The Chaim Bloom era in Boston has been a yo-yo of extremes: two last place finishes (2020, 2022) sandwiching an ALCS defeat (2021). All the while though, Bloom has methodically replenished the minor league system, while also getting some homegrown big league contributions. Pitchers like Brayan Bello, Kutter Crawford, Josh Winckowski, and Connor Seabold delivered needed reinforcements to the starting rotation. The bullpen was primarily promoted from within, with pitchers who could play a significant role next season such as John Schreiber, Zack Kelly, and Kaleb Ort. Slugger Triston Casas already forecasts as a lineup fixture putting up quality at bats, and in the field as a run saver on defense.
Before looking ahead to one of the most major offseasons for the Boston Red Sox organization, this article looks back on this minor league season to bestow honors on different players. For my superlative choices, I tried in most cases to avoid repeating nominations through the list, even though there were many worthy candidates for each category.
This article is an accompanying write up to my guest appearance on the Pesky Report with Ed Hand (@EdwardHand8) of SoxProspects and Hunter Noll (@Hunter_Noll) of Bosox Injection. It was an honor to guest on the Pesky Report for a second time this season after a fun-filled August episode. Also make sure to take a listen to the nearly 2-hour episode which covers all three of our selections for the 2022 Red Sox Minor League Superlatives.
2022 Draftee of the Year
Roman Anthony, OF
The 79th overall selection in the 2022 draft, who was the compensation pick for Eduardo Rodriguez, Roman Anthony immediately vaults to the top handful of outfield prospects in the system. Anthony has substantial raw power, speed, and defensive ability in all three OF spots. For a power hitter from the high school ranks, Anthony had a very good 20 game debut season across the Florida Complex League (FCL) and Single-A Salem. The most important thing for me is that he had a 9 BB to 8 K performance in 83 PA, which is a very good sign for a power hitter in his development.
Brooks Brannon, C
In certain ways, the 9th round pick was a linchpin of the draft strategy, as he secured the 4th highest bonus ($712,500) in the entire Red Sox draft class. The high schooler out of North Carolina carries notable power, with enough athleticism to also play 1B and OF. Brannon had a small but noteworthy 5 game FCL debut, where he produced a monstrous .462/.533/.846 triple slash with 6 hits (3 for extra bases) and 5 RBI while catching all 5 games.
Defensive Player of the Year
Ceddanne Rafaela, CF/SS
Rafaela’s defense, both at SS and particularly in CF, were rated among the best in professional baseball. Not just the Red Sox system, or across the minor leagues, but including the majors! Rafaela’s glove will give him every opportunity to continue his development against the most advanced pitching. Add in the fact he can play multiple positions up the middle, Rafaela is a special talent on defense.
Triston Casas, 1B and Connor Wong, C
Casas deservedly gets the most attention for his bat, but he became an immediate asset in the infield for the Red Sox. Stretching is a natural gift for the monolithic 6’5″ first baseman, but the smoothness and sure-handedness on picks both from hits and throws was readily apparent every game during his 27 game debut.
When Wong was acquired from the Dodgers, he was billed as a bat-first prospect who could defend multiple positions. In his time in the Red Sox system and now in the big leagues, he now has grown into a viable timeshare option behind the dish for the Red Sox. Wong was a reliable receiver for veterans on the pitching staff dating even back to 2021. Barring a significant acquisition, Wong’s defensive development is a positive for the organization.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Ceddanne Rafaela, Brainer Bonaci
MLB Graduate of the Year
Kutter Crawford, RHP
Crawford’s strong midseason run in the rotation was an eye-opening revelation. While I was historically too low on Crawford, he has clearly developed into a potential rotation contributor. Crawford’s 77.1 IP (21 G, 12 S) were a huge reason the Red Sox were able to hang around in the Wild Card hunt for as long as they did. Crawford seemed to pitch his best against the toughest teams. Between June and August, he had multiple quality starts against Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Houston. Like many players, Crawford’s health and consistency will determine his ultimate role. But he showed enough where he could carry his success into 100+ innings for the Red Sox between the rotation and bullpen.
Triston Casas, 1B
Casas more than delivered in his MLB debut. With his polished defense covered above, Casas quickly grew into one of the toughest outs among the starting nine. Casas showed excellent swing decisions and a mature approach. He even worked his way into the 2 spot in the lineup by season’s end, highlighting his on-base ability. Sure to make every Red Sox fan happy, Casas did his most damage against the Yankees, launching 3 HR and producing a sizzling .267/.500/.867 against the division rivals. He’s sure to be a terror for opposing pitchers for a long time to come.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Brayan Bello, Triston Casas
Comeback Player of the Year
Both Ward and Mata returned to the mound this year following Tommy John Surgery. In Ward, the Red Sox have a likely addition to the 40-man roster this offseason after he pitched just over 50 IP over 4 levels. He allowed just 40 H, and 19 BB with 66 K as a starting pitcher. Ward has unfortunately hit a precautionary injury snag in the AFL on his quest to gain innings.
Similarly impressive, Bryan Mata also pitched at 4 levels and he threw 83 IP, allowing only 60 H, 46 BB and tallied 105 K through 18 starts. At just 23 years old, Mata is already on the 40-man roster and on the doorstep of the major leagues. Mata has been talked about for a while as a top prospect, but he could finally end up being at the head of the next wave.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Thad Ward, Bryan Mata
Most Improved Player
Eddinson Paulino, IF/OF
Paulino had an exceptional season and was among the top hitters in all of Low-A. He led the level in doubles and triples, finished second in hits and runs, and was also top 10 in HR, RBI, and BB. Paulino was also a top 15 stolen base thread who converted a high percentage of attempts (84%). He also secured a walk rate over 10% with a K rate under 20%. While he was somewhat neutralized by left handed pitching (.203/.286/.284), this did not take away from the high level of output overall. Paulino had over 30 G each defensively at 2B, 3B, and SS, while chipping in 13 G in the outfield. Having just turned 20 years old, Paulino will make for an intriguing 40-man protection decision for the Red Sox this offseason.
Matthew Lugo, IF
This season saw the potential in Lugo that made him a 2nd round pick in 2019. Lugo’s physical development this year translated positively in his ability to impact the baseball, as evidenced by a nearly 150 point increase in SLG. At High-A Greenville, Lugo swatted 18 HR with 20 SB, along with a .288/.344/.500 triple slash. Lugo showed good contact skills and hunted strikes, which also led to a drop the strikeout rate. He has always had high expectations as Carlos Beltran’s nephew and formerly attended his baseball academy. This campaign really showed the kind of producer he can be.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Ceddanne Rafaela, Eddinson Paulino, Matthew Lugo
Relief Pitcher of the Year
Ryan Fernandez, RHP
The 24 year old Fernandez took a leap forward this season. The 6’0″ right hander’s arsenal includes a 96-99 MPH fastball complemented with a 90-92 cutter and slider 87-89. Even with such a high octane offerings and a high effort delivery, Fernandez was consistently around the plate. He allowed on 11 BB in 39 IP and he also allowed 6 HR on the season. Fernandez was in the mix for saves at both Greenville and Portland, and cemented himself into the high minors relief picture.
Taylor Broadway, RHP
Though the right handed reliever tallied only 6 IP in the Red Sox system, his acquisition from the White Sox was significant. He joined catcher Reese McGuire as the PTBNL in the Jake Diekman trade at the deadline. The sturdy pitcher permitted only 2 hits with no BB and 10 K. Broadway looks like a great get along with McGuire. He could be a factor in the big league bullpen in the not too distant future. He is the exact type of target that Bloom and Co. are amassing in deals “around the edges.”
Starting Pitcher of the Year
Wikelman Gonzalez, RHP
It was a brilliant start and end to Gonzalez’s season. Gonzalez came out firing in his first four April starts, mowing down the opposition at Low-A to a 0.57 ERA. He had a tough middle three months where he put up an ERA in the mid 6’s. All the while though, he missed plenty of bats with consistently high K rates. Also encouraging, he was tough at limiting damage, only allowing 2 HR on the season (both in May). It really clicked for Gonzalez in August, where he returned to a low 2’s ERA and earned a promotion to High-A. The final four appearances in Greenville were outstanding, with 17 IP, allowed 13 H (and only 3 XBH), 6 BB and 23 K. This all but assures the 20 year old a spot on the 40-man roster this offseason.
Luis Perales, RHP
A hyped international signing, Perales had a strong run in the FCL and a quick look at Salem. It was an impressive showing, though his usage was heavily monitored coming off a season of injury. In 25 IP in the FCL, he allowed only 10 H, 9 BB, and 3 ER while blowing away 34 via strikeout. The 10 IP in Low-A was a fine showing for the 19 year old: 10 H and 11 BB, but still tallying 16 K. He’ll head into his age 20 season building on his innings and development as a starter.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Bryan Mata, Chris Murphy, Brayan Bello.
Hitter of the Year
Niko Kavadas, 1B
It was an offensive showing for the first baseman that was nearly cartoonish in monstrosity. For this offensive-heavy profile, he has to hit an an enormous rate. That’s exactly what Kavadas did at Low-A and High-A, where he was even better at the higher level. Upon reaching Double-A, we saw a 40% K rate for Kavadas. Though, he’s in the AFL right now against similar caliber pitching to continue his development. There’s certainly a role for this type of high power, high on-base player, especially with the DH part of all 30 MLB teams.
Miguel Bleis, OF
The physically gifted outfielder possesses a captivating blend of power and speed across his entire toolset. It is uncommon for a player to carry his potential as a power hitting center fielder who can run and defend to this degree. Like Perales on the pitching side, many scouts thought Bleis was the best hitter in the FCL. This type of high upside prospect is one that is sure to come up in most trade talks, but one Bloom should have no problem clinging to.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Niko Kavadas, Blaze Jordan, Ceddanne Rafaela.
Prospect of the Year
Brayan Bello, RHP
There is much to admire about the way Bello progressed during his two stints in Boston. From day one, Bello showed an impressive pitch mix from a stuff perspective. His changeup generated a 44% whiff rate, partially because it pairs with the horizontal break of his sinker. Though Bello yielded more than a hit per inning, much of it was weak contact.
The great broadcaster Dennis Eckersley noted how comfortable Bello always is pitching to his arm side. By season’s end, Bello was freezing hitters with glove side offerings with more regularity. It was great to see the way he used both sides of the plate with his pitches. For Bello to develop like this can only fill Red Sox fans with optimism for his future.
Ceddanne Rafaela, OF/SS
Rafaela had a skyrocket of development in his whole game that made him worthy of nearly all of these superlatives. In his age 21 season, Rafaela began in High-A Greenville. In 45 G there, he torched opponents with a .330/.368/.594 triple slash with 30 XBH and 14/16 SB. Double-A Portland was equally impressive, where he maintained a .500 SLG and an all-around solid offensive showing.
He’s very gifted at making contact, and his impact will come down to his ability to discern the pitches he can do the most damage with. Rafaela’s exemplary defense was also covered above, which remains an important part of his future. Rafaela should hopefully get his shot in Boston and shadow a very similar player in Kiké Hernandez. Among all of the Red Sox prospects, Rafaela takes home the most distinguished of seasons.
Ed Hand’s and Hunter Noll’s selections: Ceddanne Rafaela, Marcelo Mayer.
Ben is an Assistant Editor and also covers the Red Sox and Dynasty/Fantasy baseball content for Prospects1500. He also runs the #2EarlyMiLBMock, an annual prospect-only mock draft, for the Prospects1500 website. Ben is an experienced fantasy baseball player and is a deep league dynasty specialist. He has also contributed at FantraxHQ, RotoFanatic, and retired blogs Real McCoy Minors and Notes from the Sally. Follow Ben on Twitter @TBDubbs11.