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One Big Question: Can Eduard Bazardo be Boston’s 2021 surprise?

He should get a chance, at least.

Eduard Bazardo
Kelly O’Connor

Welcome to the annual Over The Monster One Big Question season preview series. Over the next 40(ish) days, we will be running through every player on the 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. This should run us up to the start of the season, at least as it is scheduled now. We will go through the roster in alphabetical order. For the most part, these will run Monday through Friday every week running up to the week before Opening Day, though expect some weekend posts mixed in as well as the 40-man is expected to continue to be altered before the start of the season. You can catch up with every post by following this link. Today we take a look at Eduard Bazardo.

The Question: Can Eduard Bazardo be the most positive surprise on the 2021 Red Sox?

One of the first tasks for the Red Sox this winter was to take care of the prospects that needed to be added to the 40-man roster in November in order to protect them from December’s Rule 5 Draft. That had been on the radar here for a few months at least, as Boston had a handful of prospects that were basically no-brainers. For most of the summer, the assumption was that they’d have to open up six spots for Jay Groome, Connor Wong, Bryan Mata, Connor Seabold, Jeisson Rosario, and Hudson Potts. That’s already a lot of players to add, so there wasn’t much expectation that anyone else would emerge and add themselves to that list. Well, that is until Instructs came along.

For the majority of 2020, prospects didn’t get a chance to show off any strides they may or may not have made, which meant that things like the Rule 5 protection deadline were, for the most part, straight forward. If no one could play, no one could boost their stock enough to put themselves on the Rule 5 map. The only opportunity to do so was Instructs, and even that was a challenge given how relatively short and unorganized (as in they don’t play other teams) they are. You would really have to wow people to make that kind of difference to your stock. Enter: Eduard Bazardo.

At least from the pitching side of things, there is a good argument that Bazardo, a small righty who projects as a middle reliever, was the most impressive player down at Fort Myers this fall. Ian Cundall over at Sox Prospects has a full writeup of his performance down there that you can read, but I’ll cover the gist. And that is that the stuff just jumped up. He’s always been largely a fastball/curveball guy, with the curveball looking like it could be a good and sometimes great pitch while the fastball looked good enough to make him a fringy middle reliever. Then, this fall, he started to consistently get his fastball up in the mid-90s rather than the low-90s, and the curveball was more consistently plus. Cundall reports it being described as “silly.”

Now, that’s the positives there, but it should be tempered with at least something of a reality check lest we think the Red Sox have found their future closer here. This is, again, a relatively unorganized event. He’s not facing totally unfamiliar hitters from other organizations with a coaching staff scouting against him. It’s also a different thing to flash plus stuff in this kind of setting compared to doing so in, say, August after having made 40 appearances through the first four months of the season. That’s certainly not to take away from the performance, but rather to say that the way someone pitches at Instructs isn’t necessarily what we can expect consistently in game action.

But to flip sides again, there is still reason for excitement, and as I alluded to above this performance was indeed enough to get Bazardo added to the 40-man roster this winter. That effectively puts him right on the cusp of the majors, and he should get his chance at some point this summer as long as he holds up his end of the bargain by performing in Triple-A. It’s certainly not a secret that the Red Sox have the potential for some issues in their bullpen. I don’t need to go through the names here among their middle relief depth, but the Cliff Notes is that there is little in the way of guarantee there. Between injury potential, particularly this season after such a weird 2020, and the chances of underperformance from less-than-stellar options ahead of him on the depth chart, the Red Sox will be dipping into their depth.

And thus Bazardo has a chance to emerge as a stalwart in this bullpen. Again, I’m not going to say he’ll be the closer by the end of the season. That’s taking it too far. But there is reason to be optimistic about him in particular among all of the other depth options. Obviously, a lot of it comes down to that Instructs performance. A lot of times I take those kinds of reports with a grain of salt because obviously the organization will want to pump up their own players. However, that they actually put him on the 40-man lends more credence to the reports and is a form of them putting their money where their mouth is.

And even looking beyond that, the profile for Bazardo is one with which the Red Sox has had success. Boston doesn’t have much to brag about with their pitching development, but getting the most out of fastball/curveball relievers has been a success in the past. Matt Barnes is polarizing, but he’s been a late-inning reliever with elite level strikeout rates. Brandon Workman was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019 thanks to this arsenal. I’m not necessarily going to make a habit out of betting on this organization to develop any pitcher to their fullest potential, but if there is one profile with which I would make an exception, it would probably be a reliever with a solid fastball and plus curveball.

Bazardo is unlikely to start the year in the majors, particularly given that he hasn’t yet pitched above Double-A. I would expect him to start the year in Worcester, and the plan at least would likely be for him to spend a couple of months there at minimum. But again, the mid-tier depth of bullpen help is not exactly noteworthy, and if he pushes the issue he could get his chance. And whether it comes in May or August or somewhere in between, I fully expect that chance to come. It remains to be seen how well that stuff from Instructs will translate into mid-summer after months of throwing, but if it sticks around Bazardo has a real chance to emerge as a long-term piece in this bullpen, a far cry from where he was even as recently as last September.