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October 5, 2023 at 9:17 PM

2023 SoxProspects.com Awards: Rookie, Comeback, and Breakout players of the year

Award season continues, as we introduce our Rookie, Comeback and Breakout players of the year, one of which is a first in nearly 10 years.

Rookie of the Year: Yoeilin Cespedes

In most years, the Rookie of the Year has been from a player that spends the year at full-season affiliates, as they have the sample size to better prove that they're the best first-year player in the system than those in Rookie ball. This is particularly true of players in the Dominican Summer League, where statistics are even less valuable than those from higher up on the minor league ladder.

Prior to this year, the only DSL players to win the award in site history are Rafael Devers (2014) and Xander Bogaerts (2010), making impressive company for Yoeilin Cespedes, who has become the third award winner to spend their rookie season in the Dominican Republic.

Cespedes, who hails from Azua in the Dominican Republic, approximately two hours from the Red Sox' academy, east of Santo Domingo. He signed for $1.4 million in January, which was the organization's highest bonus of the 2023 international free agent class. He played a sensational shortstop for DSL Red Sox Blue and jumped from No. 48 in the April rankings to his current No. 10 ranking. This includes the three 2023 draftees that also debuted in the top 48 of the system.

He owned a slash line of .346/.392/.560, ranking second, eighth and first, respectively, among system hitters with more than 150 plate appearances. He also led the two DSL teams in several counting statistics, including home runs, doubles and RBI. 

Comeback Player of the Year: Grant Gambrell
After going 620 days between appearances, Grant Gambrell is this year's Comeback Player of the Year. An ankle injury sidelined him Aug. 1, 2021, then he missed all of 2022 after undergoing five surgeries to remove a benign tumor in his heel bone. The former Oregon State Beaver, who came to the Red Sox as a player to be named later in the Andrew Benintendi trade, was able to make his season debut April 13.

He put together six starts in Greenville, pitching 31 1/3 innings to a 4.88 ERA and earning him a promotion to Portland on May 18. With his timing and mechanics in check, his numbers improved greatly at Double-A. He gave the Sea Dogs 13 starts and contributed 84 1/3 frames, which was nearly half of his career total to that point. His ERA was down to 3.42 and he owned a 1.22 WHIP with a .227 batting average against.

That was enough to earn Gambrell a late-season promotion to Worcester, where he will presumably begin 2024. He made a pair of starts, pitching 10 1/3 innings. He allowed just 12 baserunners and two runs to score in his short stint in Worcester.

Overall, the California native had a 1.26 WHIP and 3.63 ERA in 126 1/3 innings of work. He was second in the organization in innings, behind just Brian Van Belle. This showing as enough to vault Gambrell into the top 40 in the SoxProspects.com rankings after being unranked to start the year due to his uncertain future after many different injuries, going back to his college days.

Breakout Player of the Year: Roman Anthony
Roman Anthony had an absolutely meteoric rise in 2023. He started the year at No. 11 in the SoxProspects.com rankings, but wasn't on the radar in Top 100 lists. He is now No. 2 on SoxPropsects and is in Baseball America's top 20, sitting at No. 19.

He started the year in a nondescript fashion, with a .228/.376/.316 line over 202 plate appearances in Salem. However, the Red Sox' Single-A affiliate is a brutal hitting environment and it seemed as though he wasn't getting pitches to hit, with 38 walks in 202 plate appearances, for an 18.8 percent walk rate. Once he got up to Greenville, the stats had a big-time uptick.

In 245 plate appearances in South Carolina, Anthony hit .294/.412/.569 with 12 home runs. Even though his strikeout rate was 30.6 percent, the walks kept on coming, as he walked 40 times for a still-high 16.3 percent. By this point, everyone had heard about him and seen what he could do.

This tear through High-A earned him a promotion to Portland on September 5 and though it was just 44 plate appearances, Anthony picked up where he left off, helping earn the Red Sox' Offensive Player of the Year honors. He slashed .343/.477/.543, with five extra-base hits in just 10 games.
Photo credit: All by Kelly O'Connor