Although the season might be lost, there is something to be hopeful about for the Blue Jays and their fans: youth.
The offence is already there with 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and 21-year-old Bo Bichette leading the charge. The next challenge for the team is to fill out their defence, and that begins with starting pitching.
Enter Nate Pearson.
The 6-foot-6 right-hander was drafted in 2017 at 28th overall and so far, he’s lived up to the hype. In 2019, Pearson pitched at three minor league levels; starting at single-A and finishing the year with the triple-A Buffalo Bisons.
The bulk of his work came with the double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats as Pearson took the mound 16 times, posting an impressive 2.59 earned-run average over 62 2/3 innings pitched.
Pearson’s impressive work with the Fisher Cats led to his promotion to Triple-A on Aug. 18. Just two days later, and on his 23rd birthday no less, the Blue Jays’ top prospect made his debut for the Bisons.
He pitched a career-best seven scoreless innings against the Rochester Red Wings, scattering three hits while adding three strikeouts.
A towering presence on the mound, the Odessa, Florida, native checks all the boxes of a prototypical power pitcher. Pearson’s four-seam fastball, clocking in as high as 102 miles per hour this past season, is his best pitch. He’s not afraid to elevate it to get hitters off balance.
“He can overpower hitters. We all know that,” Jeff Ware, Toronto’s minor-league pitching coordinator, told FanGraphs. “Our message to Nate is to learn how to command, how pitch sequence, how to tunnel pitches.
“And he’s probably one of the better guys in the organization when it comes to understanding that stuff.”
Beyond the fastball, Pearson boasts an impressive repertoire that keeps batters guessing.
“My slider is my second-best pitch,” Pearson said to FanGraphs. “I also have a changeup and a curveball. My changeup has had a lot of depth this year, while my curveball is more of a pitch that I’ll use for a first-pitch strike.”
Regarding weaknesses, his health and durability remains a question mark. Pearson began the 2018 season on the injured list with an intercostal strain. Soon after his return, he suffered a non-displaced fracture of the ulna after taking a comebacker off his right forearm.
The injury sidelined the starter for four months, chewing up much of his 2018 season. Beyond that, Pearson also had a screw inserted into his elbow during high school.
This year he showed no signs of being held back by his previous ailments, but durability is certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward.
Pearson is currently listed as the league’s third-best pitching prospect by MLB Pipeline, and 13th overall. It’s been a meteoric rise since his injury-riddled 2018 campaign, which saw him as the 90th-ranked prospect.
After his impressive bounce-back season, the hope for the Blue Jays and their fans now is that Pearson will carry that momentum forward into 2020.
Given his lack of professional experience, and suggestions the club will hold him off for a while due to years of control before free agency, it’s unlikely that Pearson will start the season with the big league club.
However, if he can maintain his high level of performance, a midseason call-up should not be out of the question.