We have reached the end of our list. Today we look at the #1 Prospect on Jays Journals’ annual Top 30 prospect rankings is Nate Pearson.
Name: Nate Pearson
Position: RHP Age: 22
Height: 6’6” Weight: 245 lb
Acquired: Selected in the 1st round of the 2017 Draft(28th Overall) 2019 Level: A+/AA/AAA ETA: 2020
Was there ever any doubt as to who was going to be at the top of any Blue Jays prospect list. Nate Pearson is the consensus #1 prospect on all prospect publications (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB Pipeline). Most of which have him in the top 10 prospects overall. Baseball America has him the highest at #7 overall.
Nate Pearson was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2017 out of Central Florida Community College in the first round. He was actually the second Blue Jays pick in that first round behind Logan Warmouth. He was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays but was promoted after one game. He then dominated for the Vancouver Canadians, tossing 6 straight scoreless games to open his career with them.
Pearson, in 2018, had a tough time trying to get on the field. Early in the season he suffered from an oblique strain and began the season on the disabled list. When he returned, he took a liner off his forearm in the second inning of the game he returned and was sidelined for the remainder of the year.
The Blue Jays still thought of him as a highly regarded prospect and sent him to the Arizona Fall League. Normally, there is not a lot of players sent to the AFL that are not in the higher minors. Pearson struggled to keep his opponents off the base paths with a 1.770 WHIP, 5.8 BB9, and 10.2 H9, but one thing was apparent to everybody was his ability to get strikeouts. Pearson had 23 strikeouts in just 20.1 innings and that he had an electric fastball.
After the injury riddle 2018 season, Nate Pearson shot up both minor leagues and prospect rankings in 2019. He began his journey, in 2019, in High-A Dunedin and dominated with 0.86 ERA, 15 SO9, and 1.3 BB9 over 21 innings pitched. Pearson then took on Double-A with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats for most of 2019. In 62 IP, he had a 2.59 ERA, 2.90 FIP, 28.3 k%, 8.6 bb%, and held his opponents to a 0.186 batting average.
Pearson was named to the 2019 All-Star Futures Game. He finished the season with AAA Buffalo where he was 4.2 years younger than the average player in the International League. He continued to strike batters out and a good rate, walking very few batters, put up a 3.00 ERA and held his opponents to a 0.185 BA.
The Blue Jays held Pearson, for most of the year, to a routine of alternating between 5 innings pitched and 2 innings pitched for every start he had. This reduced his workload and stress coming off a 2018 season where he did not pitch a lot of innings.
Nate Pearson’s fastball is his best pitch by far. Per Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline, Pearson has the best fastball in the minor leagues right now. He famously hit 104 mph in the Arizona Fall League in 2018. His triple-digit fastball has a fair amount of arm-side life to it as well. Pearson’s large frame and strength allow him to maintain his velocity deep into games. “He usually ranges from 98-101 mph and maintains his velocity as a starter, generating it easily with an athletic delivery that he repeats, allowing him to command his fastball as well,” said Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline.
Pearson has the athleticism and strength to maintain command over his elite fastball. He also has gone above and beyond trying to improve his fastball (along with other pitches) by training in the off-season at Driveline Baseball. Driveline is a baseball player development company that uses technology to harness and expand on players’ skills.
For pitchers, Driveline focuses on intent training, pitch tunneling, and pitch design. Pitch tunneling and pitch design have become very popular topics among the elite pitchers in baseball. Tunneling is the ability to have more than one pitch have the same trajectory towards the plate for the first half of its flight, but they both diverge in different directions for the second half of the flight. Pitch design is the use of high-speed cameras (e.g. Edgertronic) to watch a pitchers release and a radar device (Rapsodo device) to measure spin and axis.
Combining both tunneling and pitch design can help enhance a pitcher’s ability to strike batters out. Pearson is one of the star pupils of Driveline, alongside other pitchers like Trevor Bauer and Matt Boyd. It comes as no coincidence that the Blue Jays have begun hiring a couple of Driveline instructors over the last two years as well.
Pearson’s fastball is graded by both MLB Pipeline and Fangraphs as an 80. It doesn’t get any higher than that. It is already one of the best fastballs out there and he has not made it to the MLB just yet.
Pearson has three secondary pitches to counter his elite fastball; a slider, a curve, and a change-up. Of the three, the slider is his best secondary offering. While it isn’t the best slider in the minors, per Jim Callis, it did make honorable mention as a top 4 slider in the minors. Eric Cross covers the MiLB for Fantrax said “Pearson’s slider is the best of the bunch (minor league fantasy options) and is one of the most dynamic sliders currently in the minor leagues. In my two live looks at Pearson in 2019, he displayed a great feel for the pitch, throwing it for strikes and bending it out of the zone to pike up strikeouts.” His slider sits in the upper 80s.
His other two secondary pitches, the curve, and the change-up, both rate out to be above average with 50 and 55 grades respectively. It will be crucial that he continues to improve on these pitches if he wants to be the elite pitcher we all hope he will be.
According to the MLB Pipeline his overall grade is 65. That would make him well above average and possibly an “Ace” if everything breaks right. The Blue Jays look to be counting on him to become the front end starter they have been missing over the last couple of years. Pearson is expected to be promoted this year at some point. Whether that be early in the year or late remains to be seen. When promoted, he is expected to be part of a one-two punch for the next 3-4 years with Hyun-Jin Ryu. While we shouldn’t expect him to be a number 2 starter immediately, it is fun to dream.
While this won’t be a pure analysis of Pearson, he is a very likable guy who can make fun of himself at time. Just this winter, at the Blue Jays Winterfest, Pearson had some fun interacting with some fans. He is easy to root for and I am hoping he fulfills his potential.
With his durable frame, athletic ability, an elite fastball, a good slider, and other secondary stuff coming along, he could be a mainstay of the Blue Jays rotation for years.