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 Brayan Bello.
The Question: Can Brayan Bello more consistently rein in his command?
In terms of breakout prospects in the Red Sox farm system last season, Nick Yorke takes all of the headlines for his quick ascension up both Boston’s organizational rankings as well as national top 100 rankings. All of that is well deserved, of course, as the young infielder is now a top 50 prospect in the game by multiple evaluators, and that’s only one full season into his career. But even given how well deserved all of those accolades are, he was not the only major breakout in the system. In fact, over the first half of the season I think it’s fair to say Brayan Bello was considered the bigger breakout, culminating in his selection to the Futures Game. Fast forward to now and he’s fresh off a ranking on Keith Law’s top 100.
If we go back to the start of last season before any pitches were thrown in minor-league action, Bello was one of the most intriguing arms in the entire system, but more in a sleeper sense than for a true top prospect. The righty showed some real promise in his pro debut down in the DSL in 2018, and then followed that up with a 2019 that proved to be a rollercoaster. At times, he looked like a guy who would soon be on top 100 lists and considered one of, if not the, best pitching prospects in the system. But at other points, he looked like he might not make it to Triple-A, never mind the majors.
So there were a lot of questions about what we were going to see from the righty in 2021, especially given the difficulties the Red Sox seemingly have had in getting the most out of their pitchers. Of course we know now, Bello mostly shoved. Splitting the year between High-A Greenville and Double-A Portland, the righty made 21 starts covering 95 1⁄3 innings, pitching to a 3.87 ERA with 132 strikeouts and 31 walks.
It’s evident just from those numbers alone that there is just a whole lot to like about what the 22-year-old (2022 will be his age-23 season) has to offer. Bello has huge stuff that leads to massive strikeout rates (well over 30 percent on the year in 2021) along with walk rates that have come in at average or better throughout his professional career. Most scouts who have seen him are confident in him developing three major-league quality pitchers with his four-seam, changeup, and slider, and he’s working on a two-seam that could add another dimension to his repertoire. All of that put together gives him a realistic ceiling of a mid-rotation starter. With that kind of projection at a young age, already on the 40-man and having pitched in Double-A, it’s not a mystery why his stock is rising at a rapid pace.
That said, there are still some questions. Some of that is around his size, as Bello is a bit on the smaller side and has some extra effort in his delivery with long arm action. It remains to be seen whether or not he’ll be able to hold up with a starter’s workload, though that’s obviously something that is tough to predict. But alongside the arm issues, there are still some questions around whether or not the young righty will be able to command his pitches consistently enough to reach that mid-rotation starter status.
Everyone knows that you can’t just get by with stuff alone, especially as a starter. Baseball history is littered with enticing young pitchers with eye-popping stuff who just couldn’t control where the baseball was going often enough and their careers flamed out before it got started. Bello undoubtedly as the stuff, and he has the potential to command the baseball well enough to excel. We’ve seen it, but we’ve seen it wax and wane. You can get away with some of that inconsistency in the minors against less experienced pitchers, but once you move up the ladder that becomes more and more difficult. And sure enough, Bello struggled a lot more after going up to Double-A, with his ERA jumping more than two runs and his walk rate jumping from 5.7 percent to 8.6 percent.
Here, it is the fastball in particular where the command is most important. That’s obviously not to say his command is perfect with the other pitches, nor does it mean they’re not important, but the fastball is the key here with Bello. Even if it’s not necessarily his best pitch (that’s probably his changeup) as a starter he’ll more than likely be working off his fastball most often. When the pitch is properly located, he throws it hard enough that it is an effective offering. That said, it’s also a bit straighter than you’d probably like (which is why the development of his two-seam could prove to be just as important as four-seam command).
That, along with the aforementioned long arm action which allows hitters to get a better read on the pitch (per Baseball America), the pitch can hit hard at times. In today’s era of baseball, it is not nearly enough for a pitcher to simply throw hard, as just about every major-league hitter is capable of handling high velocity if it’s both straight and thrown in a hittable part of the zone. Bello really needs to get that fastball consistently at the top of the zone or just about it, at which point his fastball and slider play off the heat masterfully and he can look like that upper level prospect that he is forming into.
The potential for Bello is not something we’ve seen from a whole lot of pitchers in recent Red Sox history and gives them much-needed upside on their rotation depth chart. Having been placed on the 40-man earlier this winter, the countdown is on for him to make his mark in the majors. But before he gets to that point, he needs to prove he can command his fastball on a regular basis. If he can’t, there might be too much hard contact for him to thrive at the highest level, especially as a starter. But if he can as he started to do more often in 2021, then the sky is the limit.