Eduard Bazardo tosses scoreless inning, picks up first career strikeout in major-league debut for Red Sox: ‘For us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, he will be a factor during the season,’ Alex Cora says

Lost in the shuffle of the Red Sox sweeping their doubleheader against the Twins and extending their winning streak to nine consecutive games on Wednesday was Eduard Bazardo making his major-league debut.

The 25-year-old right-hander was called up by Boston from the alternate training site to serve as the team’s 27th man in Wednesday’s twin bill.

After not making an appearance in Game 1, Bazardo was called upon to work the seventh and final inning — a point in which the Sox already had a 7-1 lead, making for a low-leverage, low-pressure outing — of Game 2.

Bazardo, donning rec specs, high socks, and the No. 83, faced five Twins hitters in total; walking two, striking out one, and getting two more to ground out.

All in all, the Venezuelan hurler needed 24 pitches — 15 of which were strikes — to work a scoreless bottom half of the seventh and lock down the 7-1 victory for his side.

Of those 24 pitches, 11 were sliders, nine were four-seam fastballs, and four were curveballs. He induced four swings-and-misses with his slider while also sitting at 93-95 mph with his heater.

Though Bazardo was ultimately and unsurprisingly sent back down to the alternate training site in Worcester following Wednesday’s action, Red Sox manager Alex Cora seemed optimistic that this will not be the last time he sees the 6-foot, 190 pound hurler pitching for the Sox this season.

“I think throughout the season, this guy, he’ll help us,” Cora said of the young righty Wednesday morning. “Good fastball. The best breaking ball. Everybody talks about it in the organization, right? A strike thrower. A strike-throwing machine. He’s not afraid. He attacks the strike zone with good stuff. He impressed a lot of people last year. He impressed me in spring training. … For us to accomplish what we’re trying to accomplish, he will be a factor during the season.”

Bazardo, who does not turn 26 until September, was added to the Sox’ 40-man roster last November on the strength of an impressive showing at the team’s fall instructional league in Fort Myers.

He is currently regarded by MLB Pipeline as the 28th-ranked prospect in Boston’s farm system.

(Picture of Eduard Bazardo: David Berding/Getty Images)

Red Sox sign former Rays minor-league right-hander Daniel Santana to minor-league deal

The Red Sox have signed free-agent right-hander Daniel Santana to a minor-league contract for the 2021 season, per MLB.com’s transaction wire.

Santana, who turns 23 next month, was originally signed by the Tampa Bay Rays as an international free-agent out of Venezuela in July 2016.

Listed at 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds, Santana has never pitched above the rookie-league level.

In 35 appearances (18 starts) between the Dominican Summer League Rays and Gulf Coast League Rays from 2017-2019, the young righty posted a 3.64 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP, and a 65:42 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 108 2/3 total innings of work.

He was one of 25 Rays minor-leaguers to be released by the organization last May when clubs were dealing with the initial financial constraints that came as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

There is not much information out there on Santana outside of this, but he is the second Daniel E. Santana the Red Sox have signed to a minor-league deal this month, as he joins the likes of the former Twins, Braves, and Rangers utilityman.

(Picture of Fenway Park: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)

Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata has slight tear in his UCL

The MRI Red Sox pitching prospect Bryan Mata underwent on Thursday revealed a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, manager Alex Cora announced Saturday morning.

Mata, 21, was originally slated to pitch in Wednesday’s Grapefruit League contest against the Twins, but was ultimately scratched from that appearance due to soreness behind his right triceps.

After undergoing that aforementioned MRI the following day, it turns out that Mata has a slightly torn UCL. The Red Sox will try to treat the ailment without surgery for the time being.

“Unfortunately with Bryan, he has a slight tear in his UCL,” Cora told reporters earlier Saturday. “So we’re going to shut him down. The way we’re going to go with him is going to be treatment. The doctors and the physicians feel that it’s small enough that with treatment and doing that, he should be fine.”

A fiery right-hander out of Venezuela, Mata came into spring training as the top pitching prospect — and the No. 4 overall prospect — in the Red Sox farm system according to Baseball America.

There is currently no timetable set for his return, but it would appear that the Sox have already created a roadmap of sorts for their young hurler.

“There’s no timetable,” said Cora. “There’s going to be a few checkpoints throughout the process, and if he’s disciplined and follows everything that we are set to do, the hope is for him to come back.”

Boston originally signed Mata out of Venezuela for just $25,000 back in early 2016. Since making his pro debut later that year, the 6-foot-3, 238 lb. righty has compiled a 3.40 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over 69 career starts spanning 315 innings pitched across four minor-league levels.

With there being no minor-league season in 2020 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and all, Mata spent time at both the Sox’ alternate training site in Pawtucket and fall instructional league in Fort Myers last year. He was added to the club’s 40-man roster in November.

Given how he has risen through the prospect ranks, it appeared that Mata was primed to make his big-league debut at some point this season, but that may now have to wait due to this unexpected hurdle.

“As you guys know, he’s very important for us,” said Cora. “It’s a tough one, but at the same time we do believe that he’s going to bounce back and he’s going to be OK.”

Per his SoxProspects.com scouting report, Mata’s pitch mix consists of a high-octane fastball, a curveball, a slider, and a changeup. His fastball sat between 96-97 mph at the alternate site over the summer and tops out at 100 mph.

“Obviously we have to be patient and see how he reacts,” Cora said in regards to Mata’s road to recovery. ““When you start talking about the UCL, obviously it’s something that we don’t feel comfortable, of course, because it’s the UCL. We’ve just got to be patient. And he has to be patient. He’s young enough that probably everything’s going fast for him right now. But he’s mature enough, too, to understand that these things happen over the course of your career. He did an amazing job in the offseason to get in shape and get his arm where it’s supposed to be. It’s an obstacle in his career. But we do feel like he’s going to bounce back and he’s going to be OK.”

(Picture of Bryan Mata: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

Why 2021 could prove to be pivotal year for Red Sox infield prospect Antoni Flores

In the summer of 2017, the Red Sox made infielder Antoni Flores one of their top priorities, as they signed the Venezuelan prospect for a hefty sum of $1,400,000 that July, which would go on to make him the third-highest paid international addition of that particular signing class for Boston.

Flores initially rewarded the Sox for their investment in him the following year in both the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.

Over 15 total games and 57 total plate appearances between the two affiliates, the young infielder, primarily playing shortstop, went 18-for-53 (.340) at the plate to go along with one home run and 14 RBI.

The reason Flores only managed to play in 15 games, in 2018 was due to the fact that he missed six weeks of action from mid-June until late July due to “general soreness.”

Upon returning and getting promoted from the DSL to GCL, Flores played in just two games before pulling his hamstring in early August, which wound wind up costing him the rest of the season.

The fact Flores was able to put on an impressive showing at the Red Sox’ fall instructional league that year in the wake of suffering that hamstring injury was certainly encouraging, but more red flags arose in 2019.

Entering the year regarded by SoxProspects.com as Boston’s No. 7 prospect, Flores struggled mightily in his first exposure to non-rookie-league baseball in the United States.

Playing in 55 games for the short-season Lowell Spinners, the then-18-year-old posted a dismal .193/.293/.227 slash line over 208 plate appearances while striking out 28.4% of the time. He also committed 10 errors in 410 defensive innings at shortstop, which would signal a transition to second base.

According to SoxProspects‘ director of scouting Ian Cundall, “scouts really soured on Flores” following his first full professional season, “as he showed a poor approach and limited offensive ability while simultaneously struggling in the field.”

Unfortunately, Flores would not get the chance to bounce back in a traditional manner in 2020, as the minor-league season was cancelled in June due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, Flores, like most other Red Sox minor-leaguers, had to wait until the 2020 installment of fall instructs to try to continue on with their development.

Alas, a long break from organized baseball did the right-handed hitter no favors, as he continued to underwhelm in Fort Myers this past fall.

Per Cundall, Flores, now 20 years old, “again struggled and now seems to have moved to second base primarily. The athleticism he showed in the Fall Instructional League in 2018 is gone, and his speed has regressed to the point where he was consistently timed at 4.6 seconds down the line, which is a 20 on the 20-80 scouting scale.”

FanGraphs‘ Eric Longenhagen added on to this, writing last month that though he wished Flores’ disappointing 2019 was more of an outlier, it may have very well been the start of a negative trend.

“Flores was generating Willy Adames comps during the Fall of 2018, and has since regressed physically and technically,” Longenhagen wrote. “He no longer looks athletically capable of playing the middle infield and has continued to struggle with the bat.”

While Longenhagen still has Flores as his No. 43 prospect in the Red Sox farm system, he notes that “he’s in danger of slipping off the list entirely next year unless he performs statistically and looks more athletic early in the year.” 

SoxProspects projects Flores, who does not turn 21 until October, will start the 2021 minor-league season with Low-A Salem.

Before the 2021 season begins, though, there is still the minor-league portion of spring training — which will likely start later than usual this year — to look forward to.

Between the time fall instructs ended and the time in which minor-league spring training eventually starts up, it appears as though the Sox have given Flores some homework to do.

“Antoni has been working on his agility and quickness a lot this offseason,” Red Sox assistant general manager Eddie Romero, who played a significant role in Flores signing with the organization, told BloggingtheRedSox.com via email. “He’s made a lot of strides in the past few months, so we’re looking forward to seeing him in spring training.”

On that note, 2021 could prove to be a monumental year for Flores in terms of development and career trajectory.

Not only is the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. infielder looking to buck the trend that has seen his stock take a hit in recent years, but he is also Rule 5 eligible for the first time come December.

If he were to make an impact with Salem, or whichever affiliate he played with this year, Flores could be added to the Sox’ 40-man roster if Boston believes in his potential enough to not want to see him scooped up by another club.

If Flores were not to be added, which does seem unlikely at this point given the fact that other prospects such as Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs, Thad Ward, and Gilberto Jimenez will be in need of protection, then as previously mentioned, an opposing team could pick him up if they felt he was ready to make an impact at the major-league level.

That, too, seems unlikely, but there’s a reason why Flores was once considered one of the top prospects in the Sox’ farm system. The talent is still there somewhere, and so is a relatively high ceiling given his age.

Having written all that, it’s fair to say that 2021 could be a ‘make-or-break’ type year for Flores. We will have to wait and see how he performs.

(Picture of Antoni Flores: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda takes home Venezuelan winter ball Rookie of the Year honors

Red Sox catching prospect Jhonny Pereda took home Rookie of the Year honors in the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League Saturday night.

The 24-year-old, playing for Leones del Caracas, slashed an impressive .338/.421/.421 to go along with one home run and 16 RBI over 39 games and 153 plate appearances this season, which ended on January 10.

He also threw out six of a possible 13 runners on the base paths, which translates to a 46% success rate.

Pereda received 37 of 50 possible first-place votes in the league’s MVP race while also finishing with 205 voting points, 105 more than the runner-up.

“This makes me very happy because last year was a strong year because of the virus. There were no minor-leagues and that affected many players, both me and many, because there was no season,” Pereda said (in Spanish) of winning the award. “But I kept working to come to Venezuela. Thank God and Leones, who gave me the opportunity to play here.”

The Red Sox originally acquired Pereda from the Cubs back in March as the player to be named later in a January trade that involved right-hander Travis Lakins.

The club briefly released the Venezuelan from his contract on July 15 only to re-sign him to a two-year minor-league deal on July 17 and promptly add him to their 60-man player pool. He would go on to spend the rest of the summer at the alternate training site in Pawtucket.

After baseball activities ended at the alternate training site in late September, Pereda did not attend the Red Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers, but he did receive an invite to major-league spring training in December.

In addition to his catching abilities that netted him a minor-league Gold Glove Award in 2019, the right-handed hitting backstop can play a little first base as well, as evidenced by what he did this winter.

Going into spring training next month, Pereda should figure to be an intriguing component of the Red Sox’ catching depth equation given the fact Deivy Grullon was lost on a waiver claim by the Cincinnati Reds in December.

As of this writing, the 6-foot-1, 202 lb. catcher is Boston’s top backstop not included on their 40-man roster, according to SoxProspects.com’s depth charts.

Pereda, along with fellow catching prospect Connor Wong, is expected to begin the 2021 minor-league season with Triple-A Pawtucket.

“I know that this season here in Venezuela will help me. It gave me many experiences that I will put into practice in the training field,” said Pereda (in Spanish) of his time in his home country. “I played with a very experienced team. I had teammates who have played in the major-leagues, who have been in pro ball for many years and I always tried to listen to what they talked about baseball, and those little details that can help me.”

(Picture of Jhonny Pereda: Kelly O’Connor/sittingstill.smugmug.com)

Red Sox prospect Brainer Bonaci ‘showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability’ at fall instructs

Brainer Bonaci has been a professional baseball player for just over two years and he doesn’t turn 19 years old until next July, but he is already looking like one of the more exciting young infielders in the Red Sox’ minor-league pipeline.

The 18-year-old shortstop is coming off an impressive showing at the Sox’ fall instructional league in Fort Myers. According to SoxProspects’ Ian Cundall, Bonaci “looked the best of the young shortstops [at fall instructs] and showed a solid blend of instincts and physical ability. He has a plus arm and both his glove and hit tool showed average potential.”

Signed out of Venezuela by Manny Padron and Eddie Romero for $290,000 on his 16th birthday in 2018, Bonaci is starting to get some legitimate attention thanks to what he did this fall.

Had there been a minor-league season in 2020, Bonaci likely would have began the year with the Gulf Coast League Red Sox. Instead, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, he was limited in what he could do until October, when fall instructs began.

In his only organized action as a minor-leaguer thus far, the 5-foot-10 switch-hitter posted a solid .279/.356/.379 slash line (111 wRC+) to go along with three home runs, 37 RBI, and 18 stolen bases over 61 games played for the Dominican Summer League Red Sox last year.

Because he is still only 18 years old, Bonaci still has plenty of room to grow physically and developmentally. That said, there’s still reason to be excited about his potential, and SoxProspects’ latest prospect rankings reflect that.

Yes, Bonaci is now the No. 14 prospect in Boston’s farm system according to SoxProspects, good for the fifth highest ranking among infielders after Triston Casas, Jeter Downs, Bobby Dalbec, and Nick Yorke.

Going back to April 1, Bonaci was regarded by SoxProspects as the club’s 20th-ranked prospect, so it is clear he is trending in the right direction. And with Dalbec set to graduate from his prospect status next season, it’s safe to assume Bonaci will only continue to rise through the prospect ranks in 2021.

If we look even further ahead, Bonaci will become Rule 5 eligible for the first time in late 2022, so it’s not like he is too far out from garnering 40-man roster consideration as his development continues.