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 Boston Red Sox 40-man roster and identifying a key question for them pertaining to the coming season. 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, at least as things are scheduled right now. Obviously, the lockout may change the timing of the season, and it also means we will likely see more additions of new faces. If need be, we will add some weekend posts to fit any and all additions to the 40-man before Opening Day. You can catch up with every post by following this link. With that, today we cover Eduard Bazardo.
The Question: Will Eduard Bazardo develop a third pitch and take the next step?
Eduard Bazardo is a promising relief prospect who, barring injury, will almost certainly pitch for the Red Sox in some capacity this upcoming season. The righty made his major-league last April after being placed on the 40-man the previous winter to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft, though due to injury it was one of only two appearances with the big league club. In three innings with the Red Sox, the right-handed reliever did not allow a run, with three strikeouts, two walks, and a hit allowed. The 26-year-old bullpen piece is on the older side of the farm system, but has really seen his stock rise following a velocity boost that he showed off in the 2020 Fall Instructs.
Bazardo throws an effective breaking ball and a fastball that now sits in the mid-90s, though came in a bit below that in his brief major-league foray last season. He uses his breaking ball heavily with a 63.5 percent usage rate in his two appearances with the Red Sox. I say breaking ball because the angle of this pitch is so unique that scouts are having a hard time identifying it. For example, Baseball Savant lists the pitch as a slider while FanGraphs calls it a curveball. Regardless, his breaking ball is a plus pitch. It looks like a slider most of the time but he does change angles and get more of an over-the-top spin occasionally.
The righty projects as a middle-inning reliever with some late-inning upside, and while his two-pitch mix may be enough to get by for now, he may need to add a third pitch to take his game to the next level. At present, the 26-year old’s nominal third pitch is a splitter with relatively high velocity but a lack of downward movement which is not enough to differentiate from his fastball. Bazardo had a changeup earlier in his career but has since replaced it with the splitter.
In his two big-league appearances, he did not attempt a third pitch. At this point, all a hitter has to do is identify fastball or breaking ball, which means Bazardo may be having to set himself up for hitters to sit on their favorite of the two and do some damage. If his breaking ball continues to excel at the major-league level, Bazardo could develop his third pitch on the fly, a la Tanner Houck in 2021. It’s just when you only have two pitches, you need both of them to be working pretty much at all times to be effective. Look at Matt Barnes and his late-season fastball woes for evidence of that.
The hope here is that developing his splitter just takes reps and he may very well have his third pitch under control by this point in the offseason. We’ll find out in Spring Training, whenever that may be.
Bazardo’s 2021 season was largely impacted by a right lat strain he suffered on May 18 while pitching at Triple-A Worcester. He was subsequently shut down until August 13 and did not log another inning in the majors. He did, however, make the roster from September 26 to October 3. The only meaningful point that can be made from that is the fact that Bazardo is in fact on the fringe of making the big league club.
Bazardo has always been a strikeout pitcher, with his lowest strikeouts per nine inning mark coming in at 8.6 per nine when he was only 19 years old. Since then, he’s been consistently struck out at least a batter per inning on a rate basis, and despite struggling in a limited sample size in 2021, Bazardo still had a struck out over 9.5 batters per nine in Triple-A with a 21 percent strikeout rate.
Due to the lat injury, Bazardo was limited to three major league innings, four rehab innings with the FCL Red Sox, and 11 1⁄3 innings with the AAA Worcester Red Sox. His baseline 2021 minor league statistics do not jump off the page, going 2-1 with a 6.46 ERA and 3 saves in 15 1⁄3 innings, but his 21:6 strikeout to walk rate is promising, and his season was derailed by an injury that hopefully should not impact his 2022 season.
The right-hander’s last full season was in 2019, where he went 5-2 with a 2.21 ERA in 73.1 IP between High-A and Double-A. He finished 88 strikeouts and only 22 walks with a .206 average against in what was his first full season as a reliever, and he has since added velocity.
When healthy, the hope is that Bazardo should be able to get back to his 2019 form with a harder fastball, high spin rate on his breaking ball, and potentially a third pitch. It’s hard to project his role going into 2022 given the fact that the offseason was put on hold and the Red Sox have not finished constructing their roster, with their bullpen in particular looking incomplete. However, even with multiple additions to the bullpen, the Red Sox will have plenty of room for Bazardo, especially as the season progresses and injuries come into play. He will be given the chance to prove himself in 2022 and an effective third pitch would mightily increase his odds of carving out a role in the Boston Red Sox bullpen.