Scott Barlow plays on a team surrounded by positional uncertainty. With less than three weeks remaining until that team, the KC Royals, opens the season March 30 against Minnesota, he is one of only a few players who know precisely where and how new manager Matt Quatraro will deploy them.
Salvador Perez knows he'll be behind the plate. Brady Singer, Zack Greinke and Jordan Lyles all know they'll be key members of Quatraro's starting rotation, although who'll throw the first pitch of the year remains unannounced. And unless the Royal brass does an unforeseen about-face, Bobby Witt Jr. will be the shortstop.
The rest of the picture isn't so clear. Depending on whether or not Nick Pratto makes the team, Vinnie Pasquantino will be the first baseman or primary DH, Michael Massey is an excellent, but not yet sure, bet at second, and although the club wants Hunter Dozier at third, Maikel Garcia could force the hands of the brass. Also in question is the outfield, where MJ Melendez will start in left or right, Edward Olivares is the likely choice for the position Melendez doesn't play, and recent acquisition Jackie Bradley Jr. could (but likely won't) edge out Kyle Isbel in center.
And then there's the airtight case of Barlow. Not even All-Star closer Aroldis Chapman will take his spot; that might not be the situation on other teams, but Barlow's die is cast for 2023.
He is, without a shadow of a doubt, the closer. That's been his job since 2021 when he displaced Greg Holland from that role during the season and finished with a club-leading 16 saves and a 2.42 ERA. He was even better last year, saving 24 games and lowering his ERA to 2.18.
Will Barlow's success continue this season?
How do FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference see Scott Barlow's KC Royals season?
FanGraphs' projection (Depth Charts version) has Barlow going 4-4 and saving 25 games, but believes his ERA will balloon to 3.67 over 72 games. Baseball-Reference predicts Barlow will end the 2023 campaign 5-4 with a 2.96 ERA season and 13 saves.
How will Scott Barlow actually perform for the KC Royals in 2023?
Barlow will fare far better than FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference project.
Consider first that the Royals, who in 2022 narrowly escaped their third 100-loss season in their last four full seasons, will probably improve and post more victories this year; more wins mean more save opportunities, and with them more saves, for Barlow.
Then consider the lack of signs suggesting Barlow won't pitch well in 2023. Nothing even hints at such a thing. And after pitching a scoreless inning in the Royals' 1-0 win over San Diego Friday, he's 1-0 this spring with a 1.80 ERA and four strikeouts in five innings. He hasn't issued a walk.
Look for Barlow to have a good year and increase his value for arbitration, which he's eligible for when this season ends. While wins and losses are difficult to project for closers, expect him to save at least 30 games. His ERA should remain well under 3.00.