Red Sox fans can't ignore crucial rookie's offensive turnaround

Ceddanne Rafaela will be an integral part of this Red Sox offense in the future.
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals
Boston Red Sox v St. Louis Cardinals / Dilip Vishwanat/GettyImages

Ceddanne Rafaela is a polarizing player. He's long been touted as an elite defender and, as he worked his way through the Boston Red Sox system, he developed slowly but surely as a hitter. It's taking longer than expected for him to find that level of success in the majors, however, and some fans have grown impatient.

Rafaela hit surprisingly well in Triple-A last year, batting .312/.370/.618 in 219 plate appearances before he was called up to Boston. Despite his struggles to hit for power in the majors, he showed some encouraging signs of development.

The Sox believed in him enough to sign him to an eight-year contract extension in the offseason. It hasn't paid off yet, as he's had mixed results in the first two months of 2024.

On a surface level, his offensive performances haven't been great. He's slashing .211/.239/.387 with a 3.4% walk rate that's in the bottom 5% league-wide. However, the Sox are giving him every opportunity to succeed and he's putting up some encouraging counting stats.

And since this tweet, he's picked up eight more hits and seven RBI, including a two-homer and five-RBI performance in a win over the Tigers on Friday night.

Among major league rookies, Rafaela is in the top five in homers, runs, RBI, and extra-base hits. He's done a good job spraying hits all over the field and there are moments it looks like he's finding a rhythm at the plate.

Ceddanne Rafaela is a critical piece of the Red Sox future

One major issue this year has been the Red Sox's need to play him all over the diamond. Rafaela has primarily split time between center field and shortstop, though he's also been plugged in at second and third base in brief stints.

It's rarely a good thing for a prospect's development to constantly shift their position defensively. Although he's an elite defender up the middle, there's something to be said for consistency and routine for a guy trying to keep his job.

Thankfully for Rafaela and Sox fans, there are enough encouraging signs in the profile to be hopeful about his future. For one, he's crushed four-seamers this season. He's slugging .523 against fastballs and has an above-average 42.3% hard-hit rate against them. He's also made some elite defensive plays and he's a threat to steal and score every time he gets on base.

Rafaela will get everyday playing time for the foreseeable future. He's too important to the Red Sox to limit him to a bench role or send him back down to Triple-A. But thankfully, there's enough to build off to not be concerned about some of the surface-level stuff and be optimistic that he'll be an above-average player moving forward.

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