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Red Sox’ most improbable prospect is power-hitting 5-8 utilityman Ceddanne Rafaela

With High A Greenville, Ceddanne Rafaela was hitting .310/.364/.634 with six homers through 16 games.Gwinn Davis/Greenville Drive/GWINN DAVIS

Ceddanne Rafaela has emerged as perhaps the most exciting Red Sox prospect in early 2022 and certainly the most improbable.

When the Red Sox signed him out of Curaçao in 2017, they identified a player whose magnetic on-field presence and energy they loved. But they weren’t exactly elbowing aside a peloton of other organizations to sign him.

Much of the scouting industry overlooked Rafaela, likely owing to his diminutive stature, then 5 feet 8 inches and about 130 pounds. But the Sox, whose scouting efforts in Curaçao are led by Dennis Neuman, were drawn to a quick-twitch athlete who seemed to get the barrel to the ball with uncommon frequency and who exuded energy across a variety of roles.


“He was that guy that was the best player on the field,” recalled former Red Sox international scouting assistant director Adrian Lorenzo. “Playing shortstop, he was flying all over the field; on balls in the gap, he was running all over the place.”

There was something special about Rafaela’s visible excitement and passion for the game.

“I knew immediately that his teammates would love him, that his coaches would love him, and even other teams would love him,” said Red Sox co-director of international scouting Todd Claus. “That’s very rare to just come across a human being that can just do that, can light up a room.

“He lights up the field. It’s just organic. It’s just natural to him. He’s not trying to do it. It’s just who he is. He’s electrifying.”

The Sox saw a player with impressive defensive ability at both middle-infield positions and an uncanny ability, even with a hyper-aggressive approach, to get his barrel to the ball and hit line drives, with an occasional flash of power. They brought Rafaela to their Dominican academy, saw him hold his own, and jumped at the chance to sign him for $10,000, with hopes that he might emerge as a nice utility option off the bench.


No one five years ago forecast what has happened to start the 2022 campaign. The 21-year-old Rafaela is turning heads as a player who might be capable of much more than anyone anticipated — save, perhaps, for Rafaela himself.

“I know my abilities,” he said. “I know what I can do. I’m not surprised about it.”

Yet it took a midyear mechanical adjustment in 2021 for Rafaela to transform the perceptions.

With Single A Salem, Rafaela carried a modest .225/.302/.317 line with one homer through the first two months of last season. He adjusted the position of his hands, raising them to smooth out some of the hitches. Over the final three months, he posted a .266/.306/.484 line with nine homers, repeatedly smoking balls with the authority of a much larger player.

“With my hands up, I have better timing, better movement going inside the ball,” said Rafaela, who suggested a desire to follow the examples of Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts in delivering production that belies his size.

While Rafaela took that step forward, few were prepared for the show he put on starting in spring training. He routinely drove the ball to all fields, an effort punctuated in spring training when he blasted three homers in a minor league game — one to center and two to the opposite field in right.


“I was like, ‘What is going on?’ ” relayed Claus. “For a smaller guy to allow the ball to get deep and hit it out the other way is ridiculous. It’s very, very rare.”

Rafaela has carried that power surge into this season with High A Greenville. Through 16 games, he is hitting .310/.364/.634 with six homers, 11 extra-base hits, and five steals. While still aggressive, he has shown signs of honing the swing-at-everything approach that led to frequent weak contact in the first half of 2021.

Better swing decisions this year have allowed him to more consistently drive the ball.

“He just hits the ball hard for a little guy,” said Greenville manager Iggy Suarez. “It’s a different sound off the bat. It’s crazy. There’s a sound that comes up with the crack of the bat of crispness, a crispness of just being able to find the barrel. It’s just a different sound.”

With his offensive step forward, the industry is recalibrating what Rafaela might become. The combination of standout up-the-middle defense with occasional power alone creates a solid floor as a valuable part-time option. But if Rafaela continues to develop, continues to make his shows of thump more than an aberration, he could project as an everyday super-utility option.

Rafaela seems less caught up in the specifics of his future role than in how he approaches it. More than through his production, he defines himself through the attitude he brings to the field.


“As a kid watching the game, I would love to see somebody that plays the game hard and the right way,” said Rafaela. “So that’s why, every day, what I think is that there’s kids out there looking at me, so I have to give my 100 percent every day to show them how to play the game right way.”

Three up

Frank German is off to a dominant start out of the bullpen for Portland. The 24-year-old righthander has worked at up to 99 miles per hour with his fastball while also featuring a slider and splitter en route to eight innings allowing one unearned run. German has struck out 15 of the 26 batters he’s faced with no walks while holding hitters to an absurd .080/.115/.160 line. He is a candidate for an early promotion to Worcester.

▪ Righthander Chih-Jung Liu showed a huge uptick in velocity in his last two starts, topping out at 97, while striking out 15 in 8⅓ innings for Greenville.

Wikelman Gonzalez has yet to allow an earned run through three starts spanning 11 innings for Salem, striking out 18. The 20-year-old righty with a three-pitch mix (mid- to high-90s fastball, curveball, changeup) is one of the top Red Sox pitching prospects.

Three down

▪ Lefthander Jeremy Wu-Yelland had a setback in his throwing program and underwent Tommy John surgery that will sideline him all season.


▪ Third baseman/outfielder Brandon Howlett, 22, is struggling in Portland. Coming off a solid 2021 season in Greenville (.253/.345/.469 with 17 homers), he is hitting .152/.282/.182 with 20 strikeouts in 39 plate appearances.

▪ Though Brendan Cellucci features a fastball/breaking ball combo that led some to think he could fast-track to a big league bullpen role, the 23-year-old lefty’s command has challenged that outlook. He has walked five, hit two, and uncorked four wild pitches in 6⅓ innings with Greenville, working to a 12.79 ERA.

Alex Speier can be reached at alex.speier@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.