Every month in 2023, I’ll be taking a look throughout the Red Sox minor-league organization, identifying risers, fallers, promotions, and storylines at each level. For this month, I wanted to highlight three players at each level, as well as an early season potential riser. In Part One today, we’re looking at Worcester and Portland, and next week Greenville and Salem. While there are many great prospect lists, I’ll be listing the ranking off of the illustrious and highly recommended Sox Prospects crew, shown in parentheses next to each player.
Worcester Red Sox (AAA):
3 To Watch in 2023:
Bryan Mata (Sox Prospects Rank: #5)
After a 2021 Tommy John Surgery, Mata returned in 2022 to throw 83 innings across various levels, finishing up in Worcester and remaining in a starter role. The strikeouts and velocity returned (touching 100 mph) but so did the walks (46 in 83 IP), which have always been a concern with Mata.
2023: If the control was concerning last year, then sound the alarm this year. Not only has Mata walked 12 batters in 12 innings, but he also hit four out of five batters with pitches in the same inning in his April 12th outing. This season is the last of Mata’s three Option years, and it seems likely that he’ll transition to a relief role at some point this year to prepare for the big leagues in ’24.
Stats: 3 G, 12 IP, 0-1, 12 BB, 14 K, 5.25 ERA, 1.83 WHIP (without the HBPs).
Brandon Walter (#9)
I wrote up my Brandon Walter rotation case in early March. TL;DR: Strikeout-to-walk ratios that rivaled almost anyone in the minors, weak ground ball contact, deceptive delivery from the left side, back injury ended ’22 season.
2023: Hit around in his first outing in Worcester since last June, has pitched very well (5+ IP) in both outings since.
Stats: 3 G, 14.1 IP, 0-1, 6 BB, 9 K, 4.40 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
Enmanuel Valdez (#15)
The lead return from Houston in the Christian Vazquez deal, Valdez has an explosive swing without too much swing-and-miss but appears to be a below average fielder at both second and third base.
2023: Showed some power in spring training but got off to a slow start in Worcester, hitting just .179 through 11 games with a 33.3% K-rate. Called up to Boston for one game where he went 2-for-4 but committed an error at 2B.
Stats: 11 G, 45 PA, .179/.289/.333, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 3 R, 1 SB, 6 BB, 15 K
Early Riser: David Hamilton (#26)
A great breakdown from a must-follow prospect account @RotoClegg:
David Hamilton has made strides this season. It’s a small sample, but there are some improvements:— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) April 21, 2023
90th EV: 99.2 MPH/102.6 MPH
AvgEV: 83.4 MPH/89.7 MPH
.351 average/1.018 OPS 3 HR/8 SB so far. Stole 70 last year. Could debut soon.pic.twitter.com/0flbZHsix2
Since this was posted, Hamilton got on base three more times on Thursday night, stealing two more bases for a total of 10 on the season, to go with the 70 at Double-A from last year. Scouting reports believe there’s a hole in the swing at the top of the zone for Hamilton, so we shouldn’t expect these type of numbers in Boston, but with the middle infield in flux right now he could get a shot.
Stats: 15 G, 65 PA, .351/.422/.596, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 11 R, 10 SB, 7 BB, 10 K
Other prospects of note in Worcester: SP Chris Murphy (17), OF Wilyer Abreu (24)
Portland Sea Dogs (AA):
3 To Watch in 2023:
Ceddanne Rafaela (Sox Prospects Rank: #4)
Rafaela had a meteoric rise up many prospect lists a year ago, thanks to his video game stats at Greenville and Portland. A combined 21 HRs, 28 SBs, 86 RBI, and 82 runs in 116 games, while hitting .330 at High-A and .278 at Double-A. All this while being the best defensive player in the system two years in a row, even receiving an 80-grade future Field grade from Fangraphs. Some have warned to temper expectations with the bat, due to a low walk rate and a high chase rate, leading to weak contact on bad pitches that could be exposed at higher levels.
2023: Rafaela returned to Portland, presumably for a short stay but has not hit in the early going. A 31.3% K-rate and a 63 wRC+ through 11 games is not going to get him to Worcester just yet.
Stats: 11 G, 48 PA, .244/.292/.267, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 5 SB, 3 BB, 15 K
Nick Yorke (6)
A surprise first-round pick in 2020, Yorke made the Sox scouting team look like geniuses in 2021, hitting .333 and .323 at Salem and Greenville, respectively, before a frustrating 2022. Yorke hit only .231 while battling numerous minor injuries. He did return to hit well in the Arizona Fall League (.342/.424/.526, 19 games).
2023: Opening at Portland for the first time, Yorke made a swing change by channeling some Julio Franco vibes this spring, and has gotten on-base at a decent clip while hitting two bombs in ten games.
Here’s a side-on look at Red Sox 2B Nick Yorke’s stance. His timing has been off the last few days, so it was encouraging to see him drive a breaking ball today to the pull side for a HR. pic.twitter.com/Di2tM79U5f— Ian Cundall (@IanCundall) March 22, 2023
Stats: 10 G, 45 PA, .235/.422/.441, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 11 R, 1 SB, 10 BB, 10 K
Matthew Lugo (13)
A second round pick in 2019, Lugo was on the shortstop trail before moving over to third base during the 2022 season at Greenville, finishing the year making a brief appearance at Portland. Injuries and the missed pandemic year lead to a choppy start for Lugo’s path but he broke out with the bat in 2022 hitting .288 with 18 HRs and 78 RBI at Greenville, over 114 games.
2023: Lugo is starting the season in Portland, playing mostly at third base with some DH mixed in. He has six doubles in nine games.
Stats: 9 G, 39 PA, .237/.256/.395, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 6 R, 2 SB, 1 BB, 9 K
Early Riser: Shane Drohan (12)
Drohan was the Red Sox fifth-round pick in a five-round shortened draft in 2020. He had flashed some potential in the last two years, with the key being his change-up becoming an out pitch at Greenville last year to increase his strikeouts (11.6 per 9 in 105 2/3 IP), while still walking too many batters (3.4 per 9). He made it to Portland for five late season starts, with mixed results and likely needed to improve his velocity (88-92) to become a serious rotation consideration.
2023: If any pitcher in the system is making The Leap so far in April, it’s Drohan. Ian Cundall observed significant velocity gains in last week’s appearance, where he sat 92-93 mph (topped at 95), and developing a cutter as a fourth pitch (along with Fastball, Change, Curve). Drohan was named the Eastern League Pitcher of the Week last week, thanks to his two wins and 11 scoreless innings. That roll continued yesterday, with his eight strikeout performance showing the usage of all of his entire filthy pitch mix in this video.
Shane Drohan's afternoon in Portland:— Red Sox Player Development (@RedSoxPlayerDev) April 20, 2023
8 K pic.twitter.com/aiwn90kbV8
Stats: 3 G, 17 IP, 3-0, 3 BB, 19 K, 0.53 ERA, 0.82 WHIP
Other prospects of note in Portland: 1B Niko Kavadas (20), RP Luis Guerrero (25)