The Toronto Blue Jays looked poised to do damage in the AL East in 2023, thanks to a deep lineup and strong rotation. But, don’t overlook a bullpen that has a number of very solid arms. However, one name that could be a part of that group is former Blue Jays first-round pick Nate Pearson. Formerly a top starting pitching prospect, Pearson could finally crack a regular role in the Majors as a reliever.
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A Look at Pearson
RHP Nate Pearson saw his first action of spring on February 26 against the New York Yankees. In that performance, Pearson struck out three but walked two and gave up a run in one inning of work. Despite the uneven results, Pearson did hit the triple digits with his heater, a pitch that has been his ace in the hole.
When healthy — and that is a key word — Pearson can showcase an elite fastball and slider, and will mix in a curveball or changeup from time to time. Health, however, has been an issue for the young arm.
Pearson is set to commit to a relief role moving forward, after multiple attempts to crack the Toronto starting rotation in prior seasons. Once a high-end prospect in the Jays rotation, the 2017 first-round pick dominated in brief, yet scintillating outings in the Minors from 2017-2019.
The 26-year-old made his MLB debut in the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. That season, Pearson struck out 16 over 18 innings, but walked 12 and posted an unsightly 6.00 ERA. Since then, Pearson hasn’t pitched much.
Pearson threw just 40.2 IP across Buffalo (AAA) and Toronto in 2021, and 15.1 IP last season. A myriad of injuries and a bout of mononucleosis in 2022 have prevented Pearson from making inroads towards becoming a regular in the Majors, but he did show glimpses when healthy out the bullpen last season. That ringed particularly true in the Dominican Winter League this past year. The right-hander struck out 16 over 12 innings in the DWL in 2022.
What it Means
While it’s safe to say that many in the Jays front office wanted to make it work with Pearson as a starter, a move to bullpen always needed to be considered. Pearson owns a very valuable arsenal, highlighted by a plus-plus fastball and a devastating slider. However, control and command has been an issue with the right-hander — particularly since the start of 2020. That issue has only been magnified in his brief MLB career, as the right-hander owns a career BB% of 16.4%.
A lengthy injury history, though, appears to be the final nail in the coffin for Pearson’s time as a starter.
Even though Pearson has the potential to be a dominant weapon for the Jays out of the bullpen, the big question will be whether he can make it out of Spring Training with Toronto. Besides the obvious injury concerns, Toronto does own a well-stocked bullpen. Toronto’s bullpen, at this moment of time, includes RHP and closer Jordan Romano, RHP Yimi Garcia, RHP Adam Cimber, RHP Anthony Bass, RHP Zach Pop, LHP Tim Mayza, and newcomer RHP Erik Swanson. Trent Thornton and Trevor Richards also loom in the background.
Pearson does have the stuff to break through in a big way, but Toronto should exercise caution with the talented, yet injury-prone arm.