The Red Sox have question marks in center field and at shortstop, and Ceddanne Rafaela could eventually be the answer at either position. Or both. One of Boston’s top prospects, the 22-year-old native of Curaçao profiles as the organization’s best defender on the grass, and he’s nearly as adept on the dirt. Moreover, he can swing the bat. Playing at High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, Rafaela put up a 134 wRC+ while logging 32 doubles, 10 triples, and 21 home runs.
How soon he is deemed big-league-ready is a question that looms every bit as large as that of his primary position going forward. Rafaela is coming off of a season where he played 92 games in center, versus just 21 at short, but opportunity is knocking far louder at the latter. With Xander Bogaerts leaving for San Diego and Trevor Story going under the knife, Boston has a huge void to fill. Enrique Hernández could fit the bill, but he’s better suited for second base or center field.
What does the bad news the Red Sox received on Story earlier this week mean for Rafaela’s near-term future? I asked that question to Chaim Bloom.
“I think we would ill-served by sidetracking proper development for him in response to this,” Boston’s Chief Baseball Officer replied. “He’s a really exciting player, and we’re excited for him to impact us, but there is still development left.”
Following up, I asked the under-fire executive if the plan is for Rafaela to continue to play both positions.
“I don’t think we’ll change anything with his development,” replied Bloom. “He’s outstanding in center; he took to that position well. Some of our staff tell me this guy might be both the best defensive centerfielder and the best defensive infielder in the organization. Opinions will vary depending on who you ask, but we have people who believe that.”
Rafaela’s introduction to the outfield came in 2021, the same year Boston drafted high school shortstop Marcelo Mayer fourth overall. Signed in 2017, Rafaela debuted the following year and played 44 games at third base, and another 11 at shortstop, as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League. When he came stateside the following year, he added second base to the mix and played a similar number of games at each of those three infield positions. According to Ben Crockett — at the time Boston’s farm director, and now their Senior Vice President, Baseball Operations — the organization wanted to take advantage of the youngster’s athleticism and expand his positional resume.
With Bloom’s “opinions will vary” comment in mind, I asked Crockett what the results might be if Red Sox scouts and player-development personnel were presented with this poll: Is center field or shortstop Ceddanne Rafaela’s best position?
“I’m not sure,” responded Crockett. “I don’t want to speak for other people, because he has the potential to do both, but I do think that puts him in a really good position. But if all else was equal, and it wasn’t about fitting in — if it wasn’t about a path to the big leagues — I’d love him in center. But again, he could do both, and not just one or the other.”
I asked the same question to Brian Abraham, who now serves as the team’s Director of Player Development.
“I think you would get some different answers,” said Abraham. “They’re obviously two premier positions. I would lean centerfielder, but I can promise you that there are people in our organization who probably feel that he’d be a better shortstop. Obviously, the ability to play both is pretty valuable.”
As for the likelihood that Rafaela will impact the Red Sox roster as soon as this season — at least early in the season — Abraham essentially echoed Bloom.
“You can’t take the offense without the defense, and you can’t take the defense without the offense,” Abraham told me. “He’s a plus defender at multiple spots, so I think when he comes to spring training, [Alex Cora] won’t have any problem putting Ceddanne out there. And listen, he has really good at-bats at the plate — I don’t think there’s any doubt that he can face major-league pitching — but doing it consistently is something he still has to work on.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Matt McLain had a somewhat unexpected first full professional season in 2022. As Eric Longenhagen explained earlier this week, the No. 7 entry on our Cincinnati Reds Top Prospects list saw his profile do a 180, and is now “more or less a slam dunk shortstop with a power-over-hit offensive skill set.” Playing at Double-A Chattanooga, McLain left the yard 17 times while slashing .232/.363/.453.
The infielder whom our lead prospect analyst assigned a 45 FV was satisfied with his summer.
“I learned a lot,” McLain told me during his subsequent stint in the Arizona Fall League. “There were growing pains going from college to Double-A, so it was lot of good, some bad, and a bunch of stuff in between. When you’re playing against older, more experienced guys, you’ve got to adapt. You’ve got to become a better player yourself in order to succeed. Overall, it was a good season.”
That the 23-year-old infielder played three collegiate seasons is part of his story. McLain was drafted 25th overall in 2018 out of an Irvine, California high school, but rather than sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks, he opted to attend UCLA. Looking back, he feels that he made the right decision.
“I grew a lot, both as a person and with baseball,” said McLain, who told me that the Diamondbacks offer had been for slot. “Not signing was basically that the number I put out there was what is it going to take me to pass up UCLA. It was a lot of money, and at the end of the day they didn’t offer that. I moved on and got better. I did what I did at UCLA.”
As for what he’ll go on to do in pro ball, McLain doesn’t necessarily see himself as profiling as power-over-hit.
“I want to be a gap-to-gap guy, hit line drives, and get on base to score runs,” he said. “I’d like to steal bases. I’d also like to strike out less — I struck out too much this year — and do a better job of controlling the strike zone. I want to be a better all-around hitter. I want to be a better player overall.”
Stan Musial’s 3,630 hits are the most in St. Louis Cardinals franchise history. Who ranks second?
The answer can be found below.
The Chicago White Sox have hired former Washington Nationals Assistant General Manager Sam Mondry-Cohen as an analyst. Mondry-Cohen was featured here at FanGraphs in January 2020.
Josh Herzenberg is joining Driveline in the newly-created role of Manager of Player Personnel. The former FanGraphs contributor was with the San Francisco Giants last year as Assistant Director, Player Development, and before that spent two years with the KBO’s Lotte Giants.
Nicholas Badders has been hired as the new play-by-play voice of the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. The graduate of Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication spent the last two seasons with the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals.
Lee Tinsley, a switch-hitting outfielder who played for three teams from 1993-1997, died earlier this week at age 53. The Shelbyville, Kentucky native had 210 big-league hits, including a career high 97 for the Boston Red Sox in 1995.
The answer to the quiz is Lou Brock, who logged 2,713 of his 3,023 career hits with the Cardinals.
The best base-stealer you’ve maybe never heard of? It might very well be George Case. Playing for the Washington Senators, the speedy outfielder led the American League in stolen bases for five straight seasons (1939-1943), and he did so again in 1946 with Cleveland. Case’s 61 thefts in 1943 were a career high, but the 51 bags he pilfered in 1939 were even more notable. No one else in the junior circuit had more than 23 steals that year.
Andrew Miller and Spencer Strider were co-guests on Friday’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, and not surprisingly, each was entertaining and informative. The conversation covered numerous topics, baseball and non-baseball alike, and included pitch usage. Addressing a question from the former big-leaguer, the runner-up in last season’s NL Rookie-of-the-Year balloting told how attempting to expand a repertoire isn’t always the best idea.
“I think the trap is to try to get more complicated,” Strider said to Miller. “In reality, it’s the simplification of sticking to your strengths. I finished the 2020 year at the alt site. I was throwing harder. We identified — we finally had good analysis on my fastball — to say, ‘Yes, throw a four-seam fastball; it’s very effective, it’s a plus fastball.’ But I decided to try to throw a cutter, curveball, slider, changeup, and sinker that offseason. I came into spring training and in my first bullpen I might have thrown one strike. They said, ‘Hey, you’re terrible. What the heck’s going on?’ So, the simplification based on the data that said, ‘You have one really good pitch, why wouldn’t you throw that the most?’ allowed me to sort of get back on track.”
Notable among the non-baseball topics was Miller’s and Strider’s mutual love of music. The latter shared that he’s begun collecting vinyl, and that Mac DeMarco’s “This Old Dog” currently tops his playlist. The former told how he is looking forward to a Jason Isbell concert, and how he previously saw the artist perform at Red Rocks.
The Brisbane Bandits are dominating the Australian Baseball League with a record of 28-8. The top hitter has been Brisbane’s T.J. Bennett, who has a 1.058 OPS and a league-best 16 home runs. A 29-year-old infielder who was in the San Francisco Giants system from 2016-2018, Bennett spent the 2022 season with the independent American Association’s Lake Country DockHounds.
Otto Lopez is slashing .304/.353/.380 in 88 plate appearances for the Dominican Winter League’s Leones del Escogido. The 24-year-old infielder in the Toronto Blue Jays organization had six hits in nine big-league at-bats in 2022.
Brandon Waddell has signed with the Chinese Professional Baseball League’s Rakuten Monkeys. The 28-year-old southpaw, whose 11 MLB appearances have come with four different teams, pitched for the KBO’s Doosan Bears last year.
NPB’s Yomiuri Giants have reportedly reached an agreement with Lewis Brinson. The 28-year-old outfielder played with the San Francisco Giants last year after spending the previous five seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers and Miami Marlins.
Who was/is better, Xander Bogaerts or Nomar Garciaparra? I asked that question in a Twitter poll this week, and while the sample size was small — only 151 people bothered to offer an opinion — I’ll share the results anyway: Garciaparra garnered 55.6% of the votes cast, while Bogaerts got 44.4%.
Through his age-29 season (he turned 30 on October 1), the Red-Sox-turned-Padres shortstop has 34.2 WAR and a 118 wRC+. Through his own age-29 season, Garciaparra — these numbers all coming with Boston — had 38.5 WAR and a 134 wRC+. To that point of their respective careers, who the better player is seems pretty clear.
That Garciaparra proceeded to fall off the proverbial cliff makes the overall comparison a bit muddier. Due primarily to injuries, Garciaparra had just 3.0 WAR and a 104 wRC+ from his age-30 season onward. The downward spiral was sad to see. Fans at Fenway Park used to chant “Nomah’s better” when Derek Jeter was at the plate, and the numbers back that up. Jeter obviously went on to be a very good player through age 40, which is a big reason why he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
What will Bogaerts do going forward, and how will he ultimately compare to Garciaparra (and Jeter)? Time will tell.
C. Trent Rosecrans and I both put ten checkmarks on our Hall-of-Fame ballots this year, and they were for the same players. A handful of other ballots I’ve seen have been identical: Bobby Abreu, Carlos Beltrán, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, Manny Ramírez, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner. The choices themselves aren’t what is prompting this note. What is, is seven words Trent wrote when addressing his selections at The Athletic:
“I err on the side of inclusion.”
As a self-identifying big-Hall voter, that concisely-expressed sentiment resonates with me. As has been stated many times, by many people, there are varying degrees of greatness; not every player with a plaque in Cooperstown is a Willie Mays or a Walter Johnson. Nor should they be. While some voters are comfortable putting a checkmark next to only a handful of names — or even sending in a blank ballot (ugh) — that simply doesn’t feel right to me. All ten of the players that I voted for had fantastic careers. Were they Hall-worthy? Again, what Trent wrote resonates with me.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
The Cleveland Guardians announced they will be renovating Progressive Field over the next couple of off-seasons. Mandy Bell has the story at MLB.com
The Detroit Tigers are planning to change the outfield dimensions at Comerica Park. Brandon Day has the details at Bless You Boys.
The Midwest League’s West Michigan Whitecaps are set to embark on an ambitious, multi-year modernization of their ballpark. Details are provided on the team’s website.
Coop Daley told the story of Yutaka Fukumoto, Japan’s greatest base stealer, at JapanBall.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Henry Aaron, who wore the number on his back, hit exactly 44 home runs in four different seasons. In one of them he had a .978 OPS, 369 total bases, and one stolen base. In another, he he had a .977 OPS, 370 total bases, and 31 stolen bases.
Bobby Abreu had five seasons with exactly 20 home runs. In one of them, he had 22 steals, 100 runs scored, and 100 RBIs. In another, he had 22 steals, 99 runs scored, and 101 RBIs.
The Detroit Tigers signed Cecil Fielder, who had spent the previous year with NPB’s Hanshin Tigers, to a free-agent contract on today’s date in 1990. Fielder homered 258 times over the next seven seasons, twice leading the league.
The Cincinnati Reds purchased Wally Pipp’s contract from the New York Yankees on today’s date in 1926. New York’s primary first baseman from 1915-1924, Pipp lost his starting job to 22-year-old rookie Lou Gehrig in 1925.
Players born on today’s date include Tony Solaita, a left-handed-hitting first baseman who homered 50 times while playing for five teams over parts of seven big-league seasons. A native of Nu’uuli, American Samoa, Solaita went deep 16 times for the Kansas City Royals in 1975, and 14 times for the California Angels in 1977. Per his SABR BioProject biography, he died of a gunshot wound in 1990.
Also born on today’s date was Georges Maranda, a right-hander who appeared in 17 games for the San Francisco Giants in 1960, and in 32 games for the Minnesota Twins in 1962. The native of Levis, Quebec is a member of the Quebec Baseball Hall of Fame.