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)