Red Sox invite 11 prospects to rookie development program; Ceddanne Rafaela, Bryan Mata among those scheduled to participate

After a three-year hiatus, the Red Sox will be bringing back their Rookie Development Program to Fenway Park later this week.

Boston announced on Wednesday that 11 players are scheduled to participate in the five-day program, which begins on Saturday, January 21, and concludes on Wednesday, Jan. 25. The prospects who were invited are infielders/outfielders Ceddanne Rafaela and Enmanuel Valdez, infielder David Hamilton, outfielder Wilyer Abreu, left-handers Chris Murphy and Brandon Walter, and right-handers Brayan Bello, Ryan Fernandez, Franklin German, Zack Kelly, and Bryan Mata.

Rafaela, Valdez, Hamilton, Abreu, Murphy, and Walter were all added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in order to receive protection from the Rule 5 Draft. Mata was added in 2020 for the very same reason. Bello, German, and Kelly, meanwhile, all made their major-league debuts for Boston last season.

Interestingly enough, Fernandez is the lone player here who is not currently a member of the Sox’ 40-man roster. The 24-year-old righty flashed some electric stuff (including a high-90s fastball) between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland last year before suffering a season-ending elbow injury in July. He is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 38 prospect in the organization.

Fernandez and these 10 other players will take part in this development program, which was first introduced in 2004 in an effort to ease the transition from the minor- to the major-leagues. Past participants include Bobby Dalbec, Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, Rafael Devers, Mookie Betts, Matt Barnes, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts.

The Red Sox last held their rookie development program in Jan. 2020. It was cancelled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and did not take place in 2022 due to the MLB lockout. In lieu of it being axed last year, Boston held a “Winter Warmup” minicamp in Fort Myers for select prospects who were not yet on the 40-man roster, such as Rafaela, German, Kelly, Murphy, Walter, and Triston Casas.

According to the Red Sox, this year’s version of the rookie development program includes “two workouts daily that emphasize conditioning and strength training as well as a concentration on baseball fundamentals. In addition, the players are attending a number of seminars that will focus on the assimilation into major-league life on and off the field. They will attend the Boston Bruins game on Sunday, Jan. 22, host an RBI clinic alongside the Red Sox Foundation on Monday, Jan. 23, and visit Boston Children’s Hospital on Tuesday, Jan. 24.”

Team president and CEO Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, general manager Brian O’Halloran, and manager Alex Cora are among those who are scheduled to speak with this year’s participants. They will also hear from other members of the club’s baseball operations, baseball communications and media relations, and community relations departments.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Could Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata make his MLB debut next season?

The Red Sox saw their top pitching prospect in Brayan Bello make his major-league debut this season. Could fellow right-hander Bryan Mata be next in line next year?

Bello, who appeared in 13 games and pitched 57 1/3 innings for the Red Sox in 2022, has graduated from his prospect status. Barring a major surprise, Mata will likely enter the 2023 season ranked by most publications as the top pitching prospect in Boston’s farm system.

Although he has yet to debut for the Sox, Mata has gotten a taste of the big-league lifestyle. The 23-year-old hurler travelled with the club to Toronto as a member of the taxi squad for their final road trip of the season. He threw a bullpen session at Rogers Centre prior to Friday’s game against the Blue Jays.

“His first big-league bullpen,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora told reporters, including MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, last week.

As The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier previously reported, Mata was unlikely to be added to the 28-man roster since the Red Sox just wanted to familiarize him “with the big-league environment, including pregame pitchers’ meetings that take place in advance of series and games.”

Still, that the Red Sox elected to include Mata in such meetings shows that they think highly of him. Boston originally signed the native Venezuelan for just $25,000 in January 2016. He had already emerged as one of the more intriguing pitching prospects in the system before undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.

Upon returning from the procedure earlier this spring, Mata made one start for Low-A Salem and three starts for High-A Greenville before making the jump to Double-A Portland — the level he last pitched at in 2019 — in late June. With the Sea Dogs, he posted a 1.85 ERA in 10 appearances (nine starts) and strung together 18 consecutive scoreless frames before earning a promotion to Triple-A Worcester in late August.

In five starts with the WooSox, Mata pitched to 3.47 ERA and 3.12 FIP with 30 strikeouts to 15 walks over 23 1/3 innings of work. According to Speier, the 6-foot-3, 238-pound righty was operating with a high-90s sinker, a four-seam fastball that reached triple digits, an improving slider, and a whiff-inducing changeup.

While his arsenal is tantalizing, Mata does need to work on throwing more strikes and giving up fewer walks. Though his 29.4 percent strikeout rate remained constant between Portland and Worcester this year, he saw his walk rate rise from 11.7 percent to 14.7 percent after going from Double-A to Triple-A.

“I think the strike-throwing thing is the next step,” Cora said. “He had some good games and some OK games. The stuff will always play. And he’s come a long way since his injury. And we really like his season. He was able to get his innings. We’re really excited. It’s just a matter of we need to be patient. But as far as stuff, he’s really good.”

Mata, who turns 24 in May, is already a member of Boston’s 40-man roster. Because of that, he could be in a position to make his major-league debut at some point next season. There are still some things to iron out, though, and they could determine Mata’s role moving forward. Can he stick as a starter? Or is he better suited for the bullpen? The answer will be revealed soon enough.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox to promote top pitching prospect Bryan Mata to Triple-A Worcester, per report

The Red Sox have promoted top pitching prospect Bryan Mata to Triple-A Worcester, according to MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith. The right-hander is expected to make his first start for the WooSox in Tuesday’s series opener against the Buffalo Bisons at Polar Park.

Mata, 23, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 7 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks second among pitchers in the organization behind only fellow righty Brayan Bello.

Originally signed out of Venezuela for just $25,000 as an international free-agent in January 2016, Mata was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster in November 2020. The Maracay native seemed destined to make his major-league debut at some point during the 2021 campaign, but he wound up undergoing Tommy John surgery last April after tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Thirteen months after going under the knife, Mata returned to the mound with a bang. The hard-throwing righty topped out at 100 mph with his four-seam fastball during an extended spring training start in May and was sent out on a rehab assignment shortly thereafter.

By early summer, Mata had gotten his feet between Low-A Salem and High-A Greenville, prompting a promotion to Double-A Portland on June 28. In 10 appearances (nine starts) for the Sea Dogs since then, the 6-foot-3, 230-pound hurler has posted a 1.85 ERA and 3.57 FIP with 58 strikeouts to 23 walks over 48 2/3 innings of work. That includes an ongoing stretch of 18 consecutive scoreless frames dating back to August 12.

Among Eastern League pitchers who — as of Sunday morning — have thrown at least 40 innings to this point in the year, Mata ranks 22nd in strikeout rate (29.4%), ninth in groundball rate (52.2%), 27th in batting average against (.202), second in ERA, 20th in FIP, and 13th in xFIP (3.57), per FanGraphs.

In addition to his high-octane four-seamer, Mata operates with a two-seam fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup. The curveball and slider are considered to be his two best secondary pitches.

Mata, who does not turn 24 until next May, could soon join Bello in making his major-league debut for the Red Sox. In the meantime, he becomes just the latest Boston pitching prospect to make the jump from Portland to Worcester this season joining the likes of Bello, Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, and Victor Santos, among others.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata extends scoreless innings streak to 18 in latest strong start for Double-A Portland

It appears as though Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata may be ready for a promotion to Triple-A Worcester.

In his latest start for Double-A Portland on Wednesday night, Mata scattered five hits and two walks to go along with a season-high nine strikeouts over six scoreless innings of work in an 8-0 win over the Hartford Yard Goats. The 23-year-old right-hander threw 94 pitches (61 strikes) and induced 11 swings-and-misses.

Since making the jump from High-A Greenville in late June, Mata has posted a 1.85 ERA and 3.58 FIP with 58 strikeouts to 23 walks over 10 appearances (9 starts) spanning 48 2/3 innings with the Sea Dogs this season. He has not allowed a run in his last 18 innings pitched.

Among Eastern League pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings to this point in the year, Mata ranks 23rd in strikeout rate (29.4%), ninth in groundball rate (52.2%), 26th in batting average against (.202), second in ERA, 21st in FIP, and 14th in xFIP (3.57), per FanGraphs.

Mata, who missed the entirety of the 2021 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last April, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 7 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks second among pitchers in the organization behind only fellow righty Brayan Bello.

The Red Sox originally signed Mata for just $25,000 as an international free-agent coming out of Venezuela in January 2016. The Maracay native was added to Boston’s 40-man roster in November 2020 and seemed destined to make his big-league debut in 2021. But he tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow that spring, which ultimately required him to go under the knife.

Sixteen months later and Mata is once again putting himself on the map. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound was clocked at 100 mph with his four-seam fastball during an extended spring training start in May. His other offerings include a two-seam fastball, a slider, a curveball, and a changeup.

Mata, who does not turn 24 until next May, would become the latest in a long line of Red Sox pitching prospects to make the transition from Double-A to Triple-A this season. Bello, who has since made his major-league debut, and Brandon Walter were both promoted in May. Chris Murphy was promoted the following month while fellow southpaw Jay Groome — who has since been traded to the Padres– was promoted in July. Victor Santos was also promoted earlier this month.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata strikes out 2 in first start of rehab assignment

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata officially began his rehab assignment with Low-A Salem on Saturday night.

Pitching in front of 3,971 spectators at Carillion Clinic Field, the right-hander allowed one unearned run on no hits, two walks, and two strikeouts over two innings of work in Salem’s 6-2 win over the Columbia Fireflies.

Of the 45 pitches Mata threw on Saturday, 27 went for strikes and nine were of the swing-and-miss variety. The 23-year-old reportedly topped out at 98 mph with his fastball.

Not including extended spring training, this marked Mata’s first in-game action since August 2019 and, more significantly, his first official minor-league appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April.

Originally signed by the Red Sox for just $25,000 as an international free agent coming out of Venezuela in January 2016, Mata is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 11 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fifth among pitchers in the organization.

When healthy, many believed Mata had some of the best pure stuff in the system as he complemented his high-octane fastball with a changeup, a curveball, and a slider, among other offerings.

After tearing his ulnar collateral ligament and having his elbow reconstructed last spring, it remains to be seen if Mata will remain effective as a starter or will instead transition to a relief role at the next level. Either way, he still has a high ceiling.

Already a member of Boston’s 40-man roster, Mata will make his next start for High-A Greenville, per The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. He is expected to reach Triple-A Worcester by the time his rehab assignment comes to an end. At that point, the 6-foot-3, 229 pound hurler could be paired up with fellow righty Brayan Bello in the WooSox’ starting rotation.

Bello, the top pitching prospect in the Sox’ farm system, made his fourth start for Worcester since being promoted from Double-A Portland on May 17. The 23-year-old yielded three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out eight over five innings on Friday. His ERA with the WooSox now sits at 3.63.

Between Bello and Mata, the Red Sox have two extremely exciting young pitchers who have the chance to make their big-league debuts at some point this season. At the same time, Chaim Bloom and Co. will surely exhibit patience when it comes to the development of these two prospects as well those who fall behind them in the pipeline.

(Picture of Bryan Mata courtesy of the Salem Red Sox)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata set to begin rehab assignment with Low-A Salem

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata is slated to begin a rehab assignment with Low-A Salem and could start for the affiliate as soon as this weekend, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Mata, who underwent Tommy John surgery last April, pitched in three extended spring training games down in Fort Myers over the last few weeks. Per Speier, the right-hander “showed elite velocity in his first outing” by topping out at 101 mph over two innings, then worked at “just” 99 mph in his second outing and 98 mph in his third.

Originally signed by the Red Sox for just $25,000 out of Venezuela in January 2016, Mata is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 11 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fifth among pitchers in the organization.

After posting a 3.43 ERA in 21 starts (105 innings pitched) between then-High-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2019 and impressing at the alternate training site in 2020, Mata was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster that November.

Coming into spring training last year, Mata was likely going to begin the season with Triple-A Worcester. He instead tore his ulnar collateral ligament in March, which ultimately required him to go under the knife.

Now 23 years old, Mata has a chance to get to Worcester once again. Pre-surgery, the 6-foot-3, 229 pound righty worked with a five-pitch mix that consisted of a 94-96 mph four-seam fastball, a 91-93 mph two-seam fastball, an 86-90 mph slider, a 78-80 mph curveball, and an 84-86 changeup.

There were also some questions regarding Mata’s future. In other words, would he be best-suited as a starter or reliever in the long-term? These next few months could help determine that, though he should have a high ceiling regardless of which role he ultimately undertakes.

When Mata does take the mound for Salem, it will mark the first time he has pitched in an official minor-league game since August 2019. The Red Sox will be sure to exhibit patience with Mata during this process, but the hope seems to be that he will end the season in Worcester or maybe even in Boston.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata reaches 100 mph in first competitive action since undergoing Tommy John surgery

For the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery last April, Red Sox pitching prospect Brayan Mata faced off against batters from another organization on Thursday, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Down in Fort Myers, Mata threw two innings in an extended spring training game. The right-hander did not allow a run or hit over those two frames while recording five strikeouts, two walks, and topping out at 100 mph with his fastball.

Mata, 23, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 11 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fifth among pitchers in the organization.

Originally signed out of Venezuela for just $25,000 in 2016, Mata was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster in November 2020. The following spring, it seemed as though the righty had a good chance to break camp in Triple-A Worcester’s starting rotation before it was revealed he would require season-ending surgery.

Fast forward 13 months, and Mata is back on the mound and working his way towards getting into minor-league games again. Per Speier, Mata will likely begin a rehab assignment in early June, when the Florida Complex League season begins.

From there, the Red Sox plan to keep Mata on a starter’s schedule and get to a point where they could possibly pair him with fellow right-hander Brayan Bello in Worcester this summer.

Prior to going under the knife, the 6-foot-3 and 229 pound hurler worked with a five-pitch mix that consisted of a 94-96 mph four-seam fastball, a 91-93 mph two-seam fastball, an 86-90 mph slider, a 78-80 mph curveball, and an 84-86 changeup.

There were some questions whether Mata could stick as a starter or would be better suited for a move to the bullpen. But, as noted by Speier, he is considered to have a high ceiling in either role.

While the Red Sox will understandably take their time when it comes to his rehab, the possibility remains that Mata — who is already on Boston’s 40-man roster — could make his major-league debut by the end of the 2022 season if all goes well.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata nearing return from Tommy John surgery

Red Sox pitching prospect is nearing his return to the mound and will soon start throwing live batting practice, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier.

Mata, who turns 23 next month, underwent Tommy John surgery last April after slightly tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow during spring training. The procedure was performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Originally signed out of Venezuela for just $25,000 as an international free agent in 2016, Mata comes into the 2022 season regarded by Baseball America as the No. 8 prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system, ranking second among pitchers in the organization behind only Brayan Bello.

While continuing to rehab from Tommy John surgery this spring, Mata was seen throwing off flat ground and going through drills on the back fields of the Fenway South complex in Fort Myers.

As noted by Speier, Mata is expected to join Triple-A Worcester’s starting rotation at some point this season. The right-hander is already a member of Boston’s 40-man roster, so him contributing at the big-league level later in the year is not out of the picture, either.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 229 pounds, Mata operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a 94-96 mph four-seam fastball, a 91-93 mph two-seam fastball, an 86-90 mph slider, a 78-80 mph curveball, and an 84-86 changeup, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

That, of course, was before Mata underwent elbow reconstruction one year ago. If he can retain that arsenal to some degree, the righty — as Speier writes — could “could emerge as a mid- to late-year bullpen option” for the Red Sox.

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Thaddeus Ward undergoes Tommy John surgery

Red Sox pitching prospect Thaddeus Ward underwent Tommy John surgery on Thursday, according to The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier. The procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews in Florida.

Ward, 24, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 10 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fourth among pitchers in the organization.

The right-hander opened the 2021 minor-league season with Double-A Portland, where he allowed five runs on 11 hits, five walks, and 11 strikeouts over his first two starts and eight innings pitched prior to being placed on the injured list due to a forearm strain.

Per MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, Ward “visited multiple doctors in recent weeks before surgery was recommended.”

Selected by the Red Sox in the fifth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Central Florida, Ward emerged as one of the organization’s top pitching prospects thanks in part to posting a 2.14 ERA over 25 starts (126 1/3 innings) between Low-A Greenville and High-A Salem during his first full professional season in 2019.

While he did not pitch in 2020 on account of the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the minor-league season, the Florida native did receive an invite to big-league spring training this year before getting reassigned to minor-league camp in early March.

Listed at 6-foot-3 and 193 pounds, Ward — who works with a sinker, cutter, slider, changeup, and curveball — will miss the rest of the 2021 campaign and likely the majority of 2022 as well considering the typical timetable for pitchers to come back from Tommy John surgery is anywhere between 12-15 months.

Ward undergoing Tommy John is the latest instance of the Red Sox’ minor-league pitching depth taking a major hit so far this year.

Bryan Mata, the top pitching prospect in the system, underwent Tommy John surgery in April. Tanner Houck, the No. 3 pitching prospect in the system, has been on the injured list with a flexor muscle strain.

Connor Seabold, the No. 5 pitching prospect in the system, has been on the injured list with elbow inflammation. Eduard Bazardo, the 27th-ranked prospect in the system according to MLB Pipeline, has been on the injured list with a lat strain.

For the Red Sox, the silver lining with Ward is that they likely won’t need to add the young righty to their 40-man roster in November even though he will be eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time this winter.

(Picture of Thaddeus Ward: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox shut down right-hander Tanner Houck due to sore flexor muscle

The Red Sox have shut down right-hander Tanner Houck due to a sore flexor muscle, manager Alex Cora announced Sunday morning.

Per Cora, Houck first felt discomfort during his last start for Triple-A Worcester, which was also the WooSox’ first game of the season in Trenton on May 4.

Houck lasted just three innings in his first start for Worcester this past Tuesday, allowing three runs on eight hits, no walks, and four strikeouts on 69 pitches (45 strikes).

The 24-year-old came in the following day experiencing soreness in his flexor muscle, which resulted in him being shut down.

“We’re not overly concerned,” Cora said. “This happened in his last start. The next day, he came in sore. He’s actually feeling better right now. But of course, we’re going to shut him down.”

Houck, who turns 25 next month, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 3 pitching prospect in Boston’s farm system.

The former first-round draft pick made his major-league debut for the Sox last September and has posted a 1.98 ERA over six outings (five starts) since then.

This year alone, Houck has allowed seven runs (five earned) on 14 hits, one walk, and 12 strikeouts in three appearances (two starts) spanning 10 1/3 total innings of work.

While the Red Sox do not seem too concerned about Houck’s status moving forward, the fact that he has been shut down now means that the club is without their top two rotation depth options at the minor-league level for the time being.

That being the case because in addition to Houck being shut down, fellow right-handed pitching prospect Connor Seabold was placed on the injured list last Monday with right elbow inflammation.

The Sox did not seem too worried that Seabold would miss a significant amount of time, either, but his absence becomes more significant since Houck has been sidelined as well.

On top of those two, Bryan Mata, the organization’s top pitching prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery last month. So it goes without saying that Boston’s starting rotation depth has taken somewhat of a hit these past few weeks.

Still, as previously mentioned, the Red Sox seem optimistic that in Houck’s case, the righty will not be shut down for long.

“There’s no timetable, but this is something that we feel is going to be short-term,” said Cora. “It’s not something that we are overly concerned, but that’s where we’re at right now.”

(Picture of Tanner Houck: Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)