After an injury-riddled 2018 season, an explosive Arizona Fall League stint has Nate Pearson near the top of the Blue Jays farm system rankings.
Name: Nate Pearson
Position: P Age: 22
Height: 6’6” Weight: 245 lb
Acquired: Selected in the 1st round of the 2017 Draft
With a season to forget in the rearview mirror, Nate Pearson enters the 2019 campaign stronger and healthier than ever.
After missing the majority of the 2018 MiLB season with a broken ulna, Pearson showed off his upside in a brief stint at the Arizona Fall League. Despite the lopsided numbers, which should be taken with a grain of salt, Pearson’s raw stuff was on full display.
Sitting in the bottom half of most MLB prospect rankings lists, what a lost season failed to show is that Pearson has one of the higher ceilings across any minor league pitching prospect. Rumoured to be a potential 1-1 selection in the 2017 Draft, Pearson slid into the Jays laps after there were questions regarding his signability.
Now, Pearson is one of the game’s breakout candidates.
With a durable frame, good athleticism on the mound for his size, an electric fastball, underrated secondary stuff, and lauded work ethic, Pearson can very quickly skyrocket up many prospect rankings lists.
On raw stuff alone, outside of maybe Forrest Whitley of the Houston Astros, there may not be a single better pitching prospect in the minor leagues.
The arm action is quick and loose and the ball explodes out of a high-3/4 slot. Possessing an 80-grade fastball, which touched 104 mph in the Arizona Fall League, Pearson sits in the high 90’s and can consistently hit triple digits. Moreover, he also has the frame and strength to maintain his velocity deep into starts.
It wasn’t evident by his 5.8 BB/9 in the AFL, but Pearson has both the athleticism and the body
control to find success commanding his explosive fastball in the future.
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Pearson also spent time over the offseason working over at Driveline, where the main emphasis was placed on pitch design and tunneling.
Tunneling has become a very popular topic of discussion in today’s game. The concept is essentially this: take two different pitches, say a fastball and a slider, and attempt to design the pitches in a way that they fly down the same trajectory or “tunnel” long enough to look nearly identical in a hitter’s eye before splitting off into different directions as the pitches get closer to the plate.
Coming out of junior college, Pearson was predominantly a two-pitch pitcher, surviving on his high-powered fastball and a tight slider.
In 2017, when promoted to Low-A, Pearson increased his slider usage, which allowed him to rack up a K/9 of 11.4, albeit in 19 innings of work. The slider sits in the upper 80’s with late tilt and looks to be an above average pitch on the next level and one that will induce plenty swing-and-miss.
He has also begun to incorporate a slower curveball, which has more vertical depth and is a solid offering that can throw off the timing of opposing hitters. Currently, the pitch looks to be average at best, but Pearson is able to replicate the same arm action and the pitch generates a good amount of whiffs.
Changeup and Command
With the amount of attention that Pearson’s 104 mph fastball garners, what becomes forgotten is his overall pitching arsenal.
His AFL performance shed a light on the pitch mix that Pearson truly offers. He introduced a curveball and utilized his changeup more as well. More importantly, all four of the pitches in his arsenal displayed good separation in terms of velocity and Pearson showed confidence in throwing each pitch.
It’s vital to keep in mind that Pearson barely threw in 2018, which was a contributing factor for his rust and questionable AFL command. In 2017, he walked only five batters compared to striking out 26 across 20 innings. In his lone year at Central Florida JC, he had a 5:1 K/BB rate, which despite scattering 23 walks across 81 innings, is a reason for optimism.
There is still associated risk to prospects like Nate Pearson.
While prospects such as Chris Paddack (San Diego Padres) and Mike Soroka (Atlanta Braves) may be safer bets on the next level, Pearson may have the higher ceiling. That being said, I do believe Soroka will be a very good starter on the MLB level and Paddack even has ace-like potential, but on raw stuff alone, Pearson trumps most arms in the minors.
With an electric fastball, a durable frame and secondary stuff that is coming along nicely, Pearson has the potential to become a top-of-the-rotation starter on the next level and at the very least, if his curveball and changeup do not develop according to plan, Pearson can be a very valuable bullpen arm that guns a million mph on his fastball and pairs it with a sharp, power slider.
In terms of overall mechanics, Pearson looks like a thicker version of Justin Verlander on the mound.
The Astros ace stands at 6’5” and is very similar in his load, the way he gets good hip-to-shoulder separation, and acceleration towards the mound. The arm action in the back is also quite similar in both pitchers.
Whether Pearson can replicate the same level of performance as Verlander is still to be determined, but nevertheless, Pearson is a very exciting, high-upside arm who seems to be on pace for a breakout season.