“I think of Mookie Betts really when I see him,” Fellow Red Sox prospect David Hamilton, a teammate at Double-A Portland, told reporters Monday before Boston’s game against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park.
But to accurately summarize Rafaela’s skill set, one probably should discard the Betts comparison in favor of a current Red Sox player: Kiké Hernández.
That’s obviously not a knock, by any stretch of the imagination. Although Hernández doesn’t quite have Betts’ pedigree, we’re still talking about a very valuable player who’s capable of making a sizable impact both offensively and defensively — at several different positions, no less.
“I think versatility has been a huge piece of what we do here as an organization,” Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham said, according to MassLive’s Christopher Smith. “You see someone like Kiké (Hernández). He plays center field one day and then second base and then even shortstop. And I think that’s how we see Rafaela.
“I think obviously he’s done an amazing job in center field. We see him as a premier defender there. But his ability to play shortstop, too, I think you can’t let that go by the wayside. The ability to play both, I think, are going to be really impactful. More in center field, for sure, but definitely keeping those (starts) at shortstop pretty consistent.”
Rafaela, a native of Curaçao, joined the Boston organization as an international free agent in 2017. At the time, he was viewed as a utility infielder. But he since has added outfield to his résumé, and the Red Sox on Monday named Rafaela their Minor League Defensive Player of the Year for 2022.
Toss in the significant uptick in offensive production, and Rafaela is one of baseball’s most fascinating prospects, further evidenced by him ranking No. 79 on Baseball America’s Top 100 list. MLB Pipeline lists Rafaela as the No. 3 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, trailing only Marcelo Mayer and Triston Casas. It’s possible the 22-year-old reaches the majors as soon as 2023.
“He can do it all,” Hamilton said. “He can hit. He can field. He can run. He can throw. So he’s a great player.”