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November 30, 2022 at 12:00 PM

SoxProspects.com end-of-season rankings countdown: 20-11

Today we move into our top 20, featuring several players who had standout seasons in 2022. Five players in this group were recognized as SoxProspects.com All-Stars, including Niko Kavadas (pictured) and Eddinson Paulino. The Salem Red Sox are also very well represented in today's edition, with seven of the ten players having played some or all of their 2022 seasons there.

If you missed the first two segments of this series, make sure to check prospects 60 to 31 from Monday, and yesterday's 30 to 21 edition


20. Niko Kavadas
Preseason Rank: 46
2022 Stats: 120 games, 515, PA, .280/.443/.547, 26 HR, 102 BB, 152 K @ Salem, Greenville, and Portland
In June, Kavadas had what was probably the best offensive month in the 20-year history of this site. He hit .377/.524/.951 with 10 home runs over 19 games with Salem, earning a promotion to Greenville. Instead of an adjustment period, he proceeded to go 9 for 19 with four home runs in six games. He homered in five consecutive games and in 11 of 15 between the two levels. An August assignment to Portland was a more difficult transition. While he continued to work deep counts and draw walks, he hit just .222 with two home runs and 40 strikeouts against the more advanced competition. Some fatigue would be understandable, but continuing to hit will be key to his propsect status. As a first base-only player, Kavadas will need to rake. Given how he did so at Notre Dame and in continued to at Class A, that's certainly not out of the question.

19. Elmer Rodriguez-Cruz
Preseason Rank: Unranked
2022 Stats: 13 games, 10 starts, 38 1/3 IP, 1.88 ERA, 31 H, 42 K, 15 BB @ FCL, Salem
Despite being unranked by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, the Red Sox liked Rodriguez-Cruz enough to nab him in the fourth round of the 2021 draft and give him a near-slot $497,500 bonus to forgo his commitment to the University of Oregon. The early returns have been excellent, both in terms of results and scouting reports. The 6-foot-3 right-hander out of Puerto Rico posted a sub-2.00 ERA in the FCL, limiting opponents to a hapless .226/.299/.290 slash line, earning himself an end-of-season two-start cameo in Salem. Despite not turning 19 until this past August, Rodriguez-Cruz already shows the makings of a four-pitch mix with a fastball that touches 95 and a curveball that rates as his best pitch. 

18. Nathan Hickey
Preseason Rank: 30
2022 Stats: 75 games, 328 PA, .263/.415/.522, 16 HR, 63 BB, 78 K @ Salem, Greenville
It got lost a bit in the shuffle with the huge offensive breakouts of players like Kavadas and Ceddanne Rafaela, but Hickey's season was among the most impressive in the system. He posted identical .936 OPS's at both Salem and Greenville, walking as much as he struck out at the lower level and adding more power in the friendlier hitter environments after the promotion. The question remains one of where he fits on the diamond. His defense at catcher was better than advertised but still far from polished. If he can continue to improve behind the dish, the bat should play there with ease. 

17. Enmanuel Valdez
Preseason Rank: NA; Acquired via trade
2022 Stats: 126 games, 573 PA, .296/.376/.542, 35 2B, 28 HR, 64 BB, 124 K @ Double-A Corpus Christi, Triple-A Sugar Land, and Worcester
Valdez was in the midst of a breakout season in the Astros organization when Boston brought him on board as part of the return for Christian Vazquez. He hit 28 home runs and added 35 doubles on the year, but there are questions to how his game translates to the majors. He did almost all of his damage against right-handed pitching, posting a .289 isolated slugging with the platoon advantage but only a .117 mark against southpaws. He's also not a natural defender at second base, something the shift rules are going to make an even larger issue. He may fit best as a platoon outfielder, but at only 23, maintains a lot of potential to excel in the role. 

16. Brainer Bonaci
Preseason Rank: 25
2022 Stats: 108 games, 494 PA, .262/.397/.385, 19 2B, 28 SB, 89 BB, 89 K @ Salem
There may not be a flashy, standout tool, but Bonaci does so many things well that it deserves notice. Likely his best trait is how well he controls the strike zone at only 20 years old. His 89 walks ranked second in the system, only behind Kavadas, but Bonaci struck out at a far lower clip, rarely expanding the strike zone. Laying off unhittable pitches is one step, but Bonaci also started punishing the hittable ones with more frequency as the season progressed. In his first 56 games, he had just seven doubles, three triples, and an .060 isolated slugging; in the next 52, he ripped 12 doubles, three triples, and homered six times, good for a .200 Iso. He also has the sort of complete profile that will help that hit tool play up: he is a steady-if-unspectacular defender who is capable at shortstop with an arm to handle third base, and an instinctual baserunner whose ability to steal a base or go first-to-third plays above his speed. 

15. Blaze Jordan
Preseason Rank: 10
2022 Stats: 120 games, 521 PA, .289/.363/.445, 30 2B, 12 HR, 48 BB, 94 K @ Salem, Greenville
It was an interesting season from Jordan, whose solid play came in a way that may have been unexpected. Entering the organization as a renowned masher with elite raw power, Jordan hit just 12 home runs. However, he showed a surprisingly advanced feel at the plate, working counts, making contact, and often going to the opposite field. In fact, nearly all of his home runs were to center or right, eschewing the massive pull power that had made him a YouTube sensation as a teenager. The improved approach is unquestionably a positive, but it will be important to add back some of that in-game power as he progresses. Only 19, the 2020 third-round pick will get plenty of opportunity to do so.

14. Matthew Lugo
Preseason Rank: 29
2022 Stats: 117 games, 524 PA, .282/.338/.492, 26 2B, 10 3B, 18 HR, 20 SB, 35 BB, 104 K @ Greenville, Portland
It was something of a breakout season for Boston's second pick in the second round of the 2019 draft. Entering the year with just five home runs in 146 games as a professional, Lugo (pictured, right) blasted 18 with Greenville. While Lugo is more imposing physically, he shares some traits with Bonaci. Rather than an obvious standout tool, it is his ability to do so many things well that gives him a path to the majors. Possibly in part due to the depth at the position, Lugo seemed to move off of shortstop in the last two months of the year with his last start at the position was on August 2. From then on, nearly all of his starts were at third base. 

13. Chris Murphy
Preseason Rank: 15
2022 Stats: 30 games, 28 starts, 152 IP, 4.03 ERA, 149 K, 72 BB @ Portland, Worcester
Pitching for Portland in the first half of 2022, Murphy was one of the most dominant arms in the organization. The left-hander allowed just 46 hits in 76 2/3 innings, striking out 91. Promoted to Worcester at the end of June, the adjustment was a difficult one. He threw 75 1/3 innings in Triple-A, allowing more than one hit per frame while his walk rate inched up from 10.16% to 11.99%. Perhaps most distressing was that his strikeout rate cratered; after striking out 29.84% of hitters with the Sea Dogs, it was only 16.96% with Worcester. Murphy has shown the ability to make adjustments in the past, including this strong Double-A performance after struggling at the level after a 2021 promotion. 

12. Wikelman Gonzalez
Preseason Rank: 11
2022 Stats: 25 starts, 98 1/3 IP, 4.21 ERA, 121 K, 54 BB, 2 HR @ Salem, Greenville
Gonzalez finishes the season one spot lower than he began, but that is more indicative of some improved system depth than stagnation from Gonzalez. It was a more encouraging season for the right-hander than the basic stat line would show. After getting off to a fast start, Gonzalez struggled with his control, walking 33 batters and posting a 6.90 ERA over a 13-start strech from the start of May to mid July. A skipped start seemed to give him the time to make an adjustment. He made four strong starts, earning a promotion to Greenville, where he closed the year strong. In his final eight starts, Gonzalez struck out over 35% of the batters he faced while walking only 8.6%. One thing that was consistent throughout the year was his ability to keep the ball in the park, surrendering just two home runs. While he's still a long way off, Gonzalez is the type fans can dream on as a four-pitch mid-rotation starter. 

11. Eddinson Paulino
Preseason Rank: 23
2022 Stats: 114 games, 539 PA, .266/.359/.469, 35 2B, 10 3B, 13 HR, 27 SB, 64 BB, 105 K @ Salem
Coming off a strong stateside debut in 2021, Paulino began the season just 10 for 63 with 18 strikeouts. He finished the year on a 36-game on-base streak, hitting .329/.424/.555, walking 24 times against 29 strikeouts in 176 plate appearances. In between was a story of gradual improvement. Paulino's 35 doubles and 96 runs scored led the organization, and joined Marcelo Mayer (who is likely to appear in tomorrow's top ten list) and the Mets' Alex Ramirez as the only teenagers with at least 30 doubles, 10 triples, and 15 steals. Paulino also served as a true utilityman for Salem, drawing 35 starts at shortstop, 32 at third base, 29 at second, and 11 in center field. Paulino may project as a utility player, but given his youth and strong play, he could be a standout in the role if a more obvious niche as a starter doesn't present itself. 

Photo Credit: Niko Kavadas, Matthew Lugo by Kelly O'Connor