Red Sox prospect Nick Northcut named South Atlantic League Player of the Week

Red Sox infield prospect Nick Northcut has been named South Atlantic League Player of the Week for the week of June 6-12, Minor League Baseball announced on Monday.

In High-A Greenville’s latest series against the Asheville Tourists at Fluor Field, Northcut went 7-for-22 (.318) with two doubles, four home runs, 11 RBIs, seven runs scored, three walks, and nine strikeouts over six games. All four of those homers were hit within a two-day stretch on Friday and Saturday.

On the 2022 campaign as a whole, the right-handed hitter is batting .231/.286/.574 with seven doubles, a team-high 20 home runs and 46 RBIs, 30 runs scored, 12 walks, and 79 strikeouts over 50 games (210 plate appearances) for the Drive. He has put up those numbers while primarily playing both corner infield positions.

Among qualified South Atlantic League hitters, Northcut ranks first in home runs, second in slugging percentage, ninth in OPS (.860), first in isolated power (.344), and 17th in wRC+ (124), per FanGraphs.

Northcut, who is celebrating his 23rd birthday on Monday, is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the 60th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system. The Ohio native was originally selected by the Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Mason High School.

While power has been his standout tool this season, Northcut is working to become more selective at the plate. His 37.6% strikeout rate and 5.7% walk rate are among the worst marks in the Sally League, but the Red Sox have otherwise been pleased with what they have seen from the young slugger.

As he inches closer towards setting a new single-season home run record in Greenville, Northcut becomes the first member of the Drive to earn South Atlantic League Player of the Week honors since Ceddanne Rafaela did so on April 18.

Rafaela has since been promoted to Double-A Portland. Perhaps Northcut is not too far behind him.

(Picture of Nick Northcut: Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox demote struggling prospect Brandon Howlett to High-A Greenville

In order to make room for the recently-promoted Ceddanne Rafaela on Double-A Portland’s roster, the Red Sox have demoted infield prospect Brandon Howlett to High-A Greenville, per the team’s minor-league transactions log.

Howlett, 22, has struggled with the Sea Dogs this season. Coming into play on Tuesday, the right-handed hitter was batting just .167/.278/.205 (44 wRC+) with one double, one triple, no home runs, four RBIs, five runs scored, 11 walks, and 42 strikeouts over 27 games (90 plate appearances) for Portland.

Defensively, the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder has unsurprisingly seen the majority of his playing time this year come at third base, though he has also made 10 appearances and logged 70 2/3 innings in right field for the first time in his professional career.

Originally selected by the Red Sox in the 21st round of the 2018 amateur draft out of George Jenkins High School in Lakeland, Fla., Howlett forwent his commitment to Florida State University to sign with Boston for $185,000.

Once regarded by Baseball America as the No. 14 (2019) and No. 20 (2020) prospect in the Sox’ farm system, Howlett will now return to Greenville, where he enjoyed a moderate amount of success last season — particularly in the second half.

In September, for instance, Howlett slashed a stout .289/.373/.533 (140 wRC+) with two home runs and six RBIs over his final 12 games of the year with the Drive.

There is no doubt that Howlett, who turns 23 this September, will look to regain that kind of form and work his way back up to Portland at some point this summer.

(Picture of Brandon Howlett: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox promote versatile prospect Ceddanne Rafaela to Double-A Portland

The Red Sox are promoting versatile prospect Ceddanne Rafaela from High-A Greenville to Double-A Portland, as confirmed by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield.

Rafaela, 21, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 22 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The right-handed hitter began the 2022 season in Greenville and batted a stout .330/.368/.589 with 16 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 36 RBIs, 37 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, 10 walks, and 15 strikeouts over 45 games (209 plate appearances) with the Drive.

Among qualified South Atlantic League hitters, Rafaela ranks first in batting average, 23rd in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, second in OPS (.957), fourth in isolated power (.259), and ninth in stolen bases, per MiLB.com’s leaderboards.

On May 17, Rafaela became the first player in Drive history to hit for the natural cycle, as he went 4-for-5 with a first-inning single, third-inning double, seventh-inning triple, and eighth-inning home run in an 11-6 win over the Hickory Crawdads at Fluor Field.

Originally signed for just $10,000 as an international free agent coming out of Curacao in July 2017, Rafaela began to open eyes with Low-A Salem last year because of his defense. After playing six different positions (second base, third base, shortstop, left, right, and center field) in 2021, the Willemstad native was named the Red Sox’ Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in September.

So far this season, Rafaela has gotten playing time at second base, shortstop, and center field. To be exact, the 5-foot-8, 150 pounder has logged 270 1/3 innings in center while impressing the Red Sox with his defensive ability there, according to The Athletic’s Chad Jennings.

Rafaela, who turns 22 in September, will join the Sea Dogs before they open a six-game series against the Hartford Yard Goats at Hadlock Field on Tuesday night.

That the Red Sox are promoting Rafaela has deeper meaning when you consider the fact that he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft in December. By allowing him to face stiffer competition in Portland, Boston gets the chance to further evaluate Rafaela before deciding if he will be added to the 40-man roster by the deadline in late November.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela hits for natural cycle in Greenville

Versatile Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela hit for the cycle in High-A Greenville’s 11-6 win over the Hickory Crawdads at Fluor Field on Tuesday night.

Batting third and starting in center field for the Drive, Rafaela went 4-for-5 with two RBIs, three runs scored, and one strikeout. The right-handed hitter singled in the first inning, doubled in the third inning, struck out in the fifth inning, showed off his speed while tripling in the seventh inning, and crushed his eighth home run of the season to cap off the natural cycle in the bottom of the eighth.

Following Tuesday’s performance, Rafaela became the first player in Drive franchise history to hit for the cycle. He is now batting .312/.353/.567 with 10 doubles, one triple, eight home runs, 26 runs driven in, 28 runs scored, 10 stolen bases, seven walks, and 34 strikeouts across 32 games (150 plate appearances) for Greenville this season.

Rafaela, 21, was originally signed by the Red Sox for just $10,000 as an international free agent coming out of Curacao in June 2018. The Willemstad native is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he was named the organization’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.

So far this year, Rafaela has seen playing time at center field, second base, and shortstop. The 5-foot-8, 152 pounder has already logged 184 innings in center (his primary position), 60 innings at shortstop, and nine innings at second.

Because of his ability to play all over the diamond, Rafaela was identified by Baseball America as the top defensive outfielder in Boston’s farm system before the start of the season. He is currently regarded by Baseball America as the Sox’ 22nd-ranked prospect.

Considering the amount of success he has enjoyed in Greenville thus far, it seems likely that Rafaela — who turns 22 in September — could earn a promotion to Double-A Portland before long.

That Rafaela could advance a level this season is relevant when you consider the fact he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this December. The Red Sox would need to add him to their 40-man roster by the November deadline if they would like to prevent that from happening.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela: Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela named South Atlantic League Player of the Week

Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela has been named the South Atlantic League’s Player of the Week for April 11-17, Minor League Baseball announced on Monday.

Rafaela, 21, has gotten his 2022 season with High-A Greenville off to scorching start. Over his last six games against the Asheville Tourists, the right-handed hitter has batted a ridiculous .433/.452/.900 (241 wRC+) with five doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs, 10 runs scored, one stolen base, one walk, and six strikeout across 31 plate appearances with the Drive.

Since the South Atlantic League season began on April 8, Rafaela ranks fourth among qualified hitters in batting average (.395), 21st in on-base percentage (.422), third in slugging percentage (.860), third in isolated power (.465), second in doubles (5), first in home runs (5), and first in RBIs (11), per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox originally signed Rafaela out of Curacao for just $10,000 in July 2017. The Willemstad native came into 2022 regarded by Baseball America as both the No. 22 prospect and top defensive outfielder in Boston’s farm system.

Initially signed as a shortstop five years ago, Rafaela has since become an extremely versatile player. The 5-foot-8, 150 pounder played six different positions (second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, and right field) with Low-A Salem in 2021 en route to being named the organization’s Minor League Defensive Player of the Year.

So far with the Drive this season, Rafaela has logged nine innings at short and 63 in center. Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham recently told The Athletic’s Chad Jennings that Rafaela will “be mostly confined” to those two positions in 2022, though he is still capable of playing anywhere.

That Rafaela, who turns 22 in September, appears to be in the midst of a breakout campaign at the plate should be an encouraging sign for both the player and the Red Sox. After the 2021 Rule 5 Draft was cancelled as a result of the lockout, Rafaela can once again become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter.

If the Sox would like to prevent that from happening, they would need to add Rafaela to their 40-man roster by the deadline in late November. As of now, the odds of Rafaela being added and receiving protection from the Rule 5 seem high.

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

Red Sox prospect Cedanne Rafaela hits first home run of spring

Versatile Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela hit his first home run of the spring in Tuesday’s 6-2 loss to the Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton. He actually accounted for Boston’s only two runs on one swing of the bat.

After pinch-running for Christian Arroyo in the top half of the seventh, Rafaela registered his first and only plate appearance two innings later. With one out and one runner on in the ninth, the right-handed hitter took Pirates reliever Austin Brice 399 feet deep to right-center field to make it a 6-2 game.

Rafaela, 21, has made the most out of his limited playing time this spring. Following Tuesday’s performance, the young infielder/outfielder is batting .273 (3-for-11)/.273/.636 with one double, one homer, two RBIs, four runs scored, and one stolen base over five Grapefruit League appearances.

Originally signed out of Curacao for just $10,000 in July 2017, Rafaela comes into the 2022 season regarded by Baseball America as the best defensive outfielder and No. 22 overall prospect in Boston’s farm system.

As that superlative suggests, Rafaela is known more for his defense than his offense. With Low-A Salem last year, the 5-foot-8, 152 pounder saw playing time at six different positions (2B, 3B, SS, LF, CF, RF) en route to being named the Sox’ Minor League Defensive Player of the Year in September.

So far this spring, Rafaela has logged two innings at shortstop, five innings in left field, and 14 innings in center field. He has yet to commit an error at either of the three positions.

On the other side of the ball, Rafaela is coming off a 2021 campaign with Salem in which he batted .251/.305/.424 (95 wRC+) to go along with 20 doubles, nine triples, 10 home runs, 53 RBIs, 73 runs scored, 23 stolen bases, 25 walks, and 79 strikeouts across 102 games spanning 432 plate appearances.

Among qualified hitters in the Low-A East last season, Rafaela ranked 10th in strikeout rate (18.3%), 22nd in batting average, 12th in slugging percentage, 22nd in OPS (.729), 10th in isolated power (.173), second in speed score (9.0), and 29th in wRC+, according to FanGraphs.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, what makes Rafaela so dynamic defensively is his speed, which allows him to take “excellent routes and jumps on hard-to-reach contact to the outfield.” His arm strength also grades “as above-average to plus in both the infield and outfield.”

Considering that he does not turn 22 until September, there still may be some room for Rafaela to grow physically. Regardless of that, though, it would appear that the Willemstad native has the makings to be a super-utility player at the major-league level if he can reach his full potential.

Well before that happens, however, Rafaela still has to work his way up the organizational ladder. He is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 minor-season with High-A Greenville.

(GIF of Ceddanne Rafaela via GIPHY)

Nick Pivetta gives up 2 more home runs and Jake Diekman’s spring struggles continue as Red Sox fall to Pirates, 6-2

After a rare off day, the Red Sox returned to action in Bradenton on Tuesday and fell to the Pirates by a final score of 6-2 at LECOM Park. Boston is now 7-5 in Grapefruit League play.

Making his third start of the spring for the Sox was Nick Pivetta. In his penultimate outing before the regular season begins, the right-hander surrendered three runs — all of which were earned — on five hits and three walks to go along with five strikeouts over four-plus innings of work.

Two of the three runs Pivetta gave up on Tuesday came by way of the home run ball. After working a scoreless first inning, the 29-year-old served up a one-out solo shot to Hoy Park in the bottom of the second.

Two innings later, Pivetta ran into more trouble when he issued a pair of one-out walks to Greg Allen and Park. Veteran catcher Roberto Perez made him pay for that by ripping an RBI double to left field to score Allen and give the Pirates a 2-0 lead.

Daniel Vogelbach added on to that when he took Pivetta 377 feet deep to right field to lead things off in the fifth. Pivetta then walked Bryan Reynolds on six pitches, which is how is day would come to an end.

Finishing with a final pitch count of 78 (50 strikes), Pivetta relied on his four-seam fastball 60% of the time he was on the mound Tuesday. The Canadian-born righty induced six swings-and-misses while topping out at 95.5 mph with the pitch.

In relief of Pivetta, Kaleb Ort got the first call out of the Red Sox bullpen with no outs and one runner on in the latter half of the fifth. The non-roster invitee stranded the lone runner he inherited by getting Ben Gamel to ground into a force out at second and Yoshi Tsutsugo to fly into an inning-ending 7-6-4 double play.

From there, Jake Diekman was dispatched for the sixth, but the left-hander only saw his spring struggles continue. Diekman plunked the first batter he faced in Allen, yielded a one-out walk to Cole Tucker, then served up a blistering three-run home run to Kevin Newman.

That sequence increased Boston’s deficit to six runs. It also raised Diekman’s ERA this spring to an unsightly 22.63. The 35-year-old southpaw did manage to retire the side in the sixth before making way for Kutter Crawford, who fared far better.

In his two innings of relief, Crawford struck out five of the eight batters he faced while limiting the Pirates to just two base runners (one via a base hit and one via a walk) over that stretch. The 25-year-old hurler also hovered around 95-97 mph with his four-seamer, per Baseball Savant.

Crawford’s two impressive frames of work took things to the ninth inning. To that point in the contest, the Red Sox lineup had been stifled and kept off the scoreboard despite out-hitting the Pirates 8-7.

Down to their final three outs of the day and matched up against old friend Austin Brice, Nick Yorke drew a leadoff walk and Marcelo Mayer fanned on three pitches. That set the stage for versatile prospect Ceddanne Rafaela, who made the most of his playing time on Tuesday by crushing a two-run homer to the opposite field off of Brice.

Rafaela’s first home run of the spring made it a 6-2 game in favor of Pittsburgh, which would go on to be Tuesday’s final score.

Some notes from this loss:

Christian Arroyo batted leadoff and got the start in right field. He went 1-for-3 with a walk before being pinch-ran for by Ceddanne Rafaela in the top of the seventh inning.

Alex Binelas, Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, and Nick Yorke all came off the bench on Tuesday and went a combined 0-for-3 with one walk, one strikeout, and one run scored.

Next up: Anderson vs. Houck

The Red Sox will return to Fort Myers on Wednesday afternoon to take on the Braves at JetBlue Park. As was the case the last time these two teams squared off in North Port, Tanner Houck is line to get the start for Boston while fellow right-hander Ian Anderson is slated to do the same for Atlanta.

First pitch Wednesday is scheduled for 1:05 p.m. eastern time. The game will be televised on NESN.

(Picture of Nick Pivetta: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New Podding the Red Sox episode: Red Sox co-director of international scouting Todd Claus joins the show

On this week’s installment of Podding the Red Sox: A BloggingtheRedSox.com Podcast, I am joined by Red Sox co-director of international scouting Todd Claus.

Among the topics Todd and I discussed are his playing career in the Angels organization, transitioning from a minor-league player to a minor-league manager, managing the likes of Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, and Jacoby Ellsbury in the minors, how he first started scouting for the Red Sox and how the technology involved with scouting has evolved over the years, and the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic have created when it comes to scouting.

We also went over some of the Red Sox prospects Claus has helped the Red Sox sign over the years, such as Juan Daniel Encarnacion, Joan Martinez, and Ceddane Rafaela. Additionally, we talked about the possibility of an international draft being implemented in the near future and looked ahead a bit to this year’s international signing period.

The episode — which is the first of 2022 — is available to listen to on iTunes and Spotify, among other platforms.

My thanks to Todd for taking some time out of his busy off-season schedule to have a conversation with yours truly.

Thank you for listening and we will see you next time! Please make sure to subscribe and leave a five-star review if you can!

(Picture of Fenway Park: Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

Xander Bogaerts shouts out Red Sox prospect Ceddanne Rafaela for being named organization’s Defensive Player of the Year

Earlier this week, the Red Sox recognized several of their minor-leaguers for the seasons they had this year by handing out eight different organizational awards.

Highlighted by Nick Yorke being named Boston’s Offensive Player of the Year and Brayan Bello being named Boston’s Starting Pitcher of the Year, infielder/outfielder Ceddanne Rafaela was also recognized as the organization’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Before their series finale against the Mets at Fenway Park on Wednesday night, the Red Sox honored each of these recipients during a pre-game ceremony. Rafaela was among those who was in attendance, and he was able to grab a picture with fellow Dutch national Xander Bogaerts before the festivities concluded.

Bogaerts, a native of Aruba, took to Instagram to congratulate Rafaela, a native of nearby Curacao, for his accomplishment, writing, ‘Congrats Minor League Defensive Player of the Year Kid! Curacao Kid 🇨🇼 Ban Pa Bai 🔥💯.’  

(From Xander Bogaerts’ Instagram story on Thursday)

Rafaela, who turned 21 last week, is regarded by Baseball America as the No. 25 prospect in Boston’s farm system. He was originally signed out of Curacao for just $10,000 as a 16-year-old international free agent back in 2017.

With Low-A Salem this season, Rafaela played in a total of 102 games while making 52 appearances (51 starts) in center field, 20 appearances (17 starts) at third base, 16 appearances (15 starts) at shortstop, nine appearances (nine starts) in left field, eight appearances (six starts) at second base, and one appearance (one start) in right field.

Over 516 defensive innings between all three outfield positions this year, Rafaela racked up nine outfield assists and started five double plays — all while committing just one error.

On the offensive side of things, Rafaela had himself a decent season at the plate for Salem. The right-handed hitter slashed .251/.305/.424 (95 wRC+) with 20 doubles, a team-leading nine triples, 10 home runs, 53 RBI, a team-leading 73 runs scored and 23 stolen bases (in 26 attempts), 25 walks, and 79 strikeouts over 432 plate appearances.

Per his Baseball America scouting report, the versatile, 5-foot-8, 145 pounder is “hard to miss” since “his high-energy style of play is evident in every aspect of the game and he turns heads with his unexpected bat speed and ability to put a charge in pitches in the zone, particularly against left-handers.”

As someone who hits from the right side of the plate, it’s not too surprising to see that Rafaela had far more success against left-handed pitching (.930 OPS in 79 PAs) as opposed to right-handed pitching (.681 OPS in 353 PAs) this season.

That being said, Baseball America does note that Rafaela — who represented Curacao in the 2012 Little League World Series — has a tendency to be a free-swinger, which can work against him at times, particularly on pitches outside of the strike zone that induce weak contact off his bat.

Even while taking those points into consideration, it goes without saying that Rafaela still has plenty of room — and time — to grow and develop, both as a hitter and fielder.

The Curacaoan-born infielder/outfielder can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his professional career this winter if he is not added to the Red Sox’ 40-man roster by the November 20 deadline, though it seems likely he will remain with the organization heading into the 2022 season.

On that note, it should be interesting to see if Rafaela participates in the Sox’ fall instructional league that begins in Fort Myers next month, as he has each of the last three years, or if he has other plans for the offseason.

(Picture of Ceddanne Rafaela and Xander Bogaerts via Instagram)