As we wait for the world to return to normal and baseball to resume, here is a look at what could be in store for Nate Pearson, the Blue Jays’ top prospect.
Nate Pearson was drafted in 2017 by the Blue Jays, with the 28th pick that they received as compensation for losing Edwin Encarnación to free agency.
Encarnacion had been a big part of Toronto’s playoff runs in 2015 and 2016. Many Jays fans were very disappointed to lose him. Before too long though, the fan base learned about Pearson and his considerable upside.
Pearson’s pro career began later in 2017 with the Vancouver Canadians in low A ball. He posted eye popping numbers in 7 games. In 19 innings his era was 0.95. He surrendered 6 hits and 5 walks against 24 strikeouts for a whip of 0.579!
Pearson was slated to start 2018 at high A ball with Dunedin. After an oblique injury sidelined him for a month, he was hit in the elbow with a line drive in his first game back. He did come back and pitch in six games in the Arizona Fall League later in 2018.
2019 saw Pearson back to his dominant self in making stops at advanced A, AA, then finishing the season at AAA. Overall he had a 2.30 era in 101.2 innings pitched. He gave up 63 hits, 27 walks and struck out 119 batters.
Had he stayed healthy in 2018, his rapid rise through the minors may have happened a year earlier. Maybe he would have made his MLB debut in 2019. We will never know for certain.
Fangraphs already rates three of his pitches as above MLB average, with a chance to add a fourth in his curveball. His slider and change up are above average but it’s his 80 grade fastball that he is best known for.
He has often been clocked in triple digits, reaching as high a 104 MPH. His tools and MiLB success have Jays fans eager to see him pitch for Toronto.
Spring training 2000. The 23 year old RHP is Toronto’s number 1 prospect, ranked 8th in all of MLB. He was again dominant in Grapefruit League play. He pitched 7 innings in 4 games with a 1.29 era. He gave up 2 hits and 3 walks while striking out 11. Wide speculation was that he would start the 2020 season at AAA and likely make his MLB debut later that season.
While some Jays fans may believe that was to manipulate his service time, there are legitimate developmental reasons for him to get a bit more seasoning at MiLB’s highest level. He has only pitched in three career games at AAA. You don’t want to hold him back but you also don’t want to jeopardize a special young talent by rushing him to MLB before he is completely ready.
But then spring training was shut down and the regular season delayed indefinitely. Everything changed.
Fast forward to late April. Still no definite plan to play MLB in 2020. Ideas have been discussed though. One plan would have all 30 teams play in Arizona, in relative isolation to avoid exposure to COVID 19. Another similar idea would have half the teams in Arizona and the other half in Florida. Similar to spring training.
It will be very tricky for baseball to pull off a plan such as those mentioned above safely. To try to do so and have at least one minor league affiliate per organization also playing somewhere might be impossible.
If they could somehow do both – say MLB in Arizona and MiLB in Florida or California then presumably the Jays would stick to plan A regarding Pearson. He would start the season in the minors, likely to be called up at some point later in 2020.
If they can play MLB but not MiLB then some decisions would need to be made.
Without the usual farm system to be able to draw from when players get injured or underperform, MLB may decide to use a larger active roster for the 2020 season, to ensure teams can stay healthy and competitive. Pearson is not currently on Toronto’s 40 man roster, if they want him in the majors, someone would need to be removed.
Then there is the aforementioned concern about not rushing him to MLB before they are sure he is ready. They could manage his usage very carefully at first in lower leverage situations, then consider more meaningful innings later on, assuming he is successful.
It would be very unfortunate for all minor league players if their 2020 season were to be cancelled, thereby costing them a year of their development. Realistically though, many of those players have little or no chance of ever making it to MLB, let alone being successful there. When it comes to Nate Pearson, the Jays need to do everything they can to give him the best chance to succeed.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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