Chopping it up with Niko Kavadas and Ceddanne Rafaela
Standing on the Fenway Park field Monday - having just been honored as the best defensive player in the Red Sox' minor-league system for a second straight season - Ceddanne Rafaela's was long on smiles but not so much when it came to words.
The affable outfielder didn't offer too much description when it came six minutes of questions from the assembled media. No matter. As has been the case throughout 2022, Rafaela got the job done.
A video of him launching a home run here. Images of an unbelievable diving catch there. They paint the picture. And, Monday, 18 words did the trick.
"It’s a privilege that they compare me to him but he’s Mookie and I’m Rafaela."
The answer was, of course, in response to the 22-year-old's thoughts on being compared to Mookie Betts. Both came up as undersized infielders who made the seamless transition to outfield. (Although Rafaela was about 20 pounds lighter than Betts when first signed, entering pro ball at just over 130 pounds.) And at the time of their ascensions, they each represented some of best hope for better times ahead for the Red Sox' future.
"I think it’s certainly exciting, but Mookie Betts is Mookie Betts. What he did here, what he continues to do with the Dodgers, is incredible," said Red Sox farm director Brian Abraham. "I think Ceddanne is happy that he’s Ceddanne Rafaela, and he’ll continue to be his own player. I think any time you compare yourself to some of the greater players in the game, it’s pretty special."
"It was unbelievable. I got a little taste of it last year in Salem," said Red Sox minor-league offensive player of the year Niko Kavadas. "I came up and in my very first game, he makes a diving catch towards the line, down the left field line, stands up and throws it all the way across the field to me at first base and hits No. 2 on the Top 10 or something like that. I was just like, 'That kid, he's special.' He's different. He's a really good kid. He's a lot of fun to be around in the locker room. I'm really happy to be able to share this experience with him."
The hype regarding Rafaela hasn't been hard to find, with one longtime coach in the Red Sox system suggesting he is the best prospect he had seen coming up through the organization in the last 20 years.
It's a good start. But understand the end-point doesn't have to be where Betts landed.
If all things continue to trend as they have, Rafaela will see the major leagues at some point in 2023. The righty hitter, who managed an .824 OPS in 71 games at Double-A Portland, will then live towards the bottom of the batting order while adding the next-level defensive piece to the Sox outfield they were dreaming about when acquiring Jackie Bradley Jr.
Then, in 2024, perhaps the path leads Rafaela to the starting center field spot, with Kiké Hernandez living life on a one-year deal next season.
This isn't Rafael Devers. This isn't Xander Bogaerts. This isn't the replacement for J.D. Martinez's bat. And this certainly isn't the answer to no more Mookie. What Rafaela represents is a much-needed step in the right direction when it comes to rebuilding the Red Sox' roster.
While the Sox can feel giddy about the presences of Triston Casas, Brayan Bello, Bryan Mata and even Marcelo Mayer, there aren't a whole lot of immediate solutions to filling in the the major league outfield. After Rafaela, the two best outfield prospects - Miguel Bleis and Roman Anthony - haven't seen their 19th birthday yet.
So, pump the brakes. It's OK if Rafaela isn't Betts. They simply need him to be Rafaela - the soon-to-be useful major league outfielder.