Which prospects did the Red Sox leave unprotected from next month’s Rule 5 Draft?

The Red Sox recently protected five of their prospects from the Rule 5 Draft. Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu, and David Hamilton were all added to Boston’s 40-man roster on Tuesday, meaning they will not be available to other teams next month.

Murphy, Walter, Rafaela, Abreu, and Hamilton represent five of the 70 Red Sox minor-leaguers who had been eligible for the 2022 Rule 5 Draft ahead of Tuesday’s protection deadline. Below are some of the notable omissions from the reserve list Boston submitted to Major League Baseball:

Thad Ward, RHP

Ward, 25, is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking fifth among pitchers in the organization. The Red Sox originally selected the right-hander in the fifth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Central Florida. He showed signs of promise during his first full professional season, but did not pitch at all in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then underwent Tommy John surgery last June.

Upon returning from Tommy John this season, Ward made six rehab starts in the lower-minors before re-joining Double-A Portland’s starting rotation in August. The 6-foot-3, 192-pound righty posted a 2.43 ERA with 41 strikeouts to 14 walks in seven starts (33 1/3 innings) for the Sea Dogs. He also pitched for the Scottsdale Scorpions of the Arizona Fall League, but was limited to just four appearances (12 2/3 innings) after suffering a left oblique strain in October.

Ward, who turns 26 in January, primarily operates with a low-90s fastball, a mid-80s slider, and a high-80s changeup. There is a very real chance he gets scooped up by another club.

Christian Koss, INF

Koss, 24 is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 20 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The Red Sox originally acquired the infielder from the Rockies in December 2020 in exchange for left-hander Yoan Aybar. He spent the entirety of the 2022 season in Portland.

In 125 games with the Sea Dogs, the right-handed hitting Koss batted .260/.309/.430 with 22 doubles, five triples, 17 home runs, 84 RBIs, 69 runs scored, 16 stolen bases, 25 walks, and 137 strikeouts en route to being named the team’s Most Valuable Player. He saw playing time at five different positions, including both outfield corner spots for the first time in his professional career.

Koss, who also has a birthday in January, is now in Puerto Rico playing winter ball for the Criollos de Caguas. MLB Pipeline had identified the versatile 6-foot-1, 182-pounder as the Red Sox’ toughest Rule 5 decision, but the club ultimately decided on leaving him off the 40-man roster.

A trio of right-handed relievers

Ryan Fernandez — The 24-year-old hurler burst onto the scene to some degree this season. After compiling a 6.48 ERA with High-A Greenville through the end of May, Fernandez did not allow a run in his next nine outings and earned a promotion to Portland in early July. Unfortunately, elbow soreness limited him to just 10 outings with the Sea Dogs before his season ended in August. Prior to getting hurt, Fernandez had upped his fastball velocity from 92-95 mph to 96-98 mph while also mixing in a plus cutter, per SoxProspects.com’s Ian Cundall.

A.J. Politi — The 26-year-old righty made it to Triple-A Worcester in May after pitching to a 2.03 ERA to begin the season in Portland. With the WooSox, Politi posted a 2.41 ERA with 63 strikeouts to 19 walks over 38 appearances (two starts) spanning 56 innings of work. He held opponents to a .194 batting average against while operating with a fastball, cutter, and curveball.

Jacob Wallace — The 24-year-old was acquired from the Rockies as the player to be named later in the August 2020 trade that sent Kevin Pillar to Colorado. He spent all of this season in Portland and pitched to a 1.38 ERA in 19 relief appearances (26 innings) following the All-Star break. The Methuen, Mass. native possesses tantalizing stuff — including a high-octane fastball and a quality breaking ball — but his inability to command the strike zone can be concerning at times. Since he was left unprotected, a rebuilding team in need of bullpen help could look to pick Wallace up given the potential he has.

A young pitching prospect named Wikelman Gonzalez

Gonzalez, 20, is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fourth among pitchers. The Red Sox originally signed the Venezuelan-born righty for $250,000 in July 2015. He posted a 4.21 ERA in 25 starts (98 1/3 innings) between Low-A Salem and Greenville this season. Only four of those 25 starts came with the Drive, so Gonzalez is still a ways away from garnering big-league consideration.

A pair of infielders in Eddinson Paulino and Brainer Bonaci

Paulino, 20, is currently ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 13 prospect in the Red Sox farm system. The left-handed hitter out of the Dominican Republic 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 114 games (539 plate appearances) for Salem this season. He put up those numbers while seeing playing time at second base, shortstop, third base, center field, and left field.

Bonaci, also 20, is ranked by MLB Pipeline as Boston’s No. 16 prospect. The switch-hitting Venezuelan slashed .262/.397/.385 with 19 doubles, six triples, six homers, 50 runs driven in, 86 runs scored, 28 stolen bases, 88 walks, and 89 strikeouts across 108 games (494 plate appearances) with Salem. He, too, played second base, shortstop, third base, and right field.

Both Paulino and Bonaci are similar in that they were both signed by the Red Sox during the 2018 international signing period. They both have intriguing potential, but would probably struggle to stick on a big-league roster right now.

Other notable minor-leaguers left off: Cam Cannon, Brendan Cellucci, Kole Cottam, Nick Decker, Durbin Feltman, Ryan Fitzgerald, Devlin Granberg, Gilberto Jimenez, Victor Santos, Stephen Scott, Chase Shugart, and Ryan Zeferjahn.

The 2022 Rule 5 Draft will take place during the final day of the Winter Meetings in San Diego on December 7. A team that selects a player in the Rule 5 Draft must carry that player on their active roster for the entirety of the 2023 season (barring an injury) or would otherwise have to offer him back to his previous club for $50,000.

(Picture of Thad Ward: Jill Weisleder/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Red Sox infield prospect Brainer Bonaci earns Carolina League Player of the Week honors

Red Sox infield prospect Brainer Bonaci has been named the Carolina League Player of the Week for the week of July 25-31, Minor League Baseball announced on Monday.

In Low-A Salem’s last series against the Fredericksburg Nationals at Virginia Credit Union Stadium, Bonaci went 8-for-18 (.444) with two doubles, one triple, two home runs, 11 RBIs, two runs scored, three walks, and four strikeouts over five games. Seven of those 11 runs driven in came in a career day at the plate last Tuesday.

On the 2022 season as a whole, the switch-hitter is batting a solid .265/.395/.378 with 17 doubles, five triples, those two homers, 36 RBIs, 59 runs scored, 18 stolen bases, 64 walks, and 68 strikeouts across 80 games (365 plate appearances) with the Salem Sox.

Among qualified Carolina League hitters, Bonaci ranks fourth in walk rate (17.5%), 15th in strikeout rate (18.6%), eighth in swinging strike rate (8.2%), 22nd in batting average, fifth in on-base percentage, 22nd in OPS (.772), 18th in speed score (7.6), ninth in line-drive rate (25.3%), and 17th in wRC+ (124), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Bonaci has seen playing time at four different positions so far this season. The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder has logged 425 1/3 innings at second base, 134 innings at shortstop, 34 innings at third base, and even one inning in right field back on April 17.

Bonaci, who celebrated his 20th birthday last month, originally signed with the Red Sox for $290,000 as an international free-agent coming out of Venezuela in July 2018. The Catia La Mar native is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 19 prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Given that he has stepped it up with Salem as of late (1.029 OPS in July), one has to wonder if Bonaci could be working his way towards a promotion to High-A Greenville sooner rather than later. Bonaci can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this winter, so the Red Sox may want to see him go up against a stiffer level of competition before determining if he is worthy of a 40-man roster spot come late November.

(Picture of Brainer Bonaci: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

What to expect from Red Sox infield prospect Brainer Bonaci in 2022

Red Sox infield prospect Brainer Bonaci is one of 28 minor-leaguers participating in the team’s Winter Warm-Up minicamp this week.

Of the 28 players on hand at the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers, Fla., Bonaci is one of just three prospects the Sox acquired via international free agency.

Boston originally signed Bonaci out of Venezuela for $290,000 in July 2018, making him one of their more expensive additions from a 2018-2019 signing class that included Eduardo Lopez, Wilkelman Gonzalez, and Juan Daniel Encarnacion, among others.

After getting his first taste of pro ball in the Dominican Summer League in 2019, Bonaci had his 2020 season wiped out from under him on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the pandemic halted Minor League Baseball in 2020, Bonaci made the most of his time away from organized activities that summer and subsequently stood out at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league program.

“Bonaci looked the best of the young group of middle infielders in camp,” SoxProspects.com’s director of scouting Ian Cundall wrote in December 2020. “He showed good athleticism and average bat speed with good bat control. He is not the fastest player, but does have the quick twitch athleticism you look for in the middle infield and a solid blend of instincts and physical ability that should allow him to stick at shortstop long-term.”

With the momentum he gained at fall instructs, Bonaci came into 2021 regarded by Baseball America as the No. 19 prospect in Boston’s farm system. In the spring, he broke camp having been assigned to rookie-level Florida Complex League Red Sox.

In 36 games with the FCL Red Sox, the switch-hitting infielder batted a stout .252/.358/.403 (108 wRC+) to go along with 13 doubles, one triple, two home runs, 17 RBIs, 27 runs scored, 12 stolen bases, 21 walks, and 37 strikeouts over 162 plate appearances.

Those numbers may not exactly stand out on paper, but scouts were still impressed with what they saw from Bonaci during his time in Southwest Florida.

“He has shown advanced pitch recognition skills for his age, but has the tendency to be passive at the plate,” Cundall wrote of Bonaci back in August. “A switch-hitter, he has shown strong feel for hit and contact ability for his age.”

Roughly three weeks before the minor-league season ended, Bonaci received a promotion to Low-A Salem on September 3. In his first exposure to full-season ball, the 19-year-old slashed .224/.269/.327 (63 wRC+) with three doubles, one triple, eight RBIs, five runs scored, three walks, and eight strikeouts across 13 games (52 plate appearances) with Salem to close out the year.

Defensively, Bonaci logged 113 innings at second base and 269 1/3 innings at shortstop between the FCL and Low-A last year. While patrolling second base, he committed just two errors but committed a total of five (all in the FCL) at shortstop.

Despite those miscues, Cundall did note over the summer that Bonaci ” has a strong arm and shows the defensive ability to stick at shortstop” as opposed to moving over to second base.

Bonaci, who turns 20 in July, is currently listed at 5-foot-10 and 164 pounds. The Catia La Mar native is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season where he left off in 2021: Salem.

On that note, the 2022 campaign could prove to be somewhat of a pivotal one for Bonaci, who can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career next winter. The Red Sox would need to add him to their 40-man roster to prevent that from happening.

(Picture of Brainer Bonaci: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Red Sox prospect Juan Chacon ‘caught some attention’ at fall instructs, Eddie Romero says

Like fellow prospect Chih-Jung Liu, Juan Chacon’s baseball experience in 2020 was anything but normal.

The 17-year-old was likely going to spend the majority of the year playing in the Dominican Summer League, but the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that caused the minor-league season to be cancelled prevented that from happening.

Instead of getting more exposure in the Dominican, where he played in the Tricky League last summer, Chacon had to wait until early October to get his first real opportunity of 2020.

Up until then, Chacon had been working out a facility in Miami, which likely gave him an edge in preparedness when he received an invite to the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

“It was our official version of seeing him, finally under supervision,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero said of Chacon when speaking with WEEI’s Rob Bradford. “He has a tool-set. He is a plus-runner. It was something when we first saw him he kept getting faster every time and by signing day he was running a 6.6 60. He’s got above-average arm strength. We think he’s somebody who can stay in the middle of the field and cover a lot of range. He’s got a strong arm. And offensively, right now he’s got a projectable frame. He’s very athletic. He’s somebody from an offensive standpoint, he uses the whole field.”

The Red Sox signed Chacon, a right-handed hitter, out of Venezuela for $900,000 last July, making him the club’s highest-paid international signee for the 2019-2020 international signing period.

That is quite the investment, and with that investment comes somewhat lofty expectations; expectations which Chacon lived up to at fall instructs.

“He performed well at instructs,” Romero added. “Which for a first-year signee, usually [with those] those guys, there aren’t many of them we push straight to the stateside instructional league. We wanted to see him and he did well and I know he caught some attention.”

Regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 49 prospect, the 6-foot-2, 170 lb. outfielder will have the opportunity to ascend the prospect ranks some more once he actually gets the chance to see some in-game action. That will presumably happen in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League at some point in 2021.

Red Sox prospect Brainer Bonaci ‘showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability’ at fall instructs

Brainer Bonaci has been a professional baseball player for just over two years and he doesn’t turn 19 years old until next July, but he is already looking like one of the more exciting young infielders in the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline.

The 18-year-old shortstop is coming off an impressive showing at the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers. According to SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall, Bonaci “looked the best of the young shortstops [at fall instructs] and showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability. He has a plus arm and both his glove and hit tool showed average potential.”

Signed out of Venezuela by Manny Padron and Eddie Romero for $290,000 on his 16th birthday in 2018, Bonaci is starting to get some legitimate attention thanks to what he did this fall.

Had there been a minor-league season in 2020, Bonaci likely would have began the year with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Instead, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was limited in what he could do until October, when fall instructs began.

In his only organized action as a minor-leaguer thus far, the 5-foot-10 switch-hitter posted a solid .279/.356/.379 slash line (111 wRC+) to go along with three home runs, 37 RBI, and 18 stolen bases over 61 games played for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox last year.

Because he is still only 18 years old, Bonaci still has plenty of room to grow physically and developmentally. That said, there’s still reason to be excited about his potential, and SoxProspects’ latest prospect rankings reflect that.

Yes, Bonaci is now the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system according to SoxProspects, good for the fifth highest ranking among infielders after Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, and Nick Yorke.

Going back to April 1, Bonaci was regarded by SoxProspects as the club’s 20th-ranked prospect, so it is clear he is trending in the right direction. And with Dalbec set to graduate from his prospect status next season, it’s safe to assume Bonaci will only continue to rise through the prospect ranks in 2021.

If we look even further ahead, Bonaci will become Rule 5 eligible for the first time in late 2022, so it’s not like he is too far out from garnering 40-man roster consideration as his development continues.