TORONTO -- One year after throwing just 1 2/3 Minor League innings in an injury-shortened season, Blue Jays’ No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson has emerged as one of the best young arms in baseball.
With a 2.30 ERA split across three levels in 2019, ending in Triple-A Buffalo, Pearson will soon be knocking on the door of the Major Leagues. It’s no surprise that the big 23-year-old has been named the Blue Jays’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year by MLB Pipeline, with the 20-year-old breakout catcher Alejandro Kirk getting the nod as the top hitter.
Each team's Hitting and Pitching Prospects of the Year were chosen by the MLB Pipeline staff. To receive consideration, players must have spent at least half the year in the Minors and appeared on the team's Top 30 Prospects list.
Back in Spring Training, Pearson met with the Blue Jays’ pitching coordinator, Jeff Ware, the coordinator of player development, David Aardsma, and the club’s medical staff to chart a course for how he would build up after his abbreviated 2018 season. The group agreed to alternate his outings -- two innings then five innings, in rotation -- and check back in midseason.
The plan came together perfectly. Pearson threw 101 2/3 innings, striking out 119, and is set up for a full, healthy 2020, when he’s expected to make the jump to the Major Leagues.
“We were really fired up about the strides Nate made with his fastball command and then with the development of his slider,” said Gil Kim, the Blue Jays’ director of player development. “Those were two areas that we had prioritized this year. Nate cut his walk rate down a little bit and established his slider as a true putaway. He also gained a little bit more feel for his curveball and his changeup.”
Those within the organization, from top to bottom, are quick to praise Pearson for his commitment and consistency off the field. Pearson brings a strong pedigree dating back to the 2017 Draft, even as a name who soared up Draft boards late, which is a much different path than Kirk took.
The Blue Jays had scouts in Mexico several years ago to scout a player, but it wasn’t Kirk. He caught their eye, though, and the Blue Jays are thrilled that they stumbled across the young catcher, who impressed internally early on, but battled injuries.
“We can distinctly remember Ken Huckaby, our catching coordinator, watching him catch for the first time and saying, ‘Hey, this guy’s really got something here,'” Kim said.
Kirk, ranked Toronto's No. 12 prospect, opened the season with Class A Lansing before making the jump up to Class A Advanced Dunedin, where he kept rolling at the plate. Kirk finished the season hitting .290 over 92 games with seven home runs, 31 doubles and an OPS of .868.
What really stands out about Kirk is his advanced plate approach, as he walked 56 times compared to just 39 strikeouts in 2019. The Blue Jays expect him to continue developing behind the plate, particularly when it comes to game calling and managing a pitching staff, but his complete offensive profile is something that the organization is eager to see as he climbs through the levels.
“We’re excited about that because we feel confident that he’s a well-rounded hitter,” Kim said. “He’s not just all power or all contact or just a guy with a good eye. He’s able to combine all of those things together.”