Pearson has teased the Blue Jays with tantalizing upside but a mix of health and command problems. -Baseball America
Few evaluators have been able to summarize Nate Pearson’s progress to date so succinctly as BA. Pearson’s high-end velo fastball and his wipeout slider have promised so much, but issues with his health and repeating his delivery (a cause and effect relationship) have limited fans to only glimpses of his potential.
A groin injury suffered in spring training delayed his season debut until May, when he re-injured that delicate area. By his own admission, Pearson altered his mechanics, with the result that he struggled both with the strike zone and feeling comfortable on the mound. A cortisone shot in July helped relieve the discomfort somewhat, and both Pearson and the Blue Jays opted to move him into a relief role to help limit his workload, and put the decision to have surgery off until after the season. Pearson pitched well out of the pen down the stretch for the Blue Jays, then opted to undergo a sports hernia operation in October.
But a high-end reliever is not the role most fans have envisioned for Pearson. But his struggles this season extended to the mental as well as the physical, and let’s be honest: that is a reason for concern, along with his durability, if we’re talking about him as a starter long term. Certainly, he wouldn’t be the first highly touted young pitcher to struggle, which is why the Blue Jays will likely continue to be more than patient with him.
Pearson is very much a known quantity, but some scouting report snippets are always informative:
Baseball America: Pearson has exciting stuff, with a fastball that sits at 96-100 mph and touched 102 in 2021. He complements his fastball with a hard slider mostly in the mid to upper 80s that is a plus pitch at times. Pearson has a curveball and changeup that can both be average pitches, but he rarely threw them as a reliever in the big leagues. Pearson has yet to break through in part because of health but also because he has had trouble repeating his delivery, which has led to poor command. That has caused too many walks and hitters being able to tune up Pearson’s fastball because he’s too often behind in the count.
The Blue Jays likely will strongly consider some sort of hybrid starting/relieving role for Pearson this year. Manager Ross Atkins said as much in October after Pearson’s surgery:
We have to factor in workload, factor in development and doing what’s best for him. It’s just too hard to say exactly what it will look like, but on the spectrum of things, I hope it looks a lot more like a starter than a reliever, but we’ll be open to all roles and all ways to have him help us win.”
What, exactly, does this mean? It could mean Pearson opens the season in AAA as a starter until he’s stretched out, then moved into a relief role once he reaches his innings limit. It might mean more of a swing man role with the big club. He has underwhelmed as a big leaguer to this point, but Pearson is not the kind of arm to give up on for quite some time.