Barbato, 25, was originally drafted in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB draft by the Padres. He spent 2017 split between the Pirates and Yankees. He spent most of the year at Triple-A, eventually throwing 28.2 innings with the Pirates.
Barbato’s 4.08 ERA wasn’t bad, but his 5.46 FIP and 5.65 BB/9 are definite red flags going forward.
It’s worth pointing out that Barbato did not have control issues in the minor leagues, and his 94 mph fastball and 11.3% swinging strike rate are both solid. So the small 28 inning sample size from last year is not worth getting too worked up about.
Looking at spring training, Barbato has had a better spring than Saupold. However, he still has some kinks to iron out. In 8.2 innings, Barbato has given up four runs, including two home runs. Plus, his 7/5 K/BB ratio is a concern. If Barbato cannot limit his walks, he will not stick around in the big leagues.
Barbato is three years younger than Saupold, which could give him the upper hand on the last bullpen spot. Saupold has had more big league success (87 ERA+ in 72.1 innings, compared to Barbato’s 84 ERA+ in 41.2 innings) but the difference is minor.
With both players still harboring minor league options, manager Ron Gardenhire has a tough decision to make this week.
All told, the roster spot will likely go to Saupold. The Tigers can hope that he regains his first-half form and limits his arm fatigue. Barbato and a handful of others (including Bell and Hardy) will get plenty of chances to pitch for the Detroit Tigers in 2018.