The reins may not be fully off for Nate Pearson, but the Toronto Blue Jays are ready to give their top pitching prospect a little bit more run down the stretch.
On a strict rotation of a five-inning start, followed by a truncated two-inning outing in the first half, the 22-year-old flamethrower will be given the chance to pitch deeper into ballgames in the second half.
After throwing 22 total innings last season between High-A Dunedin and the Arizona Fall League, Pearson’s workload is being closely monitored in 2019, with the Blue Jays preferring to limit him early on, and then allow him to build up as the season goes on.
“The Blue Jays are looking out for me, looking out for my arm with the innings limit and everything,” said Pearson, adding he wasn’t exactly sure where his overall innings cap lies but they’re going to assess how he feels late in the year. “But it’s still fun. I still get to go out there every fifth day and I still get to throw."
“They just wanted to limit my innings early on in the season so that in the second half of the season I can finish strong, rather than letting me go from the get-go out of spring training and then having to shut me down later in the season because I had reached my innings limit. This second half is going to be a little bit different. I’m not really going to have the five-two-five-two thing, it’ll be more five or six innings each time out, which I’m pretty pumped for.”
Despite the limited workload, the results have been eye-popping, good enough to push Pearson from the back half of top-100 prospect lists to being one of the best minor-league arms in baseball, sitting at No. 17 on Baseball America’s latest ranking.
Across 52 innings split between Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, Pearson has registered a 2.42 ERA, allowing just 33 hits and striking out 69.
The command has been excellent, too, as he’s walked just 10 batters all year.
The high-octane arsenal was on full display during all-star week in Cleveland, with Pearson coming out of the bullpen pumping 101 mph-plus fastballs at the Futures Game.
A talent-rich showcase, Pearson made quick work of three very good hitters, striking out Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop prospect Gavin Lux (Baseball America’s No. 11 prospect), getting future Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache (No. 16) to ground out, and then whiffing last year’s second-overall pick, San Francisco Giants catcher Joey Bart (No. 19), with a nasty slider.
There’s really no secret to Pearson’s success.
“He’s just got a really good heater, man,” said Lux, who’s currently tearing up Triple-A for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. “He’s got a short arm that jumps and he’s throwing 102. Yeah, I mean, he’s good. You’ve just gotta get it going early. What are you gonna say? He throws 102, you know?”
Bart’s assessment was similar.
“Obviously, that fastball is something dangerous,” said Bart, who’s developing at High-A with the San Jose Giants. “It gets there on you quick. He threw me a pretty good slider and when he can mix his slider in with his heater being that hard, it’s going to throw a lot of guys off. You can’t wait around for 100. You can’t guess on 100.
“I knew his slider was coming and still didn’t hit it. He’s good. He’s going to have a bright future.”
With the reins loosened in the second half, Pearson is likely to finish off his season in Triple-A Buffalo, as the Jays would love to challenge the 6-foot-6, 245-pounder at the highest level of the minors before the season comes to a close.
While a big-league debut is not in the cards for 2019, Pearson should come into spring training on the periphery of the rotation battle.
The likely scenario at that point is he’s sent back to Triple-A to put the finishing touches on his development, before arriving in the majors, maybe for good, next summer.
Pearson has a realistic view of the situation.
“I hope to be soon, maybe next year,” he said when asked when he expects to reach the majors. “It’s all about preparing for the big leagues, that’s what I’m trying to do. Just get better each outing.”
Now regarded as a steal with the 28th overall pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, Pearson has only thrown 73.2 innings across bits and pieces of three professional campaigns.
A broken forearm suffered on a comebacker last year scrapped most of his 2018 season, but he’s back on track this year.
Slowly increasing that workload in order to find out if the big right-hander can handle the rigours of starting every fifth day — especially with a screw still in his elbow from high school — is the goal over the next calendar year.
He’s happy with the strides he’s made since being drafted more than two years ago.“I just learned and grew,” Pearson said. “I went through some struggles last year with injuries and it made me a better pitcher and have a better mindset on everything. I guess when I first signed, I thought it was going to be a little bit easier, but I knew it was going to be challenging, as well. I faced some of those challenges last year and I’m looking forward to the rest of this year.”