Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken toward achieving his Major League dream. Here's a look at third-ranked Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela. For more stories about players on The Road to The Show, click here.
Ceddanne Rafaela stole the show on a frequent basis during his breakout season in 2022.
The Red Sox prospect, who is ranked No. 86 overall, proved to be one of the most talented defenders in the Minors, making electrifying plays at both center field and shortstop. The elite glove work earned him the club’s Defensive Player of the Year honor for the second consecutive year.
MLB Pipeline gives Rafaela a 70 grade for his fielding ability, which traditionally had been far ahead of his skills at the plate. But between the robbed homers, diving catches and slick defensive plays – oftentimes while unconsciously blowing a bubblegum bubble – Rafaela began to put it together with the bat.
In 116 games last season between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, he finished first among qualified hitters in the organization with a .299 average and 144 total hits while tying for the lead with 10 triples and 86 RBIs. The 22-year-old also finished with a career-high 21 homers, 32 doubles and 28 stolen bases.
"I worked hard in the offseason," Rafaela told MLB.com in September. "I worked hard and tried to swing at better pitches, and I think that helped me a lot this year offensively."
Rafaela employs an aggressive approach at the plate and has excellent bat-to-ball skills – which had previously been a mixed bag in his professional career. He had a paltry 5 percent walk rate and a .342 on-base percentage in 2022. Heading into the offseason, the organization again wants him to improve the quality of contact, which is work that starts with his swing decisions.
“His ability to swing consistently at pitches in the strike zone is something that is a big focus of his,” Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham told MLB.com last week. “He has power. He drives the ball to all fields, despite the size, but being able to do that consistently with balls in the strike zone, it seems to be repetitive at times with a lot of our younger players. But that is really a huge difference maker for what makes big leaguers big leaguers.”
The emergent power wasn’t the result of a typical prospect growth spurt. Listed at 5-foot-8 and 152 pounds, Rafaela isn’t much larger than when he first signed in 2017, but he does pack a lot of strength into his small, wiry frame.
"He's really quick," Red Sox prospect Niko Kavadas, the organizational leader in OPS and slugging percentage, told MLB.com. "He's strong. The frame might not be huge, but there's a lot of strength in there. He moves so well. He's so free and so mobile and so quick-twitch. He's really strong."
With the bat starting to catch up to the glove, Rafaela quickly climbed the prospect rankings. He was unranked entering last season but will start this season in the Top 100.
Even while he continues to make strides at the plate, Rafaela's defensive wizardry and athleticism remain his headlining characteristics. While his future landing spot remains uncertain, he’s likely to be the best defender available at two premier positions. Rafaela has played more center field than shortstop the past two seasons, with a particularly increased workload in the outfield in 2022.
“Being able to play two premier positions above average is rare. And he can do that.” Abraham told MiLB.com in November. “The athleticism, the range, the hands, the quickness, the arm strength – just a ton of instincts in both areas. Seemingly gets to where the ball is before it's there. More often than not, it’s always a step ahead.”
Rafaela got some extra work in this offseason in the Puerto Rican Winter League, where he was more than five years younger than the median age for the circuit. And he played on a team with deep Red Sox connections, the Criollos de Caguas. That club was managed by Boston first-base coach Ramón Vázquez, rostered No. 19 Red Sox prospect Christian Koss and happens to be Alex Cora’s hometown team. Over 19 games with the Criollos, Rafaela batted .262 and seemed to have succeeded in his mission to be more selective, drawing nine walks in 76 plate appearances (11.8 percent).
The stint in Puerto Rico wasn’t the first time the native of Willemstad, Curaçao, played on an international stage. Rafaela also represented his home country in the Little League World Series in 2012 and plans to play for the Netherlands in next month’s World Baseball Classic.
Rafaela reached signing eligibility five years after his LLWS appearance and inked a deal with the Red Sox for a $10,000 bonus in 2017. The fast-twitch athleticism was immediately apparent, but he made a lot of softer contact over his first two seasons in Rookie ball.
During his debut season in the Dominican Summer League in 2018, he had just 14 extra-base hits and recorded a .326 slugging percentage over 54 games. Those numbers hovered around the same level when he came stateside the following season. He had 11 extra-base hits, including six homers, and a .409 slugging percentage in 44 games between the Gulf Coast League and Class A Short Season Lowell.
Rafaela made his full-season debut after the pandemic, and with that came his introduction to center field. He mostly played third base and shortstop while seeing some time at second during his first two professional seasons. But he never looked out of place during 52 games with Single-A Salem in center while also marking time at six different positions, including both corner outfield spots.
While playing noteworthy defense all over the diamond en route to his first Defensive Player of the year honor, Rafaela batted .251 with a .729 OPS. He did start driving the ball more, collecting 39 extra-base hits, including 10 homers and 20 doubles, in 102 games in the Carolina League.
Heading into Spring Training last year, Rafaela worked on some mechanical tweaks in his setup, standing taller in the box with his hands above his ear and more weight on his back leg.
He hit the ground running with Greenville and forced a promotion to Double-A after just 45 games. Rafaela batted .330 with a .962 OPS and 30 extra-base hits to start the season, highlighted by a natural cycle, the first in Greenville history, against Hickory on May 17.
He handled the bat well and was definitely driving the ball more in his first action with Portland, batting .282 with a .564 slugging percentage and 16 extra-base hits in 29 games before his Futures Game appearance.
After finishing July strong, Rafaela slowed down toward the end of the regular season. He batted .250 with 14 extra-base hits in 35 games from Aug. 2 to the end of the Sea Dogs’ semifinal matchup against Somerset in the Eastern League playoffs. That dip in production in the latter part of the season didn't escape Rafaela's notice.
“I've been really working on [the] physical side to get stronger so I can get through the season strong and finish strong,” he told MLB.com last week.
Although he’s likely to start the 2023 season with Triple-A Worcester, there's a chance Rafaela could reach Boston this year. Abraham and general manager Chiam Bloom have said they don’t want to nudge Rafaela’s development in a specific direction based on the current needs of the big league roster, which will be without Trevor Story for the early part of the season.
Abraham likened Rafaela’s defensive future to that of Enrique Hernandez, who figures to be the Red Sox center fielder on Opening Day. But if Rafaela hits enough in the first half, it’s entirely possible he can seize an opportunity with the big league club in 2023.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.