The crowd at Vancouver’s Nat Bailey Stadium buzzed with excitement.
A hot, hazy, late August afternoon saw the Vancouver Canadians’ last home game of the season. The wildly successful Northwest League affiliate of the Blue Jays had smashed another attendance record, and with a return to the playoffs in the offing at the end of regular season play Labour Day weekend, over 6 000 fans jammed the venerable old park minutes from Vancouver’s downtown for a “nooner,” a popular afternoon game on getaway day for both the C’s and the visiting Boise Hawks. The team received a thundering ovation when they gathered at home plate to sing, “O Canada,” prior to the game.
Adding to the excitement was the fact that RHP Nate Pearson, one of two first round picks the club had that June, was about to take the mound. Big Nate had caught a heavy dose of helium since he hit 100 in a fall showcase last year, and was riding that wave late in his first pro season toward top prospect land.
Pearson struggled a bit with his command (and to be honest, he was squeezed a bit by the home plate ump and his Catcher Riley Adams, who both in fairness have probably not seen that kind of velo consistently around the plate), and gave up his first runs of his short NWL season – heck, he allowed his first runner past 2nd since joining the team in mid-July.
There was pre-draft talk that Pearson could move quickly through the minors as a reliever, but the Blue Jays considered his size (6’6″/240), mechanics (consistent release point and delivery), and mix of pitches to be perfectly suited to a starting role.
On this afternoon, we were joined by veteran C’s watcher and fellow prospect blogger Charlie Caskey (@CharlieCaskey on Twitter). Caskey had spoken at length with Canadians’ Pitching Coach Jim Czajkowski, who has seen a fair number of Blue Jays prospects pass through the Lower Mainland. Pearson gave up some contact on his change up during this start, and as Big Jim noted, a change up can look mighty juicy to the average NWL hitter:
“These young kids are trying to gear up for a 100 mph fastball and you give them 91/92 and that’s something they can hit. It’ll be easier to get big league hitters out with the change when they’re gearing up for 100, as the differential will mean something, so he has to keep throwing it.”
With his size, Pearson generates good downward plane on his fastball. His is also an intimidating presence on the mound. He sat 96-97 during this game, spotting it to both sides of the plate. He had some trouble finding the strike zone early with his slider, but was able to command it better as the game wore on. His change has decent movement, and profiles as a potential plus pitch.
Some teams backed away from Pearson a bit because of the screw he had inserted into his pitching elbow during high school. The Blue Jays were not deterred by it, but kept him on a strict pitch count until this start of 73 pitches. Pearson put an exclamation point on his debut season by striking out 10 in his final start of the season, a 4-inning outing that led to a Game One triumph for the C’s over Spokane in their semi-final.
Pearson may likely skip Lansing next season and head to High A Dunedin. There is every indication that he is a top-of-the-rotation starter in the making. Czajkowski compares him very favourably to Aaron Sanchez, who he had when both were in New Hampshire. We’ll take that comp.
A shout out for the video goes to another fellow blogger, Niall O’Donohoe, whose CsPlusBaseball.ca blog gives excellent into and coverage of our favourite west coast Blue Jays affiliate.