Not all offseason depth signings come with a career 140 ERA+, significant experience in high leverage situations, and the potential for untapped growth that comes with being on the right side of 30.
Not all offseason depth signings are Joe Barlow.
Originally from the suburb of Riverton, Utah, Barlow grew up hundreds of miles from his nearest major league ballpark. Despite the local television stations regularly broadcasting Colorado Rockies games, he grew up rooting for a dynamic Atlanta Braves ball club.
“My Dad was a Rockies fan because we got all their games,” Barlow says, “but my team was the Braves. I would play them against my brothers on MVP Baseball 2005, and I fell in love with that team, with Chipper and Andruw Jones.”
Barlow, 28, signed a minor league deal with the White Sox on January 15 that includes an invite to big league camp. He will be competing for a spot in a revamped and fluid Pale Hose bullpen that has suffered the losses of both Gregory Santos and Aaron Bummer to trades, and fan favorite Liam Hendriks to free agency. While new additions Tim Hill and John Brebbia are likely guaranteed roster spots heading to Opening Day, there remains space for a tried-and-true leverage reliever like Barlow in this new-look bullpen.
In order to secure a spot in the pen, however, Barlow will need to find consistency that eluded him last year. In 13 games spanning 9 2⁄3 innings, the veteran righthander pitched to a 4.66 ERA while sporting surprisingly unflattering peripheral statistics, such as a 5.32 FIP, that were out of line with his career norms.
Despite those concerning figures, Barlow’s arsenal has remained surprisingly consistent. His trademark slider (a pitch he throws around 60% of the time) misses bats consistently and serves as his primary putaway pitch. His four-seam fastball, which he goes to between 30-35% of the time, grades out as elite in terms of perceived vertical ride and spin. Barlow’s four seamer has ranked in the Top 15 in Statcast’s vertical movement leaderboard in each of the past three seasons. “When it comes to my four-seam fastball, the biggest thing is throwing it in the correct part of the zone and in the right counts,” Barlow says. “Doing so allows it to play off of my slide and for my slider to play off of my fastball.”
In addition to his aforementioned slider/fastball combination Barlow throws an ever-so-occasional curveball that sits in the upper 70’s-low 80’s, and has toyed with the possibility of adding a split-finger offering to his arsenal. But thoughts of Barlow adding a fourth pitch have been shelved for now: “I pretty much bagged it for the time being. [I’m] deciding on just trying to focus on getting my velo up to work on getting back to my 2021-22 self.”
Indeed, a dip in velocity coincided with Barlow’s struggles in 2023. His fastball clocked in at nearly two mph slower than in 2022. Is recovering lost velocity is simply a matter of strength and conditioning?
“Strength and conditioning can be [the solution] in some cases, but for me I think it’s moreso slowing down my delivery a bit to get it synced back up so that I can repeat it and take it into the game,” he says. “I also think it’s being loose and allowing your body to do what it does without trying too hard or moving too fast.”
If Barlow regains the consistency he’s been working to attain and breaks camp with the big-league club going into 2024, it will be his first season pitching in a uniform other than the Texas Rangers’ trademark red, white, and blue threads. Across three years in Texas, he’s pitched to a 3.05 ERA in 73 2⁄3 innings, earning 24 saves during that time. If even a portion of that success translates to the South Side, he could be one of the most impactful acquisitions Chris Getz & Co. have made this offseason.