Under Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox have seen massive growth from their farm system. Whether it be from bringing in prospects through trades, the draft, international amateur free agency, or developing the prospects that were already in the system and growing their game, Chaim Bloom has had a massive impact on the Red Sox farm system.
When it comes to the farm system, everyone wants to talk about top prospects. Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, Nick Yorke, and Brayan Bello are all in the MLB top 100 prospect rankings, and Jarren Duran (who was in many top 100 prospect rankings) has just been removed from MLB Pipeline’s prospect rankings after exceeding prospect status. However, the part of the farm system that wins you a World Series is the depth, and that’s where the true growth in the Red Sox farm system has been … from the guys you don’t yet know about.
Here are five Red Sox prospects (that you may or may not know) to keep an eye on.
You may have heard this name before, and he is my personal favorite prospect in the Red Sox system. 21 year old Cedanne Rafaela played in the Little League World Series in 2012. In 2017, Rafaela signed for just $10,000 out of Curacao, and he has become the second best signing in that Red Sox draft class after Brayan Bello, who signed at $28,000.
Rafaela has already risen through the rankings this season, even though we are just hitting June. Ending last year as the 23rd ranked prospect in the system (SoxProspects.com prospect rankings), Rafaela has already climbed up to 14th in the system and could continue to rise even further up the rankings.
To this point in his career, Rafaela has been a defense-first player. He was the Red Sox Minor League Defensive Player of the Year for 2021, and he is the best defensive prospect in the system. Originally a SS, Rafaela has added positional versatility, with the potential to be a plus defensive player at 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF, and RF. He could be an elite defensive outfielder, which is where he has mostly played in 2022.
This defense gives Rafaela a high ceiling, but he’s shown this year that his offense can prove to be a positive tool as well. In 40 games played this year, Rafaela is hitting .322/.362/.588/.949 with 14 doubles, 3 triples, 9 homers, and 34 runs batted in at High-A Greenville with 12 stolen bases. Compare this to 2019 in Low-A Salem, where in 102 games he hit .251/.305/.424/.729 with 20 doubles, 9 triples, and 10 homers, adding 53 runs batted in and 23 for 26 in stolen bases.
Rafaela’s offense has taken a big leap in 2022. At this rate, he will fly up the prospect rankings and, due to his defense, the minor leagues. One knock on Rafaela is his tendency to expand the strike zone, which also leads him to draw few walks. His bat speed, however, gives him “sneaky raw power” according to SoxProspects.com, which is a prime bonus for someone listed at just 5’8” and 145 lbs.
Rafaela also has plus speed, a plus arm, and standout defense as noted before. Rafaela’s ceiling seems to be an everyday utility player who has stellar defense with a good enough bat to be an impact player. His floor seems at the very least a fringe MLB bench utility man, who provides great defensive cover for players in need of occasional days off.
If he continues at this year’s rate, expect Rafaela to be called up to Double-A at some point this season. Upon being promoted, he will need to continue to develop his offensive toolset in order to become an everyday player.
Let’s move on to someone I almost didn’t include because of his elevated prospect ranking.
20 year old Wikelman Gonzalez was signed for $250,000 in 2018, and he was one of 2021’s biggest risers within the farm system. Last year, Gonzalez rose from the back end of SoxProspects.com’s top 60 prospects all the way into the top 15. His rise has continued this year, landing him in the number 12 spot in the SoxProspects rankings while claiming the the title of SoxProspects.com 2021 Breakout Player of the Year.
Last year in the Florida Complex League (also known as rookie ball), Gonzalez had a 3.60 ERA and a 2.22 xERA in 8 games (7 starts). He performed very well after being promoted to Low-A, with a 1.53 ERA and a 2.56 xERA in 4 starts.
So far this year, in 9 starts Gonzalez has a 3.86 ERA and a 3.53 xERA. He features a fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball. His fastball normally starts at 95-97 for the first inning or two before settling in at the 92-95 range, with a variety of movement including cut, tail, sink, and rise. The movement, however, can be unpredictable, rendering his control an ongoing work in progress.
His changeup sits around 84-87, and has very good, late movement similar to a splitter. However, his changeup can be inconsistent, even though it is his best secondary pitch. His slider is also inconsistent, but at 84-88 with a 10-4 shape, it could develop into a solid pitch and he has had success with it in flashes. The curveball is still in development, sitting around 75-78 .
Gonzalez’ fastball and changeup have plus-pitch potential, the slider is trending to be average, and the curveball is leaning towards the fringe-average tier. With Gonzalez being so young, he still has plenty of time to develop into a solid mid-rotation arm.
The next Red Sox prospect here is Matthew Lugo, who is the nephew of former 9 time MLB All-Star Carlos Beltran. Lugo is an intriguing prospect, as I’ve seen his prospect ranking as high as the top 10 and as low as the 25-30 range. Right now in the SoxProspects top 60 rankings, Lugo finds himself ranked at 21.
In Lugo’s first full season in the minors in 2021, he played the whole year in Low-A where, in 105 games, he hit .270/.338/.364/.701 with 21 doubles, 3 triples, and 4 homers, driving in 50 runs and adding 15 stolen bases. So far this year in High-A, Lugo has hit .298/.356/.522/.878 with 11 doubles, 5 triples, 5 homers, and 30 runs batted in while swiping 6 bases.
He has clearly taken a leap forward based on the overall stats, but that surge actually goes deeper. Against right-handed pitching in 2021, he hit .294/.367/.402/.769. This year, the power has jumped, with Lugo hitting 286/.331/.514/.845. He has also gone from 21 doubles, 2 triples, and 4 homers in 343 at bats against righties in 2021 to 10 doubles, 5 triples, and 4 homers in 140 at bats in 2022.
The true big jump, albeit in a small sample size, has been Lugo’s performance against lefties. As a right handed hitter, Lugo actually has hit much worse against lefties so far in his career. In 75 at bats in 2021, Lugo hit just .160/.198/.187/.384 with 0 doubles, 1 triple, 0 homers, and 5 runs batted in. In 2022, in just 21, Lugo has hit .381/.500/.571/1.071 with 1 double, 0 triples, and 1 homer.
Another concern has been his strikeout rate, which he has gradually reduced throughout his career. His 20% K rate was down from his 2019 rate in limited time, but it is down to 18% in 2022.
Lugo was drafted in the second round in 2019 as a SS, but he seems to be a better long-term fit at 2B. Add in the glut of middle infielders in the Red Sox system, and Lugo could actually be a potential fit for the outfield.
Lugo seems to have the ceiling of a guy who can hit .270 with 15-20 homers. However, he has a lower floor than most due to not having a primary standout tool, causing the great variation in his prospect rankings. However, if Lugo can continue to develop and raise his floor, the picture of where he may fit in will crystallize.
Next up is the second member of the Red Sox’ 2018 international amateur free agent class to be featured here.
Eddinson Paulino signed for $205,000 out of the Dominican Republic. Here is another player that is smaller in stature, at just 5’10” and weighing 155 lbs. However, just like Rafaela, his small stature hasn’t stopped him thus far. He was ranked in the mid twenties of the Red Sox prospect rankings heading into 2022, but now finds himself being ranked 16th in the system.
In his first season playing in the U.S., Paulino hit .336/.436/.549/.985 with 16 doubles, 4 triples, 0 homers, and 13 runs batted in over 36 games in the Florida Complex League in 2021. Thus far in 2022, he has hit .244/.327/.415/.742 in Low-A ball, which includes a cold April start. In May, Paulino hit .279/.367/.442/.809 with 10 doubles, 2 triples, and 1 homer.
Paulino is a solid contact hitter, which has shown to be his best attribute to-date. He shows average raw power, but most of that power comes in the form of doubles rather than homers. The home run power could come with some added strength, as he already hits the ball hard.
Paulino has shown the ability to steal some bases in the lower minors, but his speed is not a big part of his game. He has an average arm, fitting better long-term at second base, and has played a few games in the outfield this year to increase his versatility. Paulino’s floor still seems somewhat low, which is a conservative estimate considering he has played less than 100 games in the U.S. His ceiling is also undetermined for the same reason.
I predict that Paulino will prove capable of hitting for average, but he will have to answer the questions about his power if he wants to be a solid everyday player. Paulino lacks the standout defense of someone like Rafela, who will be valuable enough to remain in the lineup even if the power never manifests. If Paulino does develop some pop, he could become a productive, multi-faceted offensive threat.
Frank German was the prospect the Red Sox acquired from the Yankees in the Adam Ottavino trade. He was used as a starter in his first season in the Red Sox organization, resulting in a 5.42 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, and 3.4 BB/9.
He was then moved to the bullpen for the last stretch of the year, leading to a 1.13 ERA, 0.62 WHIP, 12.4 K/9, and 1.1 BB/9 in six appearances. In total, German put up a 5.12 ERA, 5.33 xERA, 4.80 FIP, and 4.81 xFIP in 84.1 innings pitched. Not a great season, but his dominance out of the pen led to some positive takeaways.
German has continued to pitch well out of the bullpen in 2022, with a 3.18 ERA, 0.49 xERA, 2.21 FIP, and a 3.31 xFIP in 11 Double-A appearances that earned him a callup to Triple-A on May 24th. Since his move to the bullpen, German’s fastball has been around 97-98, with the potential to be a plus pitch or greater with refined control and command.
German’s splitter is his best secondary pitch, but he could become more consistent than he is with it. His slider his worst pitch, which is less of a concern in the bullpen, where a sharp fastball-splitter combo can play very well. However, German’s slider, along with his other two pitches have been improved since moving to the bullpen.
SoxProspects had listed him as a “potential up-and-down middle-reliever with the ceiling of a middle reliever,” noting that his ceiling could easily rise if he can pitch well out of the bullpen over a longer stretch of time. Now, he is listed as a “potential middle reliever. Ceiling of a late-inning relief arm.” Due to his outlook changing, German has climbed inside the top 30 of the SoxProspects ranking, being placed 28th in the top 60 rankings.
These five Red Sox prospects are just some of the depth that Chaim Bloom is building in the system, and part of the depth he will continue to build for the Red Sox over the next couple of years. The main organizational goal is to build a perennial World Series competitor, something that only the Astros and Dodgers have been able to do over the last few years. Those teams have accomplished this with ample contributions from young players who develop into stars, everyday players, role players, or trade bait that can net the team greater contributors from elsewhere.
The Astros produced homegrown talent such as Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and George Springer, whereas the Dodgers have developed guys like Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Will Smith, and Joc Pederson. Additionally, these teams developed the players that drew Gerrit Cole and Yordan Alvarez to Houston and Josh Fields, Rich Hill, and Max Scherzer to the Dodgers.
Talented minor league depth must remain available in order to continuously contend. The Astros have survived without George Springer and Carlos Correa by replacing them with Chas McCormick and Jeremy Pena. McCormick and Pena, while not elite like Springer and Correa, are solid players that can effectively fill the holes that are vacated when stars leave. From there, adding Yordan Alvarez essentially filled the offensive delta between the Springer-Correa combination and the McCormick-Pena tandem.
The Dodgers preemptively replaced Corey Seager by trading for Trea Turner, who moved from 2B back to his former SS position after Seager’s departure, allowing Gavin Lux fill the void at 2B. Lux, in turn, could be set to slide to SS if Turner leaves as a free agent after 2022. Three years earlier, the Dodgers traded Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong to Boston in exchange for superstar Mookie Betts.
The blueprint is there for the Red Sox to follow. Now, fans must be patient while the script plays out. The Red Sox have seemingly turned their season around, and it is only be a matter of time before the Red Sox win a World Series with their next core of players.