With all due respect to Cavan Biggio, whose promotion to the bigs is not far off, and Bo Bichette, whose ascension has been delayed by a broken hand, now that the ship that is Vladimir Guerrero Jr has sailed into the 2-spot in the Blue Jays order, the mantle of top prospect in the organization has landed squarely on the broad shoulders of Nate Pearson.
Promoted to AA earlier this month, Pearson has not missed a beat, fanning 11 batters in 7 innings, giving up only a pair of hits and no walks. For the season, he’s struck out 43 in 26 innings.
Sure, those are gaudy stats, you might say, but much of that line was compiled against guys in High A. What makes Pearson so deserving of this title?
For starters, command of all four of his pitches. Forget the 100 mph fastball for just a moment; Pearson can throw all of his pitches for strikes, or not for strikes if he’s looking for chasers. With his 6’6″ length, Pearson gets excellent extension on his fastball, giving hitters a split second less to try to size it up and time it. And if/when they are able to, he can release his late-biting slider from the same arm slot should they choose to sit on the fastball. Throw in a plus change and a curve that flashes plus, and you have a guy that’s incredibly tough to square up.
Pearson has worked considerably on his mechanics, and it shows. His delivery now is more streamlined, and he has his momentum now more on a direct line to home plate. As a result, he’s much more consistently around the strike zone.
Pearson tends to work down in the zone early in the count, then elevates to try to get hitters to chase. In last night’s outing, hitters tended to lay off that high pitch, so he would often come back with the slider, and even though they might have been expecting it, the pitch just had too much movement for them to track.
The limiting factor for Pearson is his relative inexperience. Despite the hype, we have to remember that he’s made all of 16 minor league starts. After missing almost all of 2018, the Blue Jays have been alternating five inning stints with two innings of work, a plan designed to build him up. The wraps will probably come off later this summer, but it’s extremely doubtful we’ll see Pearson on a Rogers Centre mound this season.
Despite not having a lot of cold weather experience, Pearson was unfazed by it in his short outing last night. He did throw primarily four seamers and his slider, so the cold may not have been a factor from a feel standpoint. Hitting 101 with his third pitch of the night, he certainly had no problem getting loose.
Pearson looks every bit the MLB front of the rotation guy. He needs a bit more time, but he has the highest ceiling of any player in the system right now. Expect him to make a jump up most Top 100 lists this year.