Notes: Pearson debuts; Ray pounds zone

March 1st, 2021

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- ’s Spring Training debuts typically kick the hype train into overdrive, as his triple-digit heat helps to shake off a long winter without baseball.

That wasn’t exactly the case in Monday’s 2-2 tie against the Pirates in Dunedin, as Pearson needed 28 pitches to get through his lone inning, but the Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline feels it was enough to get the ball rolling in the right direction on March 1.

“Today, I just wanted to attack the zone and throw a lot of strikes,” Pearson said. “Obviously, I didn’t throw a lot of strikes, and the outcome was still decent. It’s the first outing of spring facing another team, so it’s a good starting point, and we’ll work from there.”

Pearson threw 16 of his 28 pitches for strikes, topping out at 99.9 mph with his four-seam fastball. He definitely had his slider working and played with the velocity a bit, but balls early in counts limited what Pearson was able to work with. Since the big right-hander was behind in counts, he didn’t get to dig as deep into his arsenal as he would have liked, but that will be something to watch next time out.

“I felt like I was missing a lot to the arm side,” Pearson explained. “I faced some lefties today, and I felt like everything was kind of away to them, I couldn’t get it. I felt pretty good about my slider. I made pitches when I needed to.”

Velocity is clearly one of Pearson’s strongest tools, so the radar gun readings on Monday were a reassuring start. This season for Pearson is all about carrying over lessons from 2020, though, the foremost of which was the importance of spotting his fastball with precision, not just in a quadrant of the strike zone. The Blue Jays need upside from their rotation, and Pearson is clearly their best bet at getting it.

Ray peppers the zone
started Monday and, for the most part, looked very sharp. One fastball caught too much of the plate and was launched over the wall in center field by former Blue Jays outfielder Anthony Alford, but otherwise, the left-hander pounded the strike zone.

That’s priority No. 1 for Ray. The left-hander has tremendous stuff, but his issue has been maximizing it because of high walk rates, including 2020, when he walked 45 batters over 51 2/3 innings between the D-backs and Toronto. That won’t work in 2021, especially after an offseason during which the Blue Jays said that strike-throwing was one of their biggest needs.

Ray threw 24 of his 26 pitches for strikes, so Monday's mission was accomplished. Using his four-seam fastball, slider and changeup, Ray was very encouraged by his pitch mix after the outing -- the slider in particular. Ray’s slider has typically been an out pitch, and there have been times hitters have been able to lay off of it, knowing it would likely finish out of the zone. This time out, Ray spotted a few in the zone, and he feels like that could really unlock some potential in 2021.

A first-hand look from Dunedin
• No. 2 prospect made a throwing error on the first ball hit his way this spring. Charging in on a playable ground ball in the top of the second, Martin double-clutched before throwing wide to the arm side (right) of at first.

After another miscue early, though, Martin came back with one of the plays of the game in the third. On a scorching line drive off the bat of Wilmer Difo, Martin leaped into the air and caught it at the peak of his jump before falling to the ground. Martin will start taking some fly balls in the outfield soon, so you could see him get some Spring Training action out there, too. He has the athleticism to play anywhere, but the development of his throwing arm on the infield will be crucial.

• After exit velocities of 103.7 mph and 104 mph in the Sunday opener, Tellez launched an opposite-field double in the first inning Monday that had an exit velocity of 100.6 mph. He's hitting everything early, and hitting it hard.

• Right-hander was excellent, making quick work of the Pirates in one clean inning with a strikeout. Romano was up to 99 mph with his fastball and his slider looked good as ever. If he can stay healthy in 2021, Romano has the potential to dominate and could be moved around to high-leverage situations with closing.

looked like he hasn’t missed a beat, either. The veteran left-hander worked a clean inning with one strikeout and averaged 91.9 mph on his two-seam fastball. Liriano is right on the edge of that bullpen battle and will be given every opportunity to compete, so every inning counts.

made a fine running catch in the right-center-field gap in the first inning to rob Pirates leadoff hitter Cole Tucker of extra bases. The 23-year-old Bahamian has speed and defense working for him, so keep an eye on his bat in 2021. The Blue Jays are thin on outfield prospects, so another step forward from Young -- one of their best -- would be good news for the organization.

• Former first-round Draft pick entered as a defensive substitution in left field Monday, a position he’d only played sparingly in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. Keep an eye on Warmoth moving around a bit more this spring, including shortstop, second base and third base.

No. 13 prospect entered as a center fielder in the fifth. Lopez has super-utility potential and could climb very quickly, given that he can handle the bat and has already been added to the 40-man roster.

No. 9 prospect got into the game late at second base. Hiraldo played just one game at Class A Lansing back in 2019, but the 20-year-old will see some time this spring at second and third. It’s a challenge for Hiraldo -- as with many of the young infield prospects -- but the Blue Jays value the opportunity of having them face more mature pitching.