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Minor League Players of the Week: Greenville hitters and Portland pitchers

The players off to the hottest starts in the Red Sox system.

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Ceddanne Rafaela
Kelly O’Connor

With the new minor-league schedule started in 2021 being implemented that has teams playing six-game series every week with Mondays off, there are no Minor Lines on Tuesdays. We figured rather than just leaving that timeslot blank every week, we’d hand out some fake, virtual hardware. Each week, we’ll pick players of the week for both position players and pitchers, as well as an honorable mention in each category.

Position Player of the Week

Ceddanne Rafaela, UTL, Greenville

It’s very good news for the Red Sox how difficult this decision ended up being, with three guys really having a strong case for it, two of whom are teammates on Boston’s High-A club. Ultimately we’re going to give the nod to Rafaela, who seemingly had the most well-rounded week of the trio in all senses of the word. In his first week of the season, the utility man hit .395/.422/.860, smashing a whopping five home runs in nine games and tacking five doubles on top of that. In addition, he swiped four bags while only being caught once, and had three outfield assists. Oh, and he started a game at shortstop to go with seven in center field just for good measure.

Rafaela is one of the more interesting prospects in the system, and while he’s certainly not considered in the caliber one would think from this nine-game stretch’s performance, he is someone whose stock could rise throughout this season. Only in his age-21 season, there’s an interesting floor here by default just by virtue of his plus athleticism and ability to play up the middle both in the outfield and on the dirt. He’s also got a really solid bat-to-ball ability, though his approach could be refined a bit.

What’s really stood out this season, though, has been his power. It’s not really anything close to a carrying tool for him, but there’s always been some potential for it to play more with the right tweaks, as Rafaela has been able to make hard contact. In the past, the swing has been more line drive oriented, but just based on the home run total early in this season it seems he’s adding more loft. If he can maintain a fraction of this pace while still making enough contact to produce even when the ball’s staying in the yard, he could end up as one of the biggest risers in the system. For now, he’ll settle for the hottest starter.

Honorable Mention: Matthew Lugo, SS, Greenville

You don’t have to go more than a few spots down in the Drive’s lineup to find the honorable mention here in Lugo. This was a very important season for him, having struggled in his full-season debut last summer with Salem after being selected in the second round back in 2019. His plate discipline wasn’t overly concerning, with solid if unspectacular rates for both strikeouts and walks, but he just couldn’t hit for power or just produce hard contact in general. Early on in 2022, he has very much reversed that trend. The shortstop prospect has started his season hitting a ridiculous .514/.538/.865, putting up the highest OPS in the system among players who have played multiple games. Lugo has played in eight games thus far. His success is more based on BABIP than that of Rafaela, which is why he falls down a spot here, but this was an important start to the season for him.

Pitcher of the Week

Brandon Walter, LHP, Portland

After the 2021 season, there may not have been a more polarizing prospect in the Red Sox system than Walter, who broke out in a major way as a former 26th round senior signing from the 2019 draft. The lefty was perhaps the most statistically accomplished player among Boston prospects last season, but when looking at his age it was reasonable to at least question the performance. Walter was in his age-24 season splitting the year between Low-A and High-A, where the top players are generally at least couple years younger. The question of how much to read into those numbers were very much up in the air until he got up to the higher levels where the talent starts to even out more.

Brandon Walter
Kelly O’Connor

I would say Walter has answered those questions and then some to start his season. Pitching in an absolutely loaded Sea Dogs rotation, he has stood out among everyone else through two starts. The lefty has tossed 11 innings so far in 2022, all without allowing a single run or a single walk, giving up just four hits while racking up 14 strikeouts. Walter came into camp clearly having been working on his stuff and impressing the scouts who saw him on the back fields, and that’s carried into the regular season. He’s got a good fastball plus two secondaries in a changeup and slider, and given the age it’s not unreasonable to see him moving up to Worcester within the first few months of the season, and at that point the majors is only an injury or two away.

Honorable Mention: Brayan Bello, RHP, Portland

If Walter wasn’t your Red Sox minor-league pitcher of the year in 2021, it’s probably because you preferred what you saw from Bello, which is defensible. This was a more typical prospect breakout, with a former inconsistent but flashy prospect settling in to go on a big run, though he did struggle a bit more with hard contact after a midseason promotion here to Portland. Repeating Double-A, he’s allowed only two runs through his first 10 innings, striking out a whopping 18 in the process while walking only two. Both of his runs were off solo home runs, but his stuff is just so good that these periodic hard contact issues become less concerning. Like Walter, he could be a midseason promotion to Triple-A if his performance warrants it.