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 shortstop prospect Matthew Lugo is thriving with High-A Greenville

Before the minor-league season began, The Athletic’s Keith Law identified Matthew Lugo as a potential sleeper prospect within the Red Sox farm system. A little more than five weeks into the 2022 campaign, Lugo has shown why he is worthy of more recognition.

In High-A Greenville’s 6-3 loss to the Asheville Tourists at McCormick Field on Tuesday, one day after celebrating his 21st birthday, Lugo went 1-for-4 with his lone hit being an eighth-inning two-run home run.

Through 24 games with the Drives this season, the right-handed hitting shortstop has batted a stout .333/.385/.576 with eight doubles, three triples, four home runs, 19 RBIs, 16 runs scored, five stolen bases, six walks, and 17 strikeouts over 109 plate appearances.

Among qualified South Atlantic League hitters, Lugo ranks eighth in strikeout percentage (15.6%), fifth in batting average, 20th in on-base percentage, seventh in slugging percentage, eighth in OPS (.961), 14th in isolated power (.242), 20th in speed score (7.6), and seventh in wRC+ (155), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, the 6-foot-1, 185 pounder has seen all his playing time on the field this year come at shortstop. He has logged 203 1/3 innings at the position thus far and has committed six errors while turning five double plays.

The nephew of former big-leaguer Carlos Beltran, Lugo was originally selected by the Red Sox in the second round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Puerto Rico. The Barceloneta native signed with the club for $1.1 million and made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League.

As things stand now, Lugo is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system. And, as noted in the above tweet, it certainly seems as though the 21-year-old will earn a promotion to Double-A Portland sooner rather than later.

(Picture of Matthew Lugo: Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox relief prospect Jacob Webb has struck out 24 of the first 56 batters he has faced with Low-A Salem this season

Red Sox relief prospect Jacob Webb picked up his second save of the season in Low-A Salem’s 1-0 win over the Delmarva Shorebirds on Tuesday afternoon.

Getting the call for the ninth inning, Webb needed just nine pitches — seven of which were strikes — to retire the side in order while also recording two punchouts.

Through 10 relief appearances for Salem this year, the right-hander has posted a 2.84 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and .191/.321/.234 slash line against to go along with 24 strikeouts to eight walks over 12 2/3 innings of work. In other words, he has struck out nearly 43% of the batters he has faced thus far, but is doing so while issuing walks at a 14.3% clip.

Webb, 23, was taken by the Red Sox in the 14th round of last year’s amateur draft out of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. The Dayton-area native signed with Boston for $122,500 and made his professional debut in the Florida Complex League that August.

After just two outings in the FCL, Webb earned a promotion to Salem and has since produced a 1.99 ERA in 16 cumulative appearances (22 2/3 innings pitched) for the Sox’ Low-A affiliate.

Listed at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, Webb is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 56 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks 24th among pitchers in the organization. Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, the righty throws from a low three-quarters arm slot and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 92-94 mph fastball, an 81-85 mph slider, and a rarely-used changeup.

If Webb, who does not turn 24 until next March, can continue to string together impressive outings out of the bullpen for Salem, then another promotion to High-A Greenville at some point this summer would certainly seem to be within his grasp.

(Picture of Jacob Webb: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox pitching prospect Shane Drohan tosses 5 scoreless innings in latest start for High-A Greenville

Red Sox pitching prospect Shane Drohan put together one of his best starts of the season for High-A Greenville in their series finale against the Rome Braves on Sunday.

Over five innings of work at Fluor Field, Drohan did not allow a run while scattering just three hits and one walk to go along with four strikeouts on the afternoon. The left-hander retired 14 of the 18 batters he faced, induced three groundouts to three flyouts, and finished with a final pitch count of 73 (47 strikes). He also improved to 2-2 as the Drive ultimately defeated the Braves by a final score of 10-3.

Through six starts for Greenville this season, Drohan has posted a 4.45 ERA and 4.08 FIP with 34 strikeouts to 11 walks across 30 1/3 innings pitched. Among qualified pitchers in the South Atlantic League, the 23-year-old ranks first in innings pitched, second in strikeouts, 15th in strikeouts per nine innings (10.09), 18th in walks per nine innings (3.26), 17th in strikeout rate (26.6%), 17th in walk rate (8.6%), sixth in swinging strike rate (16.4%), 18th in batting average against (.241), 18th in WHIP (1.29), 18th in ERA, 12th in FIP, and 14th in xFIP (4.19), per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox originally selected Drohan in the fifth round of the pandemic-shortened 2020 amateur draft out of Florida State University and signed the former Seminole for $600,000 later that summer.

A native of Florida himself, Drohan was first drafted by the Phillies in 2017 out of Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach. He did not sign with Philadelphia, though, and instead spent three years on campus in Tallahassee before going pro in 2020.

After debuting with and spending the entirety of the 2021 season with Low-A Salem, Drohan is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 49 prospect in Boston’s farm system — which ranks 21st among pitchers in the organization — one month into the 2022 campaign.

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Drohan possesses a repeatable delivery and throws from a three-quarters arm slot. The 6-foot-3, 195 pound southpaw operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of an 88-92 mph fastball, a 75-78 mph curveball, and a 78-81 mph changeup.

Drohan, who turned 23 in Janurary, could find his way to Double-A Portland before season’s end. As things stand now, the Sea Dogs have several starters (like Brayan Bello, Jay Groome, and Brandon Walter) who will likely be promoted to Triple-A Worcester at some point this summer.

With that, Portland could have opening in its starting rotation before long and Drohan would certainly be a candidate to take one of those spots when the time comes.

(GIF of Shane Drohan via the Greenville Drive)

Who is Joey Stock? Red Sox pitching prospect has posted 2.20 ERA in first 7 appearances with Low-A Salem this season

Not including Juan Daniel Encarnacion, Red Sox pitching prospect Joey Stock currently leads Low-A Salem in innings pitched a little less than four weeks into the minor-league season.

In seven appearances (one start) for Salem so far this year, the right-hander has posted a 2.20 ERA and 3.80 xFIP to go along with 19 strikeouts to seven walks over 16 1/3 innings of work.

Among Carolina League pitchers who have accrued at least 10 innings on the mound to this point in 2022, Stock ranks 23rd in batting average against (.161), 22nd in WHIP (0.98), 29th in ERA, and 40th in xFIP, per FanGraphs.

Stock, 24, originally signed with the Red Sox as an undrafted free agent coming out of Division III Saint John’s University (Collegeville, Minn.) in August 2020. The Cold Spring native was slated to attend Division I University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to pursue his master’s degree beginning in the fall, but instead opted to go pro then and there.

After being used as a two-way player in college, Stock transitioned strictly to the mound with Boston. He made his organizational debut in the rookie-level Florida Complex League last summer before being promoted to Salem in mid-August.

Since that time, Stock has produced a 2.15 ERA and 4.01 FIP with 34 punchouts and 13 walks across 16 outings (29 1/3 innings) at the Low-A level. The 6-foot-5, 210 pound hurler has yielded such results while working with a 91-93 mph fastball that can reportedly reach 96 mph, a 79-81 mph curveball, and an 80-81 mph changeup, according to his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

Stock, who turns 25 in September, is older for his level and seems to be taking advantage of that by pitching well for Salem. Because of this, one has to wonder if the righty could be on the verge of a new challenge in the form of a promotion to High-A Greenville sooner rather than later.

(Picture of Joey Stock: Bryan Green/Flickr)

Red Sox outfield prospect Tyler Esplin set to make Double-A debut for Portland Sea Dogs

Red Sox outfield prospect Tyler Esplin will make his Double-A debut for the Portland Sea Dogs on Wednesday night when they go up against the Somerset Patriots (Yankees affiliate) at TD Bank Ballpark in New Jersey.

Esplin, who will bat eighth and start in right field for Portland, was promoted from High-A Greenville on Tuesday after the Sea Dogs placed fellow outfielder Wil Dalton on the 7-day injured list.

In his first eight games of the 2022 season with Greenville, where he spent the entirety of the 2021 campaign, the left-handed hitting Esplin batted .323/.400/.581 (158 wRC+) with four doubles, two triples, seven runs scored, four walks, and 11 strikeouts over 35 trips to the plate.

Defensively, the 6-foot-3, 230 pounder has played all over the outfield with the Drive while logging 17 innings in left, nine innings in center, and 45 innings in right. He has committed one error and registered one outfield assist thus far.

Esplin, 22, was selected by the Red Sox in the seventh round of the 2017 amateur draft out of the esteemed IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Boston swayed the Illinois native away from his commitment to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte by signing him for $250,000.

Once regarded by Baseball America as a top-30 prospect within Boston’s farm system on two separate occasions (2018, 2020), Esplin — who turns 23 in July — is a lifetime .235/.316/.347 at four different minor-league levels since making his professional debut in July 2017. He has 12 career home runs and 16 career stolen bases under his belt.

(Picture of Tyler Esplin: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox prospect Nick Northcut has hit 6 home runs in first 13 games for High-A Greenville

Alongside fellow Greenville Drive teammates Alex Binelas and Ceddanne Rafaela, Red Sox prospect Nick Northcut currently leads the South Atlantic League in home runs with six of them on the young season.

Northcut hit two solo homers as part of a 2-for-4 day at the plate in High-A Greenville’s 10-6 loss to the Hickory Crawdads (Rangers affiliate) at L.P. Frans Stadium on Tuesday night.

Nearly three weeks into the 2022 minor-league season, the right-handed hitter finds himself batting .264/.328/.642 with two doubles, those six homers, 12 RBIs, seven runs scored, three walks, and 17 strikeouts over 13 games spanning 58 plate appearances.

Among qualified hitters in the South Atlantic League, Northcut ranks fourth in slugging percentage, 15th in OPS (.969), second in isolated power (.377), and 17th in wRC+ (148), per FanGraphs. Power is clearly a big part of the 22-year-old’s game, though his 5.2% walk rate and 29.3% strikeout rate are not nearly as encouraging.

Defensively, Northcut has seen playing time at both corner infield positions for the Drive so far this year. The 6-foot-1, 205 pounder has logged 70 innings at first base and 44 innings at the hot corner while committing a total of two errors.

A native of Mason, Ohio, Northcut was a highly-touted prospect coming out of William Mason High School when the Red Sox selected him in the 11th round of the 2018 amateur draft. He was committed to play college baseball at Vanderbilt University, but signed with Boston for an over-slot deal of $565,000. Since then, he has clubbed 26 home runs in 210 professional games and his raw power is probably his top carrying tool.

Northcut, who turns 23 in June, is not regarded by any major publication as one of the top prospects in the Red Sox’ farm system. He can, however, become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time this winter and is certainly making an early case for a spot on Boston’s 40-man roster come late November.

(Picture of Nick Northcut: Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox)

Red Sox power-hitting prospect Alex Binelas is mashing at High-A Greenville

If it weren’t for Orioles prospect Cesar Prieto, Alex Binelas likely would have become the second member of the Greenville Drive to earn South Atlantic League Player of the Week honors in as many weeks.

In the Drive’s last series against the Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox affiliate) at Fluor Field, Binelas went 6-for-17 (.353) with one double, three home runs, five RBIs, five runs scored, five walks, and eight strikeouts while appearing in five of a possible six games.

On the 2022 campaign as a whole, the left-handed hitting infielder is slashing a stout .306/.435/.714 with two doubles, six homers, 14 runs driven, 14 runs scored, two stolen bases, 11 walks, and 19 strikeouts across 13 games spanning 62 trips to the plate.

Nearly three weeks into the minor-league season, Binelas has been among the top hitters in the South Atlantic League thus far. The 21-year-old currently ranks 16th in walk percentage (17.7%), 19th in batting average, ninth in on-base percentage, second in slugging percentage, second in OPS (1.150), first in isolated power (.408), and third in wRC+ (195), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Binelas has seen an almost equal amount of playing time at first base and third base at the High-A level. The 6-foot-3, 225 pounder has logged 54 innings at the hot corner, 45 innings at first, and has yet to commit an error.

Binelas, who turns 22 next month, is ranked by Baseball America as the No. 17 prospect and by MLB Pipeline as the No. 22 prospect in the Red Sox’ farm system. He is undoubtedly one of the top power hitters in the organization.

This is Binelas’ first full season in pro ball. The Oak Creek, Wis. native was originally selected by his hometown Brewers in the third round of last year’s draft out of the University of Louisville but was traded to the Red Sox with Jackie Bradley Jr. and fellow prospect David Hamilton for Hunter Renfroe in December.

From the outside, one might think transitioning to a new organization may be a tough task for a player still getting his feet wet as a professional. For Binelas, though, going from the Brewers to the Sox over the winter hardly seems to be affecting him.

With that, a mid-to-late-season promotion to Double-A Portland certainly seems within reach for Binelas if he can maintain this kind of production at the plate in Greenville.

(GIF of Alex Binelas via the Greenville Drive)

Red Sox pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu strikes out 9 over 5 scoreless innings for High-A Greenville

Red Sox pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu dazzled in his second start of the season for High-A Greenville on Tuesday night.

Matched up against the Winston-Salem Dash (White Sox affiliate), Liu scattered just two hits and one walk to go along with nine strikeouts over five scoreless innings of work at Fluor Field. The Drive went on to defeat the Dash, 5-4, courtesy of a walk-off home run from Stephen Scott.

Liu took a perfect game into the fourth inning before yielding a leadoff walk to Cuban sensation Oscar Colas that was followed by a one-out single off the bat of Bryan Ramos. The right-hander ultimately retired 14 of the 18 batters he faced while finishing with a final pitch count of 75.

Of those 75 pitches, 55 went for strikes. According to Chris Clegg of Fantrax, Liu sat at 94-95 mph with his fastball and topped out at 97 mph with the pitch while also mixing in a slider, curveball, and changeup. The majority of his swings-and-misses came on either the fastball or slider, per Clegg.

Through his first two starts of the year for the Drive, Liu has posted an ERA of 3.00, a WHIP of 1.00, and batting average against of .156 across nine total innings pitched. The 23-year-old has struck out 12 of the first 36 batters (33%) he has faced in 2022 and has walked four of them.

Liu, who turned 23 earlier this month, came into the 2022 campaign regarded by Baseball America as the No. 32 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking 13th among pitchers in the organization. The Red Sox originally signed the Taiwanese-born hurler as an international free agent coming out of Tainan City in October 2019.

With the 2020 minor-league season being wiped out as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Liu did not make his organizational debut until last July and only has 15 career starts as a professional under his belt.

So, even though he has been with the Red Sox for nearly two years, there is still a lot of intrigue when it comes to what Liu’s development as a pitcher could look like. He is currently listed at 6-foot and 182 pounds, so there could be room for additional growth physically. Whether he will pan out as a starter or reliever in the long-term has yet to be determined.

(GIF of Chih-Jung Liu via the 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)