Blue Jays: It’s going to be hard to be patient waiting for Nate Pearson

SURPRISE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03: Starting pitcher AFL West All-Star, Nate Pearson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a warm-up pitch during the Arizona Fall League All Star Game at Surprise Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SURPRISE, AZ - NOVEMBER 03: Starting pitcher AFL West All-Star, Nate Pearson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws a warm-up pitch during the Arizona Fall League All Star Game at Surprise Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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Nate Pearson was impressive once again in his second Triple-A start on Sunday. Even though he’s been dominant, don’t expect him in Toronto for a while.

For what felt like a long time, I was looking at minor league box scores on a near-daily basis to see how Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had performed that day. There were plenty of others of course, but eventually Bo Bichette topped the list of prospects who had my attention.

Now that those two and plenty more have arrived in Toronto, I’m sure I’m not alone in turning the bulk of my prospect attention to Nate Pearson, especially considering how well the 23-year-old has performed throughout the minor leagues this season.

He started his year in High-A, quickly moved through Double-A, and now he’s making a significant impression with the Buffalo Bisons in Triple-A, even if he’s only made two starts so far. He threw seven innings of shutout baseball in his first appearance with the Bisons, which was also his longest outing of the year, and then followed it up with another gem on Sunday.

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This time his opponent scored a run on him, but Pearson was excellent once again, pitching six innings and allowing just two runs on two hits. The big right-hander allowed a single to Jantzen Witte to start the second inning, which was followed by a two-run home run from Bobby Dalbec of the Pawtucket Red Sox. Other than that, Pearson mowed down the opposition, including seven strikeouts and no walks.

At this rate Pearson is going to have fans calling for his promotion any time now, but his case is a little more complicated than the other premium prospects we’ve seen rise through the ranks recently. That’s largely because he’s a pitcher, sure, but it’s also because he only has 118.1 professional innings under his belt. He’s progressed through the Blue Jays’ minor league system at a rapid rate, but he also missed almost all of last season because he broke his arm after getting his by a come-backer in his first start.

Across three levels this season, Pearson has 96.2 innings over 24 starts, but he’s also nearing the end of his 2019 campaign. If he ends up throwing around 110-120 innings on the season, that’s probably a good place for him to take a breather for the year while building up his arm for the more rigorous demands of the big leagues.

With that in mind, I don’t think it’s fair to expect Pearson to break camp with the team next year, even if he’s arguably ready to pitch in Toronto now. It’s only been two Triple-A starts, but it’s not hard to see how his triple-digit fastball and strong breaking ball will play at the big leagues already. However, in the interest of protecting that premium pitching prospect for the long haul, I’m sure the Blue Jays will take things slowly with him to start next season. We might even see them keep his innings down, like they did earlier this year when he often pitched five innings in one start, followed by a two inning appearance in the next.

I don’t know that the Blue Jay will continue with that sort of plan to start next season (he’s been taken off of that pattern these days), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them put a bit of an innings cap on him early in the year, perhaps at something like five innings per start to begin with. If he makes it to the 110-120 inning range this year, I can’t see the Jays pushing him much beyond 150 innings next year, even if he’s passing every test with flying colours, so a five-inning limit at the start of the year might help them control the wear and tear on his prized right arm.

If I were going to make a prediction right now about when he’ll debut, I’m going to guess it’ll happen in June of next year, after he’s spent a couple of months in Triple-A. There will be a lot of variables that go into that decision when it comes, like if the Blue Jays are pushing for a Wild Card spot, or how the rest of their rotation is performing. However, the most important factor will be whatever path the Blue Jays determine to be in Pearson’s best interest, and that likely means a longer wait than some of us will want to put up with.

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I fully expect that Pearson will continue to dominate at the Triple-A level, and that’s not going to make it easier to wait for him to make his inevitable MLB debut. However, unlike in the case of Vlad Jr. and arguably others as well, I’m comfortable waiting for Pearson to make his debut when the time is right. Chances are, that time is going to be a little while from now.

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