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)

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Wikelman Gonzalez recognized by MLB Pipeline as ‘hottest’ pitching prospect in Red Sox farm system

Wikelman Gonzalez was recently recognized by MLB Pipeline as the hottest pitching prospect in the Red Sox farm system.

Since being promoted from Low-A Salem to High-A Greenville last month, Gonzalez has posted a 2.65 ERA and 2.54 FIP to go along with 23 strikeouts to six walks over four starts (17 innings pitched) for the Drive. The right-hander struck out four across five one-run frames in his last time out against the Asheville Tourists at Fluor Field on Wednesday.

Prior to earning that promotion, Gonzalez began the 2022 season in Salem and produced a 4.54 ERA (3.86 FIP) with 98 punchouts to 48 walks over 21 starts (81 1/3 innings). Since making the jump from Low-A to High-A, the 20-year-old hurler has been getting strikeouts more frequently (27.4% to 32.9% strikeout rate) while giving up fewer walks (13.4% to 8.6% walk rate).

Gonzalez is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the No. 15 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks fifth among pitchers in the organization. The Red Sox originally signed the native Venezuelan for $250,000 as an international free-agent coming out of Maracay in July 2018.

Listed at 6-feet and 167 pounds, Gonzalez “operates at 92-95 mph and tops out at 97 with quality life on his heater. He gets good depth on his upper-70s curveball when he stays on top of it, though it devolves into a slurve at times. He has advanced feel for a mid-80s changeup with fade and isn’t afraid to use it,” per his MLB Pipeline scouting report.

Gonzalez, who does not turn 21 until next March, can become Rule 5-eligible for the first time in his career this winter. The Red Sox would need to add him to their 40-man roster by the November deadline in order to prevent that from happening.

Given that he is still young and has yet to pitch above High-A, it is no sure thing that Boston will protect — and therefore commit a 40-man roster spot to — Gonzalez this fall.

With that being said, Gonzalez possesses exciting potential and still has room to grow. As MLB Pipeline put it, “consistent control will be the deciding factor in Gonzalez’s pursuit of a Major League rotation spot.”

(Picture of Wikelman Gonzalez: Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive)

Red Sox promote pitching prospects Wikelman Gonzalez, Luis Guerrero to High-A Greenville

The Red Sox have promoted top pitching prospect Wikelman Gonzalez from Low-A Salem to High-A Greenville, as was first reported by SoxProspects.com’s Chris Hatfield.

In addition to Gonzalez, fellow right-hander Luis Guerrero has also been promoted to Greenville.

Gonzalez, 20, is currently regarded by Baseball America as the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks sixth among pitchers in the organization. Fresh off being named the Carolina League Pitcher of the Week on Monday, the Venezuelan-born righty has posted a 4.54 ERA and 3.85 FIP with 98 strikeouts to 48 walks over 21 starts (81 1/3 innings) for Salem this season. That includes a 1.69 ERA (2.76 FIP) in the month of August.

Among Carolina League pitchers who have accrued at least 80 innings, Gonzalez ranks third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.84), fourth in strikeout rate (27.4%), second in batting average against (.209), and seventh in FIP, per FanGraphs.

Boston originally signed Gonzalez for $250,000 as an international free-agent coming out Maracay in July 18. The 6-foot, 170-pound hurler now “features an easy, compact delivery” and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 93-94 mph fastball that tops out at 97 mph, an 87-89 mph changeup, and a 78-80 mph curveball, according to his Baseball America scouting report.

Guerrero, meanwhile, was selected by the Red Sox in the 17th round of last year’s amateur draft out of Chipola College in Marianna, Fla. The native Dominican signed with Boston for $122,500 last August.

Now 22 years old, Guerrero made his pro debut in the Florida Complex League earlier this summer before making the jump to Low-A in June. He has since pitched to a 4.18 ERA (3.54 FIP) to go along with 37 strikeouts to 14 walks across 18 relief outings spanning 23 2/3 innings of work with the Salem Sox.

Unlike Gonzalez, Guerrero is not regarded by any major publications as one of the top pitching prospects in Boston’s farm system. The 6-foot, 215-pounder does, however, work with a 92-94 mph fastball that tops out at 96 mph, an 80-83 mph changeup, an 81-83 mph slider, and a 75-79 mph curveball, per his SoxProspects.com scouting report.

(Picture of Wikelman Gonzalez: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)

Red Sox’ Wikelman Gonzalez named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week

Red Sox pitching prospect Wikelman Gonzalez has been named Carolina League Pitcher of the Week for the week of August 8-14, Minor League Baseball announced on Monday.

Gonzalez, 20, tossed six scoreless, no-hit innings in his last start for Low-A Salem in their contest against the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers on Saturday. The right-hander issued just one walk and plunked one batter to go along with five strikeouts on 81 pitches (49 strikes).

In 21 starts for Salem this season, Gonzalez has posted a 4.54 ERA — but much more respectable 3.83 FIP — with 98 strikeouts to 48 walks over 81 1/3 innings of work. That includes a 1.69 ERA (2.76 FIP) in the month of August.

Among Carolina League pitchers who have thrown at least 80 innings to this point in the year, Gonzalez ranks third in strikeouts per nine innings (10.84), fourth in strikeout rate (27.4%), second in batting average against (.209), and seventh in FIP, per FanGraphs.

While those numbers are certainly encouraging, Gonzalez has also produced the eighth-highest xFIP (4.49), the second-highest walk rate (13.4%), and the highest line-drive rate (28.3%) in the Carolina League when using those same parameters.

The Red Sox originally signed Gonzalez for $250,000 as an international free-agent coming out of Venezuela in July 2018. The Maracay native is now regarded by Baseball America as the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system, which ranks sixth among pitchers in the organization.

Since making his professional debut in June 2019, Gonzalez has pitched at three different levels. He began the 2021 campaign in the Florida Complex League before earning a promotion to Salem last August.

According to his Baseball America scouting report, the 6-foot, 170-pound hurler “features an easy, compact delivery” and operates with a three-pitch mix that consists of a 93-94 mph fastball that tops out at 97 mph, an 87-89 mph changeup, and a 78-80 mph curveball.

Gonzalez, who does not turn 21 until next March, can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career this winter. The Red Sox, of course, would need to add the righty to their 40-man roster by the November deadline in order to prevent that from happening.

Given his age and lack of experience in the upper-minors, though, it is no sure thing that another club would scoop up Gonzalez in December’s Rule 5 Draft if he were to be left unprotected by the Sox.

That club would then need to carry Gonzalez on their major-league roster for the entirety of the 2023 season or would otherwise have to offer him back to Boston if he could not stick with them.

In the meantime, one would have to think Gonzalez could be on the verge of a promotion to High-A Greenville when taking into consideration how he has pitched as of late.

(Picture of Wikelman Gonzalez: Gary Streiffer/Flickr)