Johnny Barbato: Breaking and Entering

You would think a fractured hand and toe would make opening doors more difficult, however the latest rash of injuries to New York Yankee pitchers, Andrew Miller and Bryan Mitchell, have kicked the bullpen door wide open for right-hander Johnny Barbato.

Going into the spring, many rated the Yankees bullpen as possibly the best ever assembled. That was before newly acquired closer  Aroldis Chapman was hit with a 30-game suspension by Major League Baseball for his domestic abuse case, and way before left-hander Andrew Miller and right-hander Bryan Mitchell, fractured a right hand and left big toe, respectively.

Mitchell is set to miss three months while Miller has openly proclaimed that he will pitch through the chip fracture in his right non-throwing hand. In Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins, Miller pitched to three batters and walked one and struck out one which is an encouraging sign for the Yankees bullpen.

Even more encouraging for the bullpen outside of the “big-three,” Chapman, Miller, and Betances, is a 23 year-old right-hander named Johnny Barbato, who will be heading north with the big league club to open the season.

The Yankees announced on Thursday, March 31, that Barbato had earned a spot on the opening day roster after compiling an impressive resume this spring. In ten relief appearances in Grapefruit League action, the right-hander threw 10.1 innings and posted a 1.74 ERA  and 0.77 WHIP while limiting batters to seven hits and one walk to go along with 12 strikeouts.

Those numbers alone were probably enough to earn the right-hander a spot in the Yankees bullpen, even if Miller and Mitchell had not suffered injuries, however, Barbato’s strong spring also earned him the 2016 James P. Dawson Award, which is given annually to an outstanding rookie in Spring Training.

When asked about making the team and earning the award, Barbato said, “It’s surreal, honestly. I’ve been working hard for six years for this.

Barbato was acquired from the Padres for right-hander Shawn Kelley, in the 2014 offseason, when the hard-throwing 23 year-old’s future was not so certain. Shutdown on June 10, 2014, due to elbow injury, Barbato ended up missing the rest of the season.

Although Barbato faced the possibility of undergoing Tommy John surgery when the Yankees made the trade to acquire him as tweeted by YES Network’s Jack Curry, the Yankees still took a chance on the righty.

The Yankees faith in Barbato has paid off so far. In 2015, Barbato finished with a combined 67.1 innings pitched across two minor league levels while producing a 2.67 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 70 strikeouts, and a .228 BAA. Even more impressive was Barbato’s 25 innings pitched at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, where he dominated batters to the tune of a 0.36 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 26 strikeouts and a .159 BAA. That body of work in 2015 is what made Barbato an intriguing name coming into camp, but it was his performance this spring that earned him a spot on the big league club to start the new season.

If Barbato parlays his most recent success into a productive regular season for the Yankees, bridging the gap to Betances, Miller, and Chapman, when he returns, will simply be a formality.

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