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Ceddanne Rafaela, left, started the 2023 season with the Portland Sea Dogs and made his major league debut with the Red Sox in August. He will try to win a spot on the Opening Day roster in spring training. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — To hear Ceddanne Rafaela talk about baseball is to hear someone speak with joy, appreciation, and an almost childlike sense of wonder, as if he can’t believe he gets to play this game for a living.

All of which makes sense for someone who’s only 23 years old and still a rookie.

Rafaela speaks softly and smiles often, a sharp contrast with the player he is on the field, a confident defender whom evaluators believe can be a perennial Gold Glove center fielder.

But first, he has to make the big-league roster.

In that way, this offseason feels “the same” as the one before, he said in the clubhouse on Friday. “Last year, I had the same mentality, to fight for a spot.”

The difference is the 28 major league games he now has under his belt. After beginning last season in Double-A with the Portland Sea Dogs, he earned a promotion to Triple-A in late June. Almost exactly two months later, he was called up to Boston.


Ceddanne Rafaela, who hit .294 with a .333 on-base percentage and 30 stole bases in 60 games with the Sea Dogs last season, was called up to Triple A in June and made his major league debut in August. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The big-league experience was eye-opening. “One of the best things ever in my life, in my career, and it helped me a lot,” he said. “Showing me how’s the game at the highest level, I think it helps me a lot going into this spring and this season.”

“The game shows you that you have to keep working hard every day,” he added. “Out there, it’s every day, you learn something new.”

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora has spoken at length about Rafaela’s chances at making the Opening Day roster and his potential. “We know the defensive game is elite,” Cora said earlier in the week. “It’s a game-changer.”

The manager is taking the positive reinforcement route as he guides the rookie. “(He) just tells me, keep being me,” Rafaela said. “He’s not putting any pressure on me, so I’m feeling good, have a good relationship with him. He’s one of the best coaches… he’s just telling me, be myself, be the player you are and just keep working hard.”

The true test for Rafaela is the same as it’s always been: plate discipline. He went 20 for 83, including six doubles and a pair of home runs, slashing .241/.281/.386 in the majors last year, but he struck out 28 times and only drew four walks. Almost every player needs time to adjust to the majors, but it was a far cry from his .302/.349/.520 slash over the 108 games he played between Portland and Triple-A Worcester.

After an intense offseason of training, he arrived at camp feeling like a more selective hitter. “Right now, I feel pretty good,” he said. “Feel pretty confident going into the spring.”


When it comes to his defense, he’s self-assured, but not cocky about the projections. “I’m pretty confident in my glove, the work I can do there,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m there, but I work hard every day and I feel like I can win a Gold Glove.”

Center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela blows a bubble as he catches a fly ball while playing for the Portland Sea Dogs on May 27, 2023 at Hadlock Field. Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Rafaela also brings middle infield experience to the table; like Mookie Betts, he moved to the outfield at the Double-A level, and quickly impressed with jaw-dropping catches. Though the Red Sox see him making the roster to play center, he’s still doing infield work “almost every day,” and the defensive versatility could give him a leg up. “It’s a good chance,” he said. “It’s part of my game, it’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple years, and I’m happy with it.”

This game is hard work, especially for someone trying to defend within Fenway Park’s unique outfield dimensions, but it sounds like all play because Rafaela speaks so appreciatively about his craft. “It’s fun to just play defense, it’s fun to make the outfield catch,” he said. “To be the starting center fielder would be really, really, really fun.”

“To be there the Opening Day, first day, to help the team win this year, I mean, that’s big, that’s huge for me, for my career,” he acknowledged. Above all, “just gonna keep working hard, keep being a good teammate, keep going every day out and do my best.”

To improve upon his already impressive defense, Rafaela studies footage of himself and other center fielders. “I really like to see my plays, and the other guys in the business right now,” he said. “Kevin Kiermaier is, for me, one of the best in the game right now. I really like how he goes about it.”

Born in September 2000, Rafaela grew up a Red Sox fan. His favorite player was Manny Ramirez. “I watched Jackie Bradley (Jr.) in center field, and see how good he go about it,” Rafaela said. “Watching all those games helped me.” He also learned a lot from watching Adam Duvall at spring training last year.


The most notable exception to his Red Sox fandom is Andruw Jones. Rafaela idolizes legendary Atlanta Braves center fielder. They both hail from Curaçao, the small Caribbean island near the Venezuelan coast that, along with neighboring Aruba and Bonaire, make up the ABC islands. “Every kid wants to be Andruw Jones in Curaçao,” he said.

During his 12 seasons in Atlanta, Jones won 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards between 1998 and 2007. He played another five seasons before retiring, spending time in Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees uniforms.
He and Rafaela don’t know each other all that well, though Rafaela said they’ve “messaged a couple times.”

“If I had the chance to ask for advice, it would be awesome,” he said, looking starstruck.

What would he ask Jones? Rafaela smiled.

“How he did it.”

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