How did Red Sox pitching prospect Juan Daniel Encarnación fare in 2022 and what can be expected from the righty this season?

In his evaluation of the Red Sox farm system, which he ranked 23rd out of 30, heading into the 2023 season, The Athletic’s Keith Law noted that Boston’s “group of pitching prospects is one of the weakest” in baseball.

“They might not have a future MLB starter anywhere on their full-season rosters,” wrote Law. “The best of those candidates all have huge reliever risk, at least.”

One under-the-radar prospect who could help change this narrative in 2023 is Juan Daniel Encarnacion, who is currently regarded by SoxProspects.com as the No. 44 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks 16th among pitchers in the organization.

Encarnacion, 21, spent the majority of the 2022 minor-league season with Low-A Salem before earning a promotion to High-A Greenville in August. The right-hander posted a 4.09 ERA — but much more respectable — 3.34 FIP — with 119 strikeouts to 39 walks in 24 appearances (23 starts) spanning 103 1/3 innings of work for the Red Sox.

Among the 14 Carolina League pitchers who surpassed the 100-inning mark last year, Encarnacion ranked third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.36) and strikeout rate (26.7 percent), seventh in walks per nine innings (3.40) and walk rate (8.8 percent), first in home runs per nine innings (0.26), sixth in WHIP (1.30), seventh in ERA, second in FIP, and fourth in xFIP (4.12), per FanGraphs. He also allowed the highest batting average on balls put in play (.336), which suggests he may have been unlucky at times.

Upon making the jump from Salem to Greenville in late August, Encarnacion made two starts for the Drive before the season came to a close. His first start did not go so well, as he surrendered four earned runs in five innings against the Rome Braves on September 2. One week later, though, the righty bounced back by tossing five scoreless frames and striking out seven in a 2-0 win over the Asheville Tourists at hitter-friendly Fluor Field.

All things considered, it was a solid first full season in affiliated ball for Encarnacion after he impressed at the rookie-level Florida Complex League in 2021. The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier even wrote for Baseball America in November that he believed Encarnacion “already started to open eyes” in 2022.

A native of the Dominican Republic, Encarnacion originally signed with the Red Sox for $40,000 as an international free agent coming out of San Pedro de Macoris in Sept. 2018. Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, the wiry 6-foot-2, 173-pound hurler throws from a low three-quarters arm slot and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of an 88-92 mph fastball that tops out at 94 mph, a 76-78 mph curveball, and an 84-86 mph changeup.

Encarnacion, who turns 22 late next month, is projected to return to return to Greenville for the start of the 2023 campaign. He can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time next winter, so he certainly could improve his standing as a prospect if he proves capable of holding his own against more advanced hitting.

(Picture of Juan Daniel Encarnacion: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

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)

Red Sox select pitchers Joe Jacques, Ryan Miller in minor-league phase of Rule 5 Draft

The Red Sox may have passed on taking a player in the major-league phase of Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft, but they did make two selections in the minor-league phase.

Boston added left-hander Joe Jacques from the Pirates and right-hander Ryan Miller from the Yankees. The two hurlers have been assigned to Triple-A Worcester.

Jacques, 27, was originally selected by Pittsburgh in the 33rd round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Manhattan College in New York City. The New Jersey native received a mere $2,000 signing bonus and made his professional debut in the Appalachian League.

After beginning this past season on the 60-day injured list, Jacques spent most of the 2022 campaign with Triple-A Indianapolis. There, the 6-foot-4, 210-pound southpaw posted a 3.62 ERA and 4.74 FIP with 27 strikeouts to 12 walks over 29 relief appearances (37 1/3 innings) for the Indians. He also fared far better against left-handed hitters (.257 OPS against) compared to right-handed hitters (.845 OPS against).

Jacques, who turns 28 in March, throws from a unique sidearm slot and operates with a four-pitch mix that consists of a two-seam fastball, a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup, according to Pittsburgh Baseball Network.

Miller, 26, was originally taken by the Diamondbacks in the sixth round of the 2018 draft out of Clemson University. The Florida native signed with Arizona for $25,000, but was released less than two years later at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He latched on with the Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League in 2021 and began the 2022 season with the Sioux Falls Canaries of the American Association before having his contract purchased by the Yankees in late May.

In his return to affiliated ball, Miller produced a a 5.75 ERA — but much more respectable 4.11 xFIP — with 50 strikeouts to 18 walks across 25 relief appearances (36 innings) for High-A Hudson Valley. He did not pitch at all in the month of September due to an undisclosed injury.

Listed at 6-feet and 180 pounds, Miller put up reverse splits this year, as he held opposing left-handed hitters to a .622 OPS against but allowed right-handed hitters to slash .275/.374/.522 off of him.

Miller, who — like Jacques has a birthday in March, becomes the sixth different pitcher the Red Sox have taken from the Yankees in the major- or minor-league phase of a Rule 5 Draft dating back to 2018. Boston took Anyelo Gomez in 2018, Raynel Espinal in 2019, Garrett Whitlock and Kaleb Ort in 2020, and Brian Keller in 2021.

Red Sox lose Cameron Cannon to Phillies

In addition to picking up two pitchers, the Red Sox also lost an infielder in the minor-league phase of Wednesday’s Rule 5 Draft as Cameron Cannon was scooped up by the Phillies.

Cannon, now 25, was Boston’s second-round pick in 2019. The University of Arizona product was once regarded by Baseball America as the No. 22 prospect in the Red Sox farm system but had since fallen off the list completely. He spent the majority of the 2022 season with Double-A Portland before being promoted to Worcester in August. Like fellow 2019 draftee Noah Song, Cannon is now reunited with Dave Dombrowski to some degree in Philadelphia.

Former Red Sox infielder Jonathan Arauz, who was claimed off waivers by the Orioles in June, went from Baltimore to the Mets organization on Wednesday.

(Picture of Chaim Bloom: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Red Sox lose pitching prospects Thad Ward, A.J. Politi, and Noah Song in Rule 5 Draft

The Red Sox lost three intriguing pitching prospects in the major-league phase of the 2022 Rule 5 Draft on Wednesday.

With the first overall pick, the Nationals took right-hander Thad Ward. Moments later, the Orioles took reliever A.J. Politi at No. 17. Then, in a somewhat shocking twist, the Phillies nabbed fellow righty Noah Song with the 20th overall selection.

Ward, who turns 26 next month, had been regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The Red Sox originally selected the 6-foot-3, 192-pound hurler in the fifth round of the 2018 amateur draft out of the University of Central Florida.

Equipped with a two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup, Ward got his professional career off to an impressive start before undergoing Tommy John surgery last June. He returned to the mound this summer and posted a 2.28 ERA in 13 starts (51 1/3 innings) with four different affiliates. That includes a 2.43 ERA in seven starts (33 1/3 innings) for Double-A Portland.

In an effort to get him more work, the Red Sox sent Ward to pitch in the Arizona Fall League. There, the righty forged a 2.84 ERA with 15 strikeouts to six walks in four appearances (three starts) spanning 12 2/3 innings of work for the Scottsdale Scorpions. His workload was limited due to a left oblique strain.

Despite the flashes of potential he showed this season, the Red Sox elected not to add Ward to their 40-man roster ahead of last month’s Rule 5 deadline. They instead added five minor-leaguers — including Wilyer Abreu and David Hamilton — knowing full well that Ward could be scooped up by another club.

The same, in a sense, can be said for Politi, who winds up going to a division rival. The 26-year-old pitched to a 2.60 ERA in 50 appearances (two starts) between Portland and Triple-A Worcester this season. That includes a 2.41 ERA with 63 strikeouts to 19 walks in 38 outings (two starts) spanning 56 innings for the WooSox.

Boston originally selected Politi in the 15th round of the 2018 draft out of Seton Hall University. He was a candidate to be called up by the big-league club at the end of the season and was ranked by SoxProspects.com as the No. 42 prospect in the organization.

Song is a bit of a different story. The former fourth-round draft pick last pitched professionally in 2019 and was viewed as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization before his commitment to the Navy forced him to step away from the game.

Earlier this spring, Song completed his Naval flight training and applied for a waiver that would allow him to continue his baseball career while still serving in the reserves. The Red Sox kept him on the military reserve list during that time and the Phillies will do the same, meaning he will not occupy a spot on their 40-man roster.

Phillies president of baseball operations was running the Red Sox when Song was drafted in 2019. It seems like he was excited by the opportunity to bring tha talented pitcher to Philadelphia.

“We made sure to double-check that he was available to be drafted, which he was,” Dombrowski told reporters (including MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo). “I knew him at the time (of the 2019 draft). We loved him. We thought he was a No. 1 Draft choice; we thought he might be the best starting pitcher in the country. We took a gamble at that point because we thought maybe he wouldn’t have to serve, but he ended up having to do that.

“Being available like this, we really had nothing to lose,” he added. “We like his talent a lot. We get to put him on the military list right off the bat, so he’s not on our 40-man roster. We figured we’d take a chance and just see what ends up happening.”

Ward and Politi will be subject to normal Rule 5 stipulations next year. In other words, the Nationals and Orioles paid $100,000 for each pitcher and must keep them on their 26-man roster for the entirety of the 2023 season. If that is not possible, Ward and Politi would have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $50,000.

Song, on the other hand, is not subject to these requirements until he is activated from the military reserve list and resumes his baseball career. The Phillies, like the Red Sox before them, are not sure if or when that will happen.

“This is a long shot by all means, but it’s worth taking a shot, we thought,” said Dombrowski. I don’t know if anybody knows exactly when he’ll be released from his service. But for the cost of the Draft, we thought it was worth taking him.”

In total, the Red Sox tied the Dodgers for the most players taken in this year’s Rule 5 Draft. While that may not be a positive as far as organizational depth is concerned, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom believes it shows that Boston has more talent in its farm system than years prior.

“I’d rather not lose players but I do think it’s a testament to where our system is going,” Bloom said, via MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo. “Obviously, you want to be able to make moves to get in front of these situations and you aren’t going to be able to do it with everybody. It’s something we worked on knowing there was some risk of losing some guys.”

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

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 designate Jake Reed, Caleb Hamilton for assignment

The Red Sox have designated right-hander Jake Reed and catcher Caleb Hamilton for assignment, the club announced earlier Tuesday evening.

Boston came into the day with 37 players on its 40-man roster. Ahead of Tuesday’s Rule 5 protection deadline, the club needed to clear two spots in order to add the prospect quintet of Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, Ceddanne Rafaela, Wilyer Abreu and David Hamilton. They did so by designating two recently-acquired players in Reed and Hamilton.

Reed, 30, was claimed off waivers from the Orioles on October 13. The righty had posted a 6.35 ERA in eight relief appearances (5 2/3 innings) with Baltimore after the O’s claimed him off waivers from the Dodgers in early September.

Up until that point in the year, Reed had split the 2022 season with the Dodgers and Mets, pitching to a 7.36 ERA with eight strikeouts to seven walks over 10 appearances (11 innings pitched) between the two clubs through the end of August.

A native of Arizona, Reed was originally selected by the Twins in the fifth round of the 2014 amateur draft out of the University of Oregon. He reached minor-league free agency at the end of the 2020 season and signed a minors pact with the Angels that November.

After appearing in eight games for the Halos’ Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City to begin the 2021 campaign, Reed was released last May. He inked a minors pact with the Dodgers shortly thereafter and made his major-league debut for Los Angeles in July.

Since then, Reed has been designated for assignment by the Dodgers, claimed and designated for assignment by the Rays, claimed and designated for assignment by the Mets, claimed and designated for assignment by the Dodgers, claimed and designated for assignment by the Orioles, and claimed and designated for assignment by the Red Sox.

It has certainly been an interesting journey for Reed, who now owns a lifetime 5.47 ERA and 4.33 FIP with 23 strikeouts to 10 walks across 26 2/3 innings at the big-league level. The fact that he possesses a unique delivery and has one minor-league option remaining could make him appealing to other teams.

Hamilton, meanwhile, was claimed off waivers from the Twins on Oct. 11. The 27-year-old backstop was originally selected by Minnesota in the 23rd round of the 2016 amateur draft out of Oregon State University. He spent six years in the minors before making his major-league debut in July.

In 22 games with the Twins this season, the right-handed hitting Hamilton went just 1-for-18 (.056) with one home run, one RBI, five runs scored, four walks, and 14 strikeouts. He also logged 38 innings behind the plate and 19 innings at first base.

At the Triple-A level this year, Hamilton batted .233/.367/.442 with 10 doubles, 11 homers, 43 runs driven in, 34 runs scored, one stolen base, 43 walks, and 67 strikeouts in 62 games (251 plate appearances) with the St. Paul Saints. Though catcher is his primary position, the 6-foot, 185-pounder has past experience at every other defensive position.

Hamilton, who turns 28 in February, has two minor-league option years remaining. So, he, too, could be of interest to opposing clubs. The Red Sox will have the next seven days to either trade, waive, or release Hamilton and Reed.

Neither Hamilton nor Reed has been outrighted before in their careers, so the Red Sox could look to retain both as non 40-man roster players if they clear waivers in the coming days.

By adding Murphy, Walter, Rafaela, Abreu, and Hamilton and subtracting (Caleb) Hamilton and Reed, Boston’s 40-man roster is back at full capacity. With the non-tender deadline looming on Friday, though, that status could soon change.

According to MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, the likes of Franchy Cordero, Ryan Brasier, Josh Taylor, and Darwinzon Hernandez are all candidates to be let go before Friday’s deadline. Cotillo notes that the Red Sox are “considering options” when it comes to Cordero, so he could be on the immediate chopping block.

(Picture of Jake Reed: Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Red Sox add 5 prospects, including Ceddanne Rafaela and Brandon Walter, to 40-man roster to protect them from Rule 5 Draft

The Red Sox have selected five prospects to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from next month’s Rule 5 Draft, the club announced earlier Tuesday evening.

Left-handers Chris Murphy and Brandon Walter, super-utility player Ceddanne Rafaela, outfielder Wilyer Abreu, and infielder David Hamilton were all added. In order to make room for these five on the 40-man roster, which sat at 37 players coming into Tuesday’s deadline, right-hander Jake Reed and catcher Caleb Hamilton were both designated for assignment.

Murphy, 24, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 8 prospect in Boston’s farm system, ranking third among pitchers in the organization. The Red Sox originally selected the Californian-born southpaw in the sixth round of the 2019 amateur draft out of the University of San Diego.

In 15 appearances (13 starts) with Double-A Portland to begin the 2022 minor-league season, Murphy posted a 2.58 ERA and 3.35 FIP with 91 strikeouts to 31 walks over 76 2/3 innings of work. He was promoted to Triple-A Worcester in late June and pitched to a 5.50 ERA (5.26 FIP) with 58 strikeouts to 41 walks in 15 starts (75 1/3 innings) for the WooSox.

Listed at 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, Murphy operates with a four-pitch mix that consists of a 92-94 mph fastball that can reach 96-97 mph, an 83-85 mph changeup, a 73-76 mph curveball, and an 80-84 mph slider.

Walter, 26, is ranked right behind Murphy as Baseball America’s No. 9 Red Sox prospect. The University of Delaware product was taken by Boston in the 26th round of the 2019 draft and burst onto the scene last year. He began the 2022 campaign in Portland and produced a 2.88 ERA (2.73 FIP) with 68 strikeouts to just three walks in his first nine starts (50 innings) with the Sea Dogs.

That level of performance netted Walter a promotion to Worcester in late May. But the 6-foot-2, 200-pound lefty made just two starts for the WooSox before a bulging cervical disk prematurely ended his season in early June. Walter works with a 90-93 mph heater that tops out at 95 mph, an 80-83 mph changeup, and an 80-83 mph slider. If healthy, he could provide the Red Sox with starting rotation depth next season.

Rafaela is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 4 prospect in Boston’s farm system and the No. 78 prospect in all of baseball. The Red Sox originally signed the versatile 22-year-old for just $10,000 as an international free agent in July 2017. He has since emerged as one of the organization’s brightest prospects and was alone in representing the Sox at this year’s All-Star Futures Game in Los Angeles.

After earning Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year honors for the first time in 2021, Rafaela could have been added to Boston’s 40-man roster but was instead left off. The major-league phase of the 2021 Rule 5 Draft was then cancelled as a result of the ongoing lockout, meaning other teams would not have the opportunity to pry Rafaela away from the Red Sox.

Rafaela broke minor-league camp with High-A Greenville this spring. The right-handed hitter batted .330/.368/.594 with 17 doubles, four triples, nine home runs, 36 RBIs, 37 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, 10 walks, and 51 strikeouts in 45 games (209 plate appearances) with the Drive.

Upon making the jump from High-A to Double-A in early June, Rafaela proceeded to slash .278/.324/.500 with 15 doubles, six triples, 12 homers, 50 runs driven in, 45 runs scored, 14 stolen bases, 16 walks, and 62 strikeouts over 71 games (313 plate appearances). Though his production at the plate dipped with the Sea Dogs, Rafaela still led all Red Sox minor-leaguers with 63 extra-base hits and was the only member of the organization to put together a 20-20 season.

On the other side of the ball, Rafaela saw the majority of his playing time in Portland come in center field. The 5-foot-8, 152-pounder logged 498 2/3 innings and recorded three outfield assists in center while also logging 103 innings at shortstop.

“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 said of Rafaela, who was named the organization’s Defensive Player of the Year for a second time back in September. “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.”

Abreu, 23, was one of two prospects the Red Sox acquired from the Astros in the August trade that sent Christian Vazquez to Houston. The other prospect from that deal (Enmanuel Valdez) was added to the 40-man roster last Thursday so that he would not become a minor-league free agent.

As for Abreu, Baseball America currently ranks the native Venezuelan as the No. 22 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The left-handed hitting outfielder closed out the 2022 season by batting .242/.399/.375 with five doubles, four home runs, 19 RBIs, 25 runs scored, eight stolen bases, 36 walks, and 45 strikeouts across 40 games (168 plate appearances) with Portland. He also played in the Arizona Fall League and made appearances at both corner outfield spots for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

Hamilton is undoubtedly the most surprising addition listed here. The 25-year-old was acquired from the Brewers alongside Alex Binelas and Jackie Bradley Jr. in last December’s Hunter Renfroe trade. He spent the entirety of his first season in the Red Sox organization in Portland.

With the Sea Dogs, the left-handed hitting Hamilton batted .251/.338/.402 with 16 doubles, nine triples, 12 home runs, 42 RBIs, 81 runs scored, a franchise-record 70 stolen bases, 56 walks, and 119 strikeouts over 119 games spanning 531 trips to the plate. He is capable of playing adequate defense at either second base or shortstop.

Given that his speed is his standout tool, Hamilton’s addition to the 40-man roster may have something to do with the rule changes that are coming to Major League Baseball. Larger bases, a pitch timer, limiting throws to first base, and limits on defensive shifts certainly make speedsters such as Hamilton more appealing moving forward.

Following Tuesday’s series of moves, the Red Sox’ 40-man roster is at full capacity. That will likely change between now and the non-tender deadline on Friday.

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

Will Red Sox protect Christian Koss from Rule 5 Draft by adding him to 40-man roster?

By this time next Tuesday, the Red Sox will have added a number of minor-leaguers to their 40-man roster in order to protect them from December’s Rule 5 Draft.

Ceddanne Rafaela will almost certainly be protected. Wilyer Abreu, David Hamilton, Chris Murphy, Brandon Walter, and Thad Ward are also eligible and have interesting cases to be made. The same can be said for Christian Koss, who MLB Pipeline recently identified as Boston’s toughest Rule 5 decision.

Koss, 24, spent the entirety of the 2022 season with Double-A Portland. The versatile right-handed hitter 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 over 125 games (532 plate appearances) en route to being named the Sea Dogs’ Most Valuable Player.

Among qualified Eastern League hitters, Koss ranked fourth in hits (125), third in RBIs, 11th in runs scored, 19th in stolen bases, 18th in batting average, 16th in speed score (6.5). He also ranked 35th in strikeout rate (25.8 percent), 57th in walk rate (4.7 percent), 43rd in on-base percentage, 35th in wRC+ (99), 60th in line-drive rate (14.4 percent), 57th in groundball rate (48.9 percent), and 48th in swinging-strike rate (14.7 percent), per FanGraphs.

Defensively, Koss saw playing time at five different positions in 2022. The 6-foot-1, 182-pounder logged 214 1/3 innings at second base, 185 innings at third base, 601 2/3 innings at shortstop, nine innings in left field, and 37 innings in right field. This year marked the first time he had ever played the outfield in his professional career.

Koss’ pro career dates back to June 2019, when he was selected by the Rockies in the 12th round of the amateur draft out of the University of California, Irvine. The Red Sox acquired the Riverside native from Colorado in exchange for left-hander Yoan Aybar the following December.

The Red Sox made that trade in order to clear a spot on their 40-man roster. Koss now finds himself in a similar position. As noted by MLB Pipeline, what makes Koss appealing is the fact that he “has solid raw power and speed, not to mention a high baseball IQ.” At the same time, however, Koss’ high strikeout rate and low walk rate indicate that “his lack of plate discipline could be a problem at higher levels” of the minor-leagues.

Koss, who turns 25 in January, is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 20 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The former Anteater has spent his offseason playing for the Criollos de Caguas of the Puerto Rican Winter League. There, he has been under the watchful eyes of Red Sox first base coach Ramon Vazquez (Caguas’ manager), WooSox bench coach Jose Flores (Caguas’ infield coach), and Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who hails from Caguas.

If the Red Sox were to add Koss to their 40-man roster by next Tuesday’s deadline, they would retain his rights moving forward. In that scenario, Koss would be in line to make the jump to Triple-A Worcester while providing Boston with infield and outfield depth in 2023.

If the Red Sox do not add Koss to their 40-man roster by November 15, another club could acquire him for $100,000 during next month’s Rule 5 Draft. That team would then be responsible for carrying Koss on their major-league roster for the entirety of the 2023 season. If they were unable to do so, Koss would have to be offered back to the Red Sox for $50,000.

(Picture of Christian Koss: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox need to add Enmanuel Valdez to 40-man roster this month in order to prevent him from reaching free agency

Enmanuel Valdez is eligible to become a minor-league free agent this offseason. The Red Sox, therefore, have until five days following the conclusion of the World Series to add the versatile 23-year-old to their 40-man roster in order to prevent him from hitting the open market.

Boston acquired Valdez and fellow prospect Wilyer Abreu from the Astros in the August trade that sent veteran catcher Christian Vazquez to Houston. Both players can become eligible for December’s Rule 5 Draft if they are not added to the Sox’ 40-man roster in the coming weeks.

As noted by MassLive.com’s Christopher Smith, the Red Sox could elect to re-sign Valdez to a minor-league contract. But that would still leave him (and Abreu) exposed to the Rule 5 Draft if they were not added to the 40-man prior to the November deadline.

In 2016, the Red Sox saw Josh Rutledge leave for the Rockies via minor-league free agency. They then re-acquired Rutledge by selecting him from Colorado in the major-league phase of the Rule 5 Draft. The following year, they added Bryce Brentz to the 40-man roster after the 2017 World Series in order to block him from reaching minor-league free agency. These are just a few past examples provided by Smith.

Valdez, who turns 24 next month, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 16 prospect in Boston’s farm system. The native Dominican originally signed with Houston for $450,000 as an international free agent coming out San Juan de la Maguna in July 2015.

At the time the three-player trade between the Red Sox and Astros was made this summer, Valdez was batting .327/.410/.606 with 26 doubles, one triple, 21 home runs, 77 RBIs, 66 runs scored, five stolen bases, 45 walks, and 73 strikeouts in 82 games (378 plate appearances) between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Sugar Land.

Upon switching organizations for the first time in his career, the left-handed hitter proceeded to slash .237/.309/.422 with nine doubles, one triple, seven homers, 30 runs driven in, 26 runs scored, three stolen bases, 19 walks, and 48 strikeouts over 44 games (195 plate appearances) for Triple-A Worcester.

Though his production dropped off with the WooSox, Valdez still posted a 131 wRC+ on the 2022 season as a whole and was named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Year as a result.

Defensively, Valdez saw the majority of his playing time in Worcester come in left field. The 5-foot-9, 191-pounder logged 330 innings at the keystone and 24 innings at third. He also made three starts in left field and has limited experience in right field as well.

Given that he is only one promotion away from the big-leagues, it seems unlikely that the Red Sox would risk losing Valdez this winter and will instead add him to their 40-man roster sooner rather than later. It is also worth mentioning that, after outrighting Tyler Danish on Monday, Boston currently has 39 players on its 40-man roster. Perhaps that spot will go to Valdez.

In the meantime, Valdez has been playing winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. Coming into play on Tuesday, he has gone 6-for-28 (.214) with one double, two RBIs, three runs scored, one walk, and six strikeouts in nine games with the Toros del Este.

(Picture of Enmanuel Valdez: Hector Vivas/Getty Images)

How did Red Sox pitching prospect Chih-Jung Liu fare in 2022?

Last Saturday marked the three-year anniversary of the Red Sox signing right-hander Chih-Jung Liu as an international free agent out of Taiwan.

Formerly a two-way player in high school and a switch-hitting shortstop in college, Liu received a signing bonus of $750,000 from the Red Sox to work strictly as a pitcher. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tainan City native did not make his professional debut until last July. He made one start in the Florida Complex League before spending the rest of the 2021 campaign with Low-A Salem.

After compiling a 4.29 ERA in 12 starts with the Salem Red Sox, Liu broke camp with High-A Greenville earlier this spring. In many ways, this season was a sophomore slump of sorts for the 23-year-old righty.

Through July 3, Liu had posted an unsightly 7.07 ERA and 6.30 FIP with 59 strikeouts to 25 walks in his first 15 appearances (13 starts) and 56 innings for the Drive. He was allowing more than two home runs per nine innings while yielding a .286 batting average against.

On July 6, Liu was placed on the development list. He did not appear in a game for the next nine days before returning to the mound on July 15. From that point forward, Liu pitched better, though the results were still not great.

In his next 10 outings (eight starts) for Greenville, Liu produced a 4.87 ERA and 6.84 FIP to go along with 47 strikeouts to 21 walks across 44 1/3 innings of work. His strikeout rate rose and his batting average against fell, but he still surrendered 2.64 homers per nine innings and walked nearly 11 percent of the batters he faced.

All told, Liu pitched to a 6.10 ERA and 6.54 FIP in 25 appearances (21 starts) and 100 1/3 innings with the Drive. Among the 18 South Atlantic League pitchers who tossed at least 100 frames this season, Liu ranked ninth in strikeouts per nine innings (9.51), 10th in strikeout rate (23.7 percent), and fourth in swinging-strike rate (14.9 percent). Yet he also ranked 14th in walks per nine innings (4.13) and walk rate (10.3 percent), 17th in batting average against (2.82), and dead last in homers per nine innings (2.42), WHIP (1.57), ERA, and FIP, per FanGraphs.

As inconsistent as those numbers may be, Liu still earned a late-season promotion to Double-A Portland. He made one start for the Sea Dogs on the road against the Somerset Patriots on September 18 and allowed two runs over 3 2/3 innings. Fittingly, one of those two runs came by way of the long ball.

Listed at 6-feet and 185 pounds, Liu possesses an athletic delivery and operates with a five-pitch mix that consists of a 93-95 mph four-seam fastball that tops out at 98 mph, a mid-90s two-seam fastball, an 80-82 mph changeup, an 83-86 mph slider, and a 78-80 mph curveball. He also used to throw a splitter as an amateur.

Liu, who turns 24 in April, spent his first two seasons in pro ball ranked by Baseball America as one of the top pitching prospects in Boston’s farm system. He has since fallen off the publication’s rankings, but he is still young enough that he could get back with a bounce-back effort in 2023.

On that note, SoxProspects.com projects that Liu will return to Portland for the start of the 2023 season. He can become Rule 5-eligible for the first time in his career next fall, so pitching his way onto the Sox’ 40-man roster could serve as some form of motivation for him.

(Picture of Chih-Jung Liu: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)