15th in the system at the end of the 2021 season to a consensus top-100 prospect in the game. Ultimately, the nod went to Rafaela, who didn't re-enter the top 20 until spring training and was known much more for his defensive chops and positional versatility than his ability at the plate.

Assigned to Greenville out of spring training, Rafaela's breakout kicked off on opening day, when he went 2 for 5 with a home run. He followed that up on the second day of the season when he went 2 for 5 with a home run. The 21-year-old didn't homer every day of the year, but you might be forgiven for feeling like he did. He had at least two hits in five of his first six games of the season, blasted six homers in 19 April games. He was promoted from the Drive to Double-A Portland after just 45 games, in which he hit .330/.368/.594 with 17 doubles and nine homers. 

After a 1-for-13 start to his Double-A stint, Rafaela gave notice to the Eastern League in his fourth game at the level, going 4 for 5 with a homer, double, and three runs scored. In 313 Portland plate appearances, he hit .278/.324/.500. On the end-of-year leaderboard, he led the organization in hits (144), RBI (86), triples (10), extra-base hits (63), total bases (259), was second in doubles (32), third in runs scored (82), and fourth in home runs (21). He did all this while getting recognized by the Red Sox as their Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.

Photo Credit: All pictures by Kelly O'Connor