Without a doubt, Nate Pearson has dazzled this spring. His triple digit fastball has been no match for hitters, and the North American media has taken note.
Is he ready for prime time? Should he break camp with the Blue Jays? What about giving him the Opening Day starting assignment?
Let’s pump the brakes a bit, shall we?
There is no doubt that Pearson has been impressive. He’s also thrown all of three innings, the second of which he was obviously dialling up his fastball for the folks at home. Don’t expect him to be hitting 100 routinely once he’s firmly ensconced in the Toronto rotation (96-97, touching 99 has been his pattern). It’s also an axiom of spring training that the pitchers tend to be ahead of the hitters in the opening days of camp. We’ll get a true read on Pearson as spring training progresses, and his schedule calls for him to pitch deeper into games.
How having Pearson start on Opening Day? That’s highly unlikely – it’s happened three times since 1925. One of those assignments went to eventual Hall of Famer Lefty Grove. The last took place in 1943, when MLB teams were scrambling for players in the midst of World War 2. And the Blue Jays open the season against the Red Sox, who even without Mookie Betts in the middle of their lineup will be a formidable challenge for any pitcher, let alone someone making their MLB debut. There’s a reason no team has handed the ball to a rookie on Opening Day in 77 years.
What about the 25? You could make a case for that, but the Blue Jays are very conscious of workload management for their under 25 arms. Pearson has pitched all of 123 innings since being drafted in 2017 (2018 was pretty much a washout), and last season’s 101 frames between three levels was far and away a career high. Even in this day and age of smart pitch counts, Rapsodo, and wearable technology like Motus sleeves, teams are conscious of annual innings increases for their U25 pitchers. Dropping Pearson in the middle of the Blue Jays rotation to start the season would certainly be an upgrade, but it would also mean that as he closed in on 130 innings (a 30% increase from last year, a general rule of thumb) a shut down would be looming come late July/early August.
GM Ross Atkins quickly tossed some water on the notion that Pearson heads north later this month when he met with the media earlier this week. By all means, let’s get excited about Pearson, whose debut should come sometime in May or June. But the road to MLB stardom is littered with many arms that broke down and never recovered. The Blue Jays have a plan for Pearson, and from all accounts, he’s bought in.
— Jesse Goldberg-Strassler (@jgoldstrass) February 26, 2020
The legend of Alejandro Kirk began to take shape in the summer of 2018, when he hammered Appalachian League pitching as a member of the Blue Jays’ Bluefield short-season club. One of the HRs Kirk hit, according to Bluefield broadcaster Zach Helton, a long time observer of games at Bowen Field, was the longest he’d ever seen.
Concerns were expressed about his size, defensive skills, and ultimate position. He was not meant to be the Bluefield Jays’ regular backstop; Hagen Danner, the team’s 2nd round pick the previous June was meant to get the majority of the reps. But injuries limited Danner to 32 games, and Kirk took over the regular catching duties.
Fast forward to last spring, when Kirk made his full season debut with Lansing. He’d surpassed Danner on the Toronto depth charts, and made an impression on both sides of the ball in what turned out to be a short stay with the Lugnuts. Kirk showed an advanced approach at the plate, a high baseball IQ, and surprising quickness, blocking, and receiving skills behind it. With Gabriel Moreno waiting in Extended for an opportunity to play every day, Kirk was promoted to Dunedin, where he continued to excel.
As Shi Davidi writes,Kirk breaks the mould for most catching prospects. He’s an unconventional prospect, and certainly not what one would call sculpted by any means. But at 5’7″/265, Kirk’s build is not necessarily conducive to a long career. He impressed the Blue Jays by coming in 25 lbs lighter last spring, but by August he appeared to have put much of that on. At 21, his speed is already below major league average (despite that stolen base crown), and does not promise to move in the right direction. Kirk takes short, choppy strides when he runs, and perhaps the Blue Jays are working to correct this, but it’s not an efficient running style. He makes up for it to some extent with good base running instincts and an ability to avoid tags. It would be in Kirk’s best interests to shed some pounds, as that body will have trouble holding out over a full season in its current form. Kirk slashed a pedestrian (compared to the rest of his year) .246/.361/.508 last August. He isn’t the first player to have wilted under the late season Florida State League sun, and he did register all 4 of his FSL Home Runs that month, but he clearly faded.
All in all, it’s still exciting to see the catching depth the organization is developing. Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire have graduated to the bigs, with Kirk, Moreno, and 2019 IFA Victor Mesia behind them.