Red Sox’ Miguel Bleis enters Baseball America’s top 100 prospects rankings

Red Sox outfield prospect Miguel Bleis has entered Baseball America’s top 100 rankings heading into the 2023 season.

Previously unranked, Bleis is now considered by the publication to be the 88th-ranked prospect in all of baseball. The 18-year-old was one of five Red Sox minor-leaguers to make the cut for the top-100 on Wednesday, joining the likes of Marcelo Mayer at No. 10, Triston Casas at No. 29, Ceddanne Rafaela at No. 71, and Masataka Yoshida at No. 87.

Bleis is already regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The Red Sox originally signed the Dominican-born outfielder for $1.5 million as a highly-touted international free agent coming out of San Pedro de Macoris in January 2021.

After a solid pro debut in the Dominican Summer League, Bleis made the jump to the Florida Complex League last year. The right-handed hitter batted a stout .301/.353/.543 with 14 doubles, four triples, five home runs, 27 RBIs, 28 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, 10 walks, and 45 strikeouts in 40 games (167 plate appearances) for Boston’s rookie-level affiliate.

Among qualified hitters in the Florida Complex League last season, Bleis ranked seventh in batting average, 24th in on-base percentage, third in slugging percentage, fourth in OPS (.896), 12th in line-drive rate (22.3 percent) second in isolated power (.242), tied for first in speed score (9.3), and sixth in wRC+ (142), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Bleis saw the majority of his playing time for the FCL Red Sox come in center field. The 6-foot-3, 170-pounder logged 310 1/3 innings in center and just five innings in right while registering a team-high five outfield assists, which is a testament to his arm strength.

Had he not been bothered by back soreness in late August, Bleis would have been promoted to Low-A Salem for the final few weeks of the 2022 campaign. The Red Sox instead opted to have Bleis stay back in Fort Myers to get healthy before sending him home for the winter.

Despite playing in just 40 minor-league games, Bleis still drew plenty of attention throughout the calendar year. Back in August, SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall tweeted that Bleis is “the prospect generating the most buzz in the Red Sox farm system right now.”

In late October, Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline tabbed Bleis as “Boston’s best international prospect since Rafael Devers,” noting that the former’s stock rose in 2022 since “he displayed his all-around ability to a larger audience while making his U.S. debut.”

Bleis, who turns 19 in March, is expected to begin the 2023 season in Salem, where he should serve as the Red Sox’ primary center fielder. There are some concerns about his approach at the plate, but he has time to work out those issues as he continues to develop. As the saying goes, Bleis’ potential is through the roof at the moment.

“He has five tools. That’s the reality,” Red Sox director of player development said of Bleis in a conversation with The Athletic’s Chad Jennings last September. “You don’t see that too often. What those five tools will ultimately (become), how they will pan out, not sure. But in terms of the tools, and in terms of the ability to impact the game in various ways, he does that. I think whenever you have a player who does those types of things, he’s someone you want to pay attention to and watch.”

(Picture of Miguel Bleis: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox prospect Brainer Bonaci walked as many times as he struck out (89) in 2022

The Red Sox did not lose infield prospect Brainer Bonaci in the major-league phase of Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft.

Bonaci, 20, ended the season ranked by Baseball America as the No. 20 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The switch-hitter spent the entirety of the 2022 campaign with Low-A Salem and batted .262/.397/.385 (125 wRC+) with 19 doubles, six triples, six home runs, 50 RBIs, 86 runs scored, 28 stolen bases, 89 walks, and 89 strikeouts over 108 games spanning 494 trips to the plate.

Among qualified Carolina League hitters, Bonaci ranked second in walk rate (18 percent), ninth in strikeout rate (18 percent) sixth in swinging-strike rate (8.1 percent), 19th in batting average, second in on-base percentage, 23rd in slugging percentage, 11th in OPS (.782), 11th in stolen bases, 12th in speed score (7.8), eighth in line-drive rate (24.4 percent), and sixth in wRC+, per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Bonaci saw playing time at three different positions this year. The 5-foot-10, 164-pounder expectedly logged 477 1/3 innings at second base, 67 innings at third base, and 267 2/3 innings at shortstop. But he also made one appearance as an outfielder for the first time in his career as he logged one inning in right field back on April 17.

Born in Venezuela, Bonaci originally signed with the Red Sox for $290,000 as an international free agent on his 16th birthday in 2018. The Catia La Mar made his professional debut in the Dominican Summer League the following year and then impressed evaluators at fall instructs after the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. He spent the majority of 2021 in the Florida Complex League before earning a late-season promotion to Salem and — as previously mentioned — put together a solid year at Low-A in 2022.

In a virtual chat with Baseball America subscribers last month, The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier wrote that Bonaci did garner some consideration as a potential top 10 prospect in the Red Sox farm system heading into the 2023 season, but questions surrounding his bat-to-ball skills put him behind No. 10 prospect (and fellow versatile infielder) Eddinson Paulino.

The Red Sox were at risk of losing both Bonaci and Paulino in this week’s Rule 5 Draft since neither was added to the 40-man roster last month. Fortunately for them, Bonaci and Paulino went unclaimed, which likely has something to do with their lack of experience in the upper-minors. That said, the two infielders will again be Rule 5-eligible again next winter.

Bonaci, who does not turn 21 until next July, currently grades as a superior defender to Paulino, according to Speier. Both are projected to make the jump to High-A Greenville for the start of the 2023 minor-league season in April.

(Picture of Brainer Bonaci: Robert Simmons/RTS Photography)

Mikey Romero, Roman Anthony enter Baseball America’s top 10 Red Sox prospects rankings

Two members of the Red Sox’ 2022 draft class have entered the organization’s top 10 prospects rankings, at least according to one prominent publication.

On Wednesday, Baseball America released the top 10 prospects in Boston’s farm system heading into the 2023 season. While the list is headlined by Marcelo Mayer, 2022 first-rounder Mikey Romero and 2022 second-rounder Roman Anthony both made the cut.

Romero, taken by the Sox with the 24th overall pick out of Orange Lutheran High School (Orange, Calif.) over the summer, is now regarded by Baseball America as the organization’s No. 5 prospect. The 18-year-old infielder forwent his commitment to Louisiana State University by signing with Boston for $2.3 million in July.

Upon putting pen to paper at Fenway Park, Romero began his professional career in the Florida Complex League. The left-handed hitter batted .250/.372/.417 with one home run and six RBIs in 10 games with the FCL Red Sox before earning a promotion to Low-A Salem in late August.

Once there, Romero ended his first pro season on a strong note by slashing .349/.364/.581 with four doubles, three triples, 11 runs driven in, six runs scored, one stolen base, one walk, and 11 strikeouts across nine games (44 plate appearances. Between the two affiliates, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder logged 49 innings at second base and 66 innings at shortstop.

Romero, who turns 19 in January, is projected to return to Salem for the start of the 2023 season next spring. He “has a sweet lefthanded swing with little stride or wasted motion. His barrel is a magnet for pitches all over the zone, producing gap-to-gap, line-drive contact.”

On the other side of the ball, Romero possesses “good instincts and clean actions but with limited range” at shortstop. “There’s a chance he stays at shortstop as an average defender, but more likely he becomes an average second baseman with the ability to provide fringe defense on the other side of second. He’s a slightly below-average runner,” per his Baseball America scouting report.

Anthony, meanwhile, was taken 79th overall — which was the compensatory pick the Red Sox received after losing Eduardo Rodriguez in free agency last November — out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He is now regarded by Baseball America as Boston’s eighth-ranked prospect.

In similar fashion to Romero, Anthony forwent his commitment to the University of Mississippi and signed with Boston for $2.5 million at Fenway Park in July. The left-handed hitting 18-year-old made his pro debut in the Florida Complex League and batted .429/.475/.486 with two doubles and seven RBIs in 10 games before joining Romero in Salem towards the end of August.

With the Salem Sox, Anthony went 7-for-37 (.189) at the plate with two doubles, five runs driven in, two runs scored, five walks, and four strikeouts over 10 games. The 6-foot-3, 200-pounder saw playing time at all three outfield positions, though eight of his 10 starts with Salem came in center.

Anthony, who does not turn 19 until next May, is also expected to return to Salem for the start of the 2023 season. According to his Baseball America scouting report, the native Floridian “shows plus to double-plus raw power and can clear fences with ease.” He also ” controls at-bats in impressive fashion, particularly for a player with his stout frame. While his raw power is obvious, there’s less consensus around Anthony’s pure hitting ability. He showed swing-and-miss tendencies during the showcase circuit in high school but made adjustments during the spring and also performed well in a brief pro debut.

Defensively, Anthony “already has size and strength but projects to get bigger. Anthony’s ability to maintain mobility in his next 15 pounds represents a key that will determine whether he stays in center field, though the safest bet would be an eventual move to right field. Still, his bat projects well in a corner, as does his arm.”

Beyond Mayer, Romero, and Anthony, Triston Casas came in at No. 2, Ceddanne Rafaela came in at No. 3, Miguel Bleis came in at No. 4, Nick Yorke came in at No. 6, Bryan Mata came in at No. 7, Brandon Walter came in at No. 9, and Eddinson Paulino came in at No. 10 on Baseball America’s list.

(Picture of Mikey Romero: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

How did contingent of Red Sox prospects perform in Arizona Fall League this year?

The 2022 Arizona Fall League season came to a close over the weekend, as the Surprise Saguaros defeated the Glendale Desert Dogs by a final score of 7-6 in Saturday’s championship game at Scottsdale Stadium.

Orioles prospect Heston Kjerstad was named the league’s Most Valuable Player while Cardinals lefty Connor Thomas was named Pitcher of the Year. Colorado’s Zac Veen earned Offensive Player of the Year honors, Tampa Bay’s Evan Reifert was named Reliever of the Year, Minnesota’s Edouard Julien was named Breakout Player of the Year, San Francisco’s Luis Matos was named Defensive Player of the Year, and Oakland’s Lawrence Butler received the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award.

The Red Sox sent eight of their own minor-leaguers to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions, who at 13-16 finished 1 1/2 games back of a playoff spot, this fall. Although none of these players were recognized in postseason award distribution, some certainly fared better than others.

Here is a rundown of how each of these eight prospects performed over the last six-plus weeks, starting with the four pitchers who made the trek out west:

Aaron Perry, RHP

Perry, 23, made 10 relief appearances for the Scorpions. The right-hander posted a 12.46 ERA and 2.86 WHIP with four strikeouts to 10 walks over 8 2/3 innings of work. Opponents batted .395 off him.

Boston originally selected Perry in the 14th round of the 2017 amateur draft out of Hurricane High School in West Virginia. Since then, the righty has been limited to 47 2/3 minor-league innings due to a number of injuries. He appeared in just three games for High-A Greenville this year.

Thad Ward, RHP

Ward, 25, made four appearances — three of which were starts — for Scottsdale. The righty suffered a left oblique strain after his second start of the fall on October 10 and was sidelined for nearly a month as a result. He returned in time to pitch in two more games and wound up posting a 2.84 ERA and 1.34 WHIP with 15 strikeouts to six walks over 12 2/3 innings of work. Opponents batted .234 off him.

Currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 25 prospect in Boston’s farm system, Ward was limited to 13 minor-league starts this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June. The former fifth-round selection out of the University of Central Florida can become eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft if the Red Sox do not add him to their 40-man roster on Tuesday.

Jacob Webb, RHP

Webb, 23, finished in a two-way tie for the team lead in saves (3) this fall. The hard-throwing righty pitched to a 3.60 ERA and 1.30 WHIP to go along with 12 strikeouts to five walks over nine relief appearances spanning 10 innings of work. Opposing hitters batted .222 (8-for-36) off him.

The Red Sox took Webb in the 14th round of last year’s draft out of Miami University of Ohio. The 6-foot-5, 246-pound hurler pitched at three different levels this season and ended the year at Double-A Portland. He possesses a three-pitch mix that consists of a high-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, and a high-80s changeup.

Ryan Zeferjahn, RHP

Zeferjahn, 24, primarily came out of the bullpen for Scottsdale, but he also made one start. In nine total appearances, the right-hander produced a 4.80 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with 18 strikeouts to eight walks over 15 innings of work. He limited opposing hitters to a .208 batting average against.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 209 pounds, Zeferjahn spent the majority of the 2022 minor-league season with Greenville before being promoted to Portland in late August. The former third-round pick out of the University of Kansas posted a 5.05 ERA between the two levels and, like Ward, is Rule 5 eligible this winter.

Moving on the four position players that made up this eight-man contingent…

Wilyer Abreu, OF

Abreu, 23, was one of two prospects the Red Sox acquired from the Astros in the Christian Vazquez trade. The left-handed hitter went just 9-for-54 (.167) with two doubles, 10 RBIs, eight runs scored, three stolen bases, 10 walks, and 18 strikeouts in 17 games for the Scorpions this fall. He made four appearances in left field and eight appearances in right.

After closing out the minor-league season with Portland, Abreu is another minor-leaguer who can become eligible for next month’s Rule 5 Draft if he is not added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Tuesday. The native Venezuelan does offer intriguing speed and possesses the ability to get on base at a respectable clip, so he has that going for him.

Niko Kavadas, 1B

Kavadas, 24, split time at first base with San Francisco’s Logan Wyatt and Atlanta’s Cade Bunnell. The left-handed hitting slugger slashed .239/.417/.435 with three doubles, two homers, six runs driven in, seven runs scored, 13 walks, and 24 strikeouts in 15 games (60 plate appearances) with the Scorpions.

The Red Sox originally selected Kavadas in the 11th round of the 2021 amateur draft out of The University of Notre Dame. The Indiana native earned Minor League Offensive Player of the Year honors in his first full professional season. He is currently regarded by Baseball America as the 30th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Stephen Scott, C

Scott, 25, was one of two Red Sox minor-leaguers to make it to this year’s AFL Fall Stars Game. The left-handed hitter also took part in the league’s first-ever home run derby in the process of batting .298/.394/.614 with one double, one triple, five home runs, 16 RBIs, 15 runs scored, one stolen base, nine walks, and 11 strikeouts across 15 games (66 plate appearances) this fall. He started 13 games at catcher and threw out four of 22 base stealers en route to being named to the 2022 All-Arizona Fall League Team.

A former 10th-round pick in 2019 out of Vanderbilt University who was signed as an outfielder, Scott has since emerged as a full-time backstop. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound North Carolina native split the 2022 campaign between Greenville and Portland. He is a candidate to be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster on Tuesday given his upcoming Rule 5 eligibility.

Nick Yorke, 2B

Yorke, 20, played in last week’s Fall Stars Game alongside Scott. Before that, the right-handed hitting infielder missed some time with left wrist soreness. But he wound up batting a stout .342/.424/.526 with eight doubles, two home runs, 18 RBIs, 18 runs scored, one stolen base, 12 walks, and 16 strikeouts over 19 games (92 plate appearances) with the Scorpions.

It was a down year for Yorke offensively, as he posted a .668 OPS in Greenville after being named the Red Sox’ Minor League Offensive Player of the Year in 2021. Perhaps what he just did in Arizona is a positive sign of what is to come. The 2020 first-round pick is still regarded by Baseball America as the No. 5 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He is projected to be on Portland’s Opening Day roster next spring.

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Chris Bernacchi/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Red Sox prospect Eddinson Paulino proved to be dynamic with Low-A Salem this season

Eddinson Paulino was among the Red Sox’ top performers in the Florida Complex League last year. He showed why that was no fluke as he made the transition to full-season ball in 2022.

Coming out of minor-league spring training, Paulino was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 28 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He then broke camp and spent the entirety of the campaign at Low-A Salem.

In 114 games with the Salem Red Sox, the versatile left-handed hitter batted .266/.359/.469 with 35 doubles, 10 triples, 13 home runs, 66 RBIs, 96 runs scored, 27 stolen bases, 64 walks, and 105 strikeouts over 539 plate appearances.

When the All-Star break arrived in mid-July, Paulino was hitting just .239/.327/.451 through his first 80 games. From July 22 onward, though, the 20-year-old slashed a stout .331/.432/.559 with 18 extra-base hits in his final 34 games of the season.

Among 51 qualified Carolina League hitters, Paulino ranked 24th in walk rate (11.9 percent), 14th in strikeout rate (19.5 percent), 14th in swinging-strike rate (11.2 percent), fourth in line-drive rate (25.6 percent), 14th in batting average, 17th in on-base percentage, fourth in slugging percentage, fifth in OPS (.827), fifth in isolated power (.203), fifth in speed score (8.5), and fifth in wRC+ (128), per FanGraphs.

“He can impact the game in several ways,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero told MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith in September. “He can launch one if needed. He’s just become a good hitter.”

Defensively, Paulino made appearances at five different positions (not including designated hitter) for Salem this season. The 5-foot, 155-pounder logged 301 innings at shortstop, 289 innings at third base, 243 2/3 innings at second base, 98 1/3 innings in center field, and eight innings in left. Both of his outfield assists came in center.

“Just to have that skillset being a left-handed hitter,” said Romero.

The Red Sox originally signed Paulino for $205,000 as an international free agent coming out of the Dominican Republic in July 2018. The Santiago native made his professional debut in his home country the following summer but his career was put on hold in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It now turns out that Paulino likely took advantage of the lost 2020 minor-league season by honing his craft in his own way. Whether it be his ability to make hard contact or steal bases at a high rate, the Red Sox were pleased with what they saw from Paulino this year.

“We’ve always liked his hitting ability,” Romero said. “He hits the ball hard in all quadrants. He’s another guy who jumps on fastballs but I think has really increased his recognition skills. He’s made a big jump in that. He’s got a good number of walks. The on-base percentage is good.

“And also the speed element of the game,” he added. “He’s got 26, 27 stolen bases. All that makes him a very dynamic player. … Another player who it’s been really cool to see his development.”

Paulino, who does not turn 21 until next July, is now regarded by Baseball America as the 18th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system. He is Rule 5-eligible this winter, but is not a sure bet to receive protection by being added to the 40-man roster later this month.

While the tools and talent are certainly there, Paulino has yet to play above A-ball. And so the Red Sox may elect to protect prospects who have already reached the upper levels of the minor-leagues like Ceddanne Rafaela, Christian Koss, Enmanuel Valdez, Wilyer Abreu, Brandon Walter, and Thad Ward, among others.

Assuming that Paulino remains in the organization through the winter, he is projected to make the jump to High-A Greenville at the start of the 2023 minor-league season in April.

(Picture of Eddinson Paulino: Robert Simmons/RTS Photography)

Red Sox prospects Stephen Scott, Nick Yorke off to hot starts in Arizona Fall League

Red Sox prospects Stephen Scott and Nick Yorke were named to Baseball America’s Arizona Fall League Hot Sheet on Monday.

Playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions out west, both Scott and Yorke enjoyed productive weeks at the plate. The former went 4-for-11 (.364) with two home runs, four RBIs, four runs scored, one walk, and three strikeouts. The latter went 7-for-17 (.412) with three doubles, three RBIs, three runs scored, three walks, and five strikeouts.

Since the Arizona Fall League season began on October 3, Scott has batted .400/.432/.800 with one triple, four homers, 12 runs driven in, 13 runs scored, one stolen base, two walks, and seven strikeouts over nine games spanning 37 trips to the plate.

Among qualified AFL hitters coming into play on Monday, the left-handed hitting 25-year-old ranks fifth in batting average, 19th in on-base percentage, first in slugging percentage, second in OPS (1.303), and second in isolated power (.400). He is currently in a three-way tie for the league lead in home runs.

Defensively, Scott has split time at catcher with the Giants’ Andy Thomas and Adrian Sugastey in his brief tenure with the Scorpions. The 5-foot-11, 207-pound backstop has logged a team-leading 64 innings behind the plate and has thrown out three of 17 base stealers.

Scott, who does not turn 26 until next May, was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 10th round of the 2019 amateur draft out of Vanderbilt University. After splitting the 2022 minor-league season between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, the North Carolina native is a candidate to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster in November since he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft later this winter.

Yorke, meanwhile, is also enjoying offensive success in Arizona. The right-handed hitting infielder is now slashing .340/.439/.472 to go along with a league-leading seven doubles, 10 RBIs, 14 runs scored, 10 walks, and 11 strikeouts across 14 games (66 plate appearances) for the Scorpions.

Coming into play this week, Yorke ranks first among qualified AFL hitters in doubles and runs scored, 11th in RBIs, fifth in walks, 15th in batting average, 17th in on-base percentage, 21st in walk rate (15.2 percent) and 21st in OPS (.911), per MLB.com.

On the other side of the ball, Yorke has shared second base responsibilities with the Angels’ Kyren Paris and the Braves’ Cade Bunnell in Scottsdale. In similar fashion to Scott, the 6-foot, 200-pounder has logged a team-high 99 innings at the keystone and has committed just one error.

At just 20 years old, Yorke is one of the youngest players in the Arizona Fall League this year. The native Californian was originally taken by the Sox with the 17th overall pick in the 2020 draft out of Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose. He spent the entirety of the 2022 campaign at Greenville and is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 5 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Both Scott and Yorke figure to have a good chance to represent the Red Sox in the Fall Stars Game, which takes place on Sunday, November 6. The Arizona Fall League regular season runs through Nov. 10 and the championship game will take place two days later.

(Picture of Nick Yorke: Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Red Sox catching prospect Nathan Hickey turns in impressive first full pro season

Nathan Hickey came into his first full professional season ranked by Baseball America as the top catching prospect in the Red Sox farm system. He showed why he was worthy of that ranking over the last six months.

Selected by Boston in the fifth round of last year’s amateur draft out of the University of Florida, Hickey broke camp this spring with Low-A Salem, which is where he ended things in 2021.

In 41 games with Salem this season, the left-handed hitter batted .271/.429/.507 with 12 doubles, seven home runs, 39 RBIs, 31 runs scored, 39 walks, and 39 strikeouts over 182 plate appearances. That level of production prompted a promotion to High-A Greenville in late June.

With the Drive, Hickey hit for more power, though he also got on base less frequently. The 22-year-old slashed .252/.397/.539 with six doubles, nine homers, 23 runs driven in, 19 runs scored, 24 walks, and 39 strikeouts across 34 games (146 plate appearances). He was sidelined for a week in early August due to a concussion.

Between the two affiliates, Hickey produced a cumulative .263/.415/.522 slash line to go along with 18 doubles, 16 home runs, 62 RBIs, 50 runs scored, a walk rate of 19.2 percent, and a strikeout rate of 23.8 percent. Overall, his 155 wRC+ ranked third among minor-league catchers who made at least 100 trips to the plate this season, per FanGraphs.

On the other side of the ball, Hickey made 57 starts at catcher for Salem and Greenville this year. The 6-foot, 210-pound backstop logged 4585 2/3 innings behind the plate and threw out 10 of 75 base stealers. He also committed eight errors and allowed 10 passed balls.

Defense has been an issue with Hickey since before being drafted. The Jacksonville native came up as an infielder in high school but moved to catcher with the Gators so that he could regularly get his bat into the lineup.

Despite the lack of experience at a demanding position, the Red Sox still drafted Hickey as a catcher and signed him to an over-slot deal of $1 million. The doubts people had about his defensive abilities did not sit well with Hickey, as he explained to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier earlier this summer.

“I just hadn’t had enough time behind the plate to be able to show that was the spot for me,” Hickey said. “But I learned in one day more things about catching being here with Boston than I ever did at Florida.”

As detailed by Speier, Hickey did not call pitches at Florida and instead received the calls from his coaches. Since going pro, however, the Red Sox have let him call pitches on his own, which requires him to study up, implement a game plan, and be adaptable during games.

“It was a big step. Pitch-calling was kind of the thing that was stumping me a little bit at the beginning [of the season],” said Hickey. “But [being a catcher] is not really [about] me being successful, it’s making [the pitcher] look as successful as you can.”

In a separate, more recent piece for Baseball America, Speier relayed that pitchers enjoyed throwing to Hickey this season. And while Hickey has embraced becoming a game-caller, there is still more work to do in order to improve as a defender.

Hickey, who turns 23 in November, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 26 prospect in Boston’s farm system. That unsurprisingly ranks tops among catchers in the organization. He is projected by SoxProspects.com to return to Greenville for the start of the 2023 minor-league season next spring.

With that being said, it certainly seems feasible for Hickey to make the jump to Double-A Portland before the end of the next campaign. We will have to wait and see on that.

(Picture of Nathan Hickey: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox catching prospect Brooks Brannon shows signs of promise in pro debut

The Red Sox have selected just one natural catcher in each of the last two amateur drafts. Last year, they took Nathan Hickey in the fifth round of the University of Florida. Earlier this summer, they took Brooks Brannon in the ninth round out of Randleman High School in Randleman, N.C.

At that time, Brannon was ranked by Baseball America as the No. 155 prospect in the 2022 draft class. The 18-year-old backstop was also committed to play college baseball at the University of North Carolina in nearby Chapel Hill.

It was believed that Brannon’s commitment to the Tar Heels was a strong one. But just two days after being drafted, the North Carolina native told HighSchoolOT’s Kyle Morton that he intended to go pro and sign with the Red Sox.

“Leading up to the draft, if I could have picked any team it would have been the Red Sox,” Brannon said. “They did the best as far as establishing a relationship. … Everything is very family oriented. … The fact that they have that is huge. I’m just glad to be a part of an organization that values that like they do.”

Towards the end of July, Brannon officially signed with Boston for $712,500. To put that number into context, third-rounder Dalton Rogers received a signing bonus of $447,500, so the Sox certainly went above and beyond to secure Brannon’s services.

“We were surprised to see him get that far,” amateur scouting director Paul Toboni told MLB.com’s Julia Kreuz back in July. “We think so highly of the baseball player and the person, we were beyond thrilled to see him staring at us at that point of the draft.

Fresh off belting 20 homers and driving in 91 runs as a senior at Randleman High, Brannon made his professional debut in the Florida Complex League on August 13. The right-handed hitter appeared in just five games for the FCL Red Sox, going 6-for-13 (.462) with one double, two triples, five RBIs, six runs scored, two walks, and five strikeouts.

Though he did not go deep in his brief pro cameo, Brannon was still recently identified by Baseball America’s Carlos Collazo as the best power hitter the Red Sox drafted this year.

“While the baseline stats are nice to see, [Brannon’s] underlying exit velocity data is even more encouraging,” Collazo wrote on Monday, “with the best 90th percentile exit velocity mark (105 mph) of this Boston draft class.”

On the other side of the ball, there are questions about whether Brannon can stick behind the plate long-term. The 6-foot, 210-pounder is described by Baseball America as someone who “needs to improve his actions behind the plate as both a receiver and pitch blocker.” Although his arm strength stands out, Brannon did not throw out any of the three runners who tried to steal against him in the Florida Complex League.

“Brooks’ defensive skill set was one of the parts of his game that we were drawn to most,” Toboni said over the summer. “While he’s big and physical, he’s really flexible and athletic. He can get his body into some pretty unique positions, especially for a big, strong kid. We also think he has good hands behind the plate and an obviously strong arm. In our eyes, he possesses all the physical and mental traits to take off with professional instruction.”

Brannon, who does not turn 19 until next May, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 30 prospect in Boston’s farm system. That ranks third among backstops in the organization behind only Hickey and Connor Wong.

Given that he has just five FCL games under his belt, Brannon is expected to return to the rookie-level affiliate next summer. That being said, it would not be all that surprising if he made it up to Low-A Salem before the end of the 2023 season.

(Picture of Brooks Brannon: Bryan Green/Flickr)

How did Red Sox top prospect Marcelo Mayer fare in first full pro season?

Marcelo Mayer, arguably the top prospect in the Red Sox farm system and one of the brightest young talents in all of baseball, wrapped up his first full professional season last month.

Originally selected by Boston with the fourth overall pick in last summer’s amateur draft out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., Mayer appeared in four Grapefruit League games earlier this spring before breaking minor-league camp with Low-A Salem.

With the Salem Red Sox, the 19-year-old infielder batted .286/.406/.504 with 26 doubles, one triple, nine home runs, 40 RBIs, 46 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, 51 walks, and 78 strikeouts over 66 games (308 plate appearances). Despite missing a significant chunk of time with a sprained right wrist in late April and most of May, Mayer earned a promotion to High-A Greenville in early August.

Making the jump from Salem to Greenville alongside fellow top prospect Blaze Jordan, Mayer initially got off to a rough start with the Drive and was batting just .179 in his first 17 games as the calendar flipped to September. But the left-handed hitter ended the year on a strong note by registering multiple hits in six of the eight games he played in.

All told, Mayer slashed .265/.379/.449 with four doubles, one triple, four homers, 13 runs driven in, 15 runs scored, one stolen base, 17 walks, and 29 strikeouts in 25 games (116 plate appearances) with Greenville. Between the two Class-A affiliates, he hit a respectable .280/.399/.489 to go along with 30 doubles, two triples, 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, 61 runs scored, 17 stolen bases, 68 walks, and 107 strikeouts across 91 games spanning 424 total trips to the plate.

As a result of such a productive season, Mayer was recently named to Baseball America’s Age 19 Prospect All-Star Team. He and fellow 2021 draftees Harry Ford, Jordan Lawlar, and James Wood were all recognized for what they did during their age-19 seasons.

On the other side of the ball, Mayer was coming off a debut season in the Florida Complex League in which he committed 10 errors in just 177 2/3 innings at shortstop. He later told The Athletic’s Jen McCaffrey that improving defensively had “been a focal point of his offseason work” and he put that on display this year.

In Salem, Mayer made 10 errors over 505 1/3 innings at his primary position and was named the best defensive shortstop in the Carolina League. In Greenville, the 6-foot-3, 188-pounder logged 189 innings at short and committed just two errors there. While defensive metrics for minor-leaguers are not made public, Mayer did see his fielding percentage rise from .956 with the Red Sox to .974 with the Drive.

Mayer, who turns 20 in December, is currently regarded by Baseball America, MLB Pipeline, and SoxProspects.com as the No. 1 prospect in Boston’s farm system. In terms of top-100 prospect rankings, Baseball America has him at No. 12, MLB Pipeline has him at No. 7, and FanGraphs has him at No. 19.

It goes without saying that Mayer is an exciting player who possesses All-Star potential. While the native Californian is still a ways away from making it to the major-leagues, he is projected to return to Greenville next spring. Depending on how things go there, he could make it up to Double-A Portland by the end of the 2023 campaign.

(Picture of Marcelo Mayer: Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Ceddanne Rafaela named Baseball America’s 2022 Red Sox Minor League Player of the Year

Ceddanne Rafaela was named Baseball America’s Red Sox 2022 Minor League Player of the Year on Tuesday.

That should come as no surprise. Rafaela, who just turned 22 over the weekend, entered Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings back in July and is now regarded by the publication as the No. 81 prospect in the sport

Between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland this season, Rafaela batted .299/.342/.538 (134 wRC+) with 32 doubles, 10 triples, 21 home runs, 86 RBIs, 82 runs scored, 28 stolen bases, 26 walks, and 113 strikeouts over 116 total games (522 plate appearances). The right-handed hitter slashed .278/.324/.500 (119 wRC+) with 12 homers, 50 runs driven in, 45 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 71 games (313 plate appearances) with the Sea Dogs upon being promoted in early June.

On the other side of the ball, Rafaela saw the majority of his playing time this season come at either shortstop or center field. In Portland in particular, the versatile 5-foot-8, 152-pounder logged 103 innings at short and 498 2/3 innings at center while making highlight reel plays at both positions.

“I truly believe this: You put him in the big leagues right now, he wins the Gold Glove as an outfielder,” Red Sox infield coordinator Darren Fenster told The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier recently. “He’s not there yet as an infielder, but talent-wise and with some more reps and some more polish, he has Gold Glove potential as a shortstop as well. It’s wild the talent that this kid has.”

The Red Sox originally signed Rafaela for just $10,000 as an international free-agent coming out of Curacao in July 2017. Shortly after the five-year anniversary of his signing passed, the Willemstad native represented Boston in the All-Star Futures Game in Los Angeles.

On the heels of such an impressive minor-league season, Rafaela is a sure bet to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster this fall in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft. He is also slated to play winter ball in Puerto Rico for he Criollos de Caguas, who are managed by Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez.

Alex Cora, who previously managed the Criollos and spends his off-seasons in his hometown of Caguas, told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith) last week that he was looking forward to getting to know Rafaela better this winter.

“We’re going to be able to enjoy it,” Cora said. “Just try to meet him, know who he is as a person. That’s something that I’m looking forward to. We had that opportunity with Jarren (Duran) a few years ago, but it was limited because of the whole pandemic and the restrictions. But now that we can actually interact with others, it would be fun just to have him around, bring him to the house and talk to him and embrace him.”

In the meantime, Rafaela will look to lead the Sea Dogs to an Eastern League title. After winning 17 of its last 20 regular-season games, Portland opens a best-of-three playoff series against the Somerset Patriots at Hadlock Field on Tuesday night.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)