What to expect from Nate Pearson in the bigs

Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect makes MLB debut tonight against Nationals

July 29th, 2020

For the second straight year, a Blue Jays rookie will make one of the most highly anticipated debuts of the MLB season. In April 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. doubled in four at-bats against the Athletics. Tonight, Toronto's top prospect Nate Pearson will show what he can do against the defending World Series-champion Nationals.

Ranked No. 8 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, the 23-year-old Pearson was Toronto's most dominating pitcher during Spring Training. The right-hander continued to stand out during Summer Camp, though service-time considerations made it worth the Blue Jays while to leave him off their big league roster for the first six days of the schedule. That was the minimum amount of time needed to ensure he couldn't accrue a full year of service time for 2020, delaying his free-agent eligibility until after the '26 season.

Pearson's career has accelerated rapidly over the last five years. After drawing scant pro interest as a Florida high schooler in 2015, he pitched out of Florida International's bullpen as a freshman the next spring. His velocity and prospect stock began to rise dramatically after he transferred to the JC of Central Florida for his sophomore season, and he pushed himself into 2017's first round when he hit 102 mph during a bullpen workout shortly before the Draft.

Signed for $2,452,900 as the 28th overall selection, Pearson surrendered just two runs in 20 innings in his pro debut, but he worked just 1 2/3 innings in his first full season in 2018, when a line drive broke his right forearm in his initial start. He returned for the Arizona Fall League, where he opened eyes by hitting 104 mph with his fastball during the Fall Stars Game. He also surrendered a homer to Pete Alonso on a 103-mph heater in the same contest.

Pearson breezed through three levels of the Minors last year, advancing from Class A Advanced to Triple-A while logging a 2.30 ERA, a 119/27 K/BB ratio and a .176 opponent average in 101 2/3 innings. He struck out 16 of the 41 batters he faced in his first taste of big league camp this spring, prompting Bo Bichette to say, "Nate’s a beast. We’re super excited for him to be with us at some point. What he’s done, it’s not a fluke. That’s the kind of guy we expect him to be.”

Here's our breakdown of Pearson's tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, where 50 represents big league average ability:

Fastball (80): Pearson has the best fastball among all prospects, and there aren't too many Major Leaguers who can match him. He can maintain an upper-90s fastball deep into games, repeatedly climbing into triple digits. In addition to top-of-the-scale velocity, his heater also features riding life that makes it that much more difficult to barrel.

Slider (60): Pearson's slider gives him a second legitimate swing-and-miss pitch. It's a wipeout offering at its best, climbing into the low 90s with nasty tilt. The Blue Jays say the biggest development he made in 2019 was sharpening the consistency of his slider, which usually sits in the mid-80s.

Curveball (50): Despite having three quality pitches and a slider that already gives him a weapon breaking ball, Pearson has worked diligently to develop a reliable fourth offering. He doesn't use his curveball much in games yet and then mostly to give batters a different look. It parks in the upper 70s with promising depth, showing the potential of becoming at least an average pitch.

Changeup (55): Though he's first and foremost a power pitcher, Pearson also displays aptitude for throwing a changeup. He gets roughly 10 mph of velocity separation from his fastball and he has improved the depth of his changeup in the last year. The changeup helped him hold left-handed hitters to a .513 OPS in 2019 -- the same futile figure that righties managed against him.

Control (55): The Blue Jays and Pearson decided to simplify his delivery by having him switch to pitching exclusively out of the stretch during his AFL stint in 2018. His control and command got better afterward, and while he obviously can blow hitters away, he also can carve them up by locating his pitches where he wants. He averaged just 2.4 walks and 8.2 baserunners per nine innings a year ago.