There's a range of outcomes between Jonathan Papelbon and Abe Alvarez, and where Brayan Bello falls on that spectrum could influence the fate of the 2022 Red Sox.
Papelbon you obviously remember. He arrived in July of 2005 as a spot starter and quickly transitioned to the bullpen, where he became a weapon essential to securing the wild card. A year later, he was an All-Star closer who'd soon Riverdance his way into our hearts.
Alvarez you probably need a refresher on. He entered the 2004 season as Boston's top pitching prospect, one spot ahead of a young left-hander named Jon Lester. The lefty out of Long Beach State only threw about 88 mph and was blind in one eye, but he had an advanced feel for pitching, so the story went.
The Red Sox summoned him in July of 2004 to start the opener of a doubleheader vs. the Orioles. It took exactly four batters for All-Star shortstop Miguel Tejada to dent the Coke bottles in left field and that was pretty much the end of that. Alvarez appeared in only three more games over the next two years and retired with an 11.32 ERA.
Bello (pronounced BAY-oh) will chart his own course starting Wednesday vs. the Rays. With the starting staff suddenly beset by injuries, the Red Sox are summoning Bello probably a little sooner than they'd like, but not by much. He opened the season as Boston's No. 5 prospect and has rocketed into Baseball America's top 50 with a tremendous campaign.
Bello is the rare Red Sox arm who arrives without being a longtime household name. We knew Lester from the day he was drafted in 2002. Papelbon raced through the system. Clay Buchholz was Baseball America's No. 4 overall prospect.
By comparison, Bello owes his place atop the prospect rankings in part to Tommy John surgery, which felled the more highly regarded Bryan Mata and Thaddeus Ward last spring, when Bello also ranked behind Tanner Houck and Jay Groome.
He has flown mostly under the radar since signing out of the Dominican Republic for just $28,000 in 2017, when he weighed about 130 pounds. He didn't land on the average fan's radar until dominating his first six starts at Double-A Portland this spring, going 4-2 with a 1.60 ERA, and then continuing his ascent at Triple-A Worcester, where he struck out 72 in 51.1 innings.
Now he's here as part of a youth brigade that is propping up the rotation with injuries to Nathan Eovaldi, Garrett Whitlock, Rich Hill, and now Michael Wacha. That's fourth-fifths of the rotation, but they've been effectively replaced by Josh Winckowski, Kutter Crawford, and to a lesser extent Connor Seabold, with Bello's turn coming on Wednesday.
Listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds, the 23-year-old Bello features a fastball that regularly reaches 100 mph and lives in the upper 90s. He pairs it with a changeup he learned from former All-Star closer Fernando Rodney, per MassLive, as well as a slider. He has worked with Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez at the team's Dominican academy, and has averaged more than 12 strikeouts per nine innings since 2021.
There's an opportunity for Bello to make more than one start. While veteran Chris Sale also pitches Wednesday at Worcester and should return shortly, Eovaldi still hasn't started a rehab assignment, Whitlock has already been told he's headed back to the bullpen, Hill is on the injured list with a knee sprain, and Wacha could easily be shut down with a dead arm.
That means Bello may get a longer look out of necessity. Papelbon took that opportunity more than 15 years ago and never looked back. We'll see if Bello does the same.