2: Scott Barlow – Kansas City Royals
All the pitchers on this list so far have had a sort of weird career path that has somehow led to them being great relievers, but Scott Barlow does not have that backstory. He’s had a pretty standard career arc to this point, starting his career as a solid, but not extraordinary, reliever, and turning into a reliable top-tier bullpen arm in the past couple of seasons.
Originally a sixth-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2011 draft, he didn’t make his MLB debut until 2018 with the Royals. In his first three years, he put up a 4.14 ERA over 115.1 innings pitched, which may not sound incredible, but actually produced a 114 ERA+ over that span. Barlow’s big breakout came in 2021 though, where he posted a 2.42 ERA over 72 innings, with 11 Ks per nine. In 2022 he’s continued his high-level play, with a 2.16 ERA through 41.2 innings to this point in the season.
Barlow’s strikeout numbers in 2022 may be down from past seasons (9.1 Ks per nine, down from 11.4 the previous three years combined), but his ability to make batters flail at the ball is top-notch. He currently sits in the 98th percentile amongst MLB pitchers for chase rate, which he’s accomplished by using breaking balls 76% of the time. Barlow’s main pitches are his slider and curveball, both of which have been incredibly effective at producing weak contact and lots of swings and misses this season. He also has a 4-seam fastball that he uses 24% of the time, but this is more out of necessity, given this is by far his least effective pitch.
Barlow’s ability to make batters look silly is something that the current Blue Jays pen doesn’t have a lot of, and he could immediately slot into a setup role for Jordan Romano. He’s also in a perfect situation to be acquired by the Blue Jays right now, since he has two years of club control left after 2022, and the Royals don’t seem to be anywhere near competitive. There’s certainly a chance that they elect to keep him at the deadline, but if the Jays really want him, they should have more than enough to incentivize the Royals to move him.