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 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)


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’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 relief prospect Ryan Fernandez has struck out 40 percent of the batters he has faced since earning promotion to Double-A Portland

Red Sox relief prospect Ryan Fernandez needed just 24 pitches — 19 of which were strikes — to toss two scoreless innings and wrap up a 9-4 win for the Portland Sea Dogs over the Hartford Yard Goats at Dunkin’ Donuts Park on Wednesday night.

Since earning a promotion from High-A Greenville to Double-A Portland on July 3, Fernandez has made eight relief appearances for the Sea Dogs. The right-hander has posted a 3.60 ERA and 3.43 FIP with 16 strikeouts to just two walks over 10 innings of work in those outings.

Prior to making the jump to Double-A, Fernandez began the 2022 season in Greenville and pitched to a 4.00 ERA (but more respectable 3.19 FIP) with 40 punchouts to nine walks across 25 appearances spanning 27 innings of relief for the Drive.

So, between the two levels to this point in the season, the 24-year-old has produced a 3.89 ERA and 3.25 FIP while recording 56 strikeouts and issuing 11 walks over 33 relief appearances (37 total innings). He has also converted 10 of a possible 13 save opportunities.

To put that all into perspective: Among the 57 pitchers in the Red Sox farm system who have thrown at least 30 innings coming into play on Thursday, Fernandez ranks second in strikeouts per nine innings (13.62), 12th in walks per nine innings (2.68), first in strikeout rate (35.9%), third in swinging strike rate (20.8%), 12th in walk rate (7.1%), 10th in groundball rate (52.3%), 13th in FIP, and third in xFIP (2.74), per FanGraphs.

The Red Sox originally selected Fernandez in the 23rd round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Hillsborough Community College in Plant City, Fla. The Tampa native signed with the club for $125,000 and made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League.

Despite the amount of success he has enjoyed so far this season, Fernandez has not yet caught the attention of any industry publications to the point where is ranked as one of the top 30 or so prospects in Boston’s farm system.

Per his scouting report, the 6-foot, 170-pound hurler throws from a three-quarters arm slot and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 96-98 mph fastball that tops out at 99 mph, a 90-92 mph cutter with a high spin rate, and an 87-89 mph slider.

Fernandez, who does not turn 25 until next June, can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft this winter if he is left off the Red Sox’ 40-man roster in November. With that being said, it would not be too surprising if Boston has Fernandez pitch in the Arizona Fall League later this year so that it may further evaluate him.

Having Fernandez pitch in Arizona this fall would also give other clubs the opportunity to see the Florida-born righty in-person.

(Picture of Ryan Fernandez: Kelly O’Connor/

What to expect from Red Sox relief prospect Ryan Fernandez in 2022

If you visit the Red Sox’ official website and go to their 40-man roster page, you may notice an unfamiliar name included within the list of pitchers in Ryan Fernandez.

Fernandez, 23, has yet to pitch above the High-A level, so him being listed on Boston’s 40-man roster is more than likely the result of a web error or something of the sort.

Still, since Fernandez made his Grapefruit League debut against the Braves this past Wednesday, this felt like an opportune time to write about the right-hander the Red Sox selected in the 23rd round of the 2018 amateur draft out of Hillsborough Community College in Florida.

A native of Tampa, Fla. himself, Fernandez signed with the Sox for $125,000 in June 2018 and made his professional debut in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He then spent the entirety of the 2019 campaign with the short-season Lowell Spinners.

After the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the 2020 minor-league season, Fernandez returned to affiliated ball in 2021 and broke camp with Low-A Salem. In 17 relief appearances for the Salem Sox, the righty posted a 1.50 ERA and 2.39 FIP to go along with 42 strikeouts to just nine walks over 36 innings of work.

On August 14, Fernandez earned a promotion to High-A Greenville and wound wind up ending the season with the Drive. Over seven outings there, Fernandez pitched to the tune of a 4.32 ERA and 5.21 FIP with 18 strikeouts and five walks across 16 2/3 innings pitched.

A 4.32 ERA is not an eye-opening statistic, obviously. In Fernandez’s case, however, it is worth mentioning that he allowed just one run over his final three appearances (6 innings) of the 2021 season in the month of September.

Among the 39 minor-league pitchers in the Red Sox organization who compiled at least 50 innings on the mound last year, Fernandez ranked second in ERA (2.39), 15th in strikeouts per nine innings (10.25), 11th in walks per nine innings (2.39), 12th in strikeout rate (27.8%) walk rate (6.5%), and batting average against (.230), ninth in WHIP (1.14), sixth in FIP (3.28) and xFIP (3.58), and eighth in swinging strike rate (16.7%), per FanGraphs.

Listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds, Fernandez operates with a four-pitch mix that consists of a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 95 mph, an 85-87 mph slider, an 80-84 mph curveball, and an 83-85 mph changeup, according to his scouting report.

You will not find Fernandez, who turns 24 in June, on any major publication’s top Red Sox prospects list. Still, the Florida-born reliever is coming off a solid 2021 between both levels of A-ball and has received some attention this spring.

On that note, projects that Fernandez will return to Greenville for the start of the 2022 minor-league season. If he impresses there, though, a promotion to Double-A Portland at some point this spring or summer should not be ruled out.

(Picture of Ryan Fernandez: Kelly O’Connor/