Blue Jays: Nate Pearson could be the difference in a playoff push

DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Nate Pearson #71 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during Photo Day at TD Ballpark on February 21, 2020 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
DUNEDIN, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 21: Nate Pearson #71 of the Toronto Blue Jays poses during Photo Day at TD Ballpark on February 21, 2020 in Dunedin, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Nate Pearson has the potential to be a huge difference maker, and if the Blue Jays are wiling to let him, he could help them make a playoff push in 2020.

Maybe it’s just spring optimism talking here, but the more I watch the Blue Jays this spring, the more I think they will be a competitive team. After watching Nate Pearson‘s second outing of the Grapefruit League season, I’m starting to wonder if this team isn’t a sleeper contender to push for a playoff spot in 2020.

The big right-hander dominated again in his second appearance of the spring on Sunday, striking out three over two perfect innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates, including a whiff of Josh Bell. He’s shown off his ridiculous repertoire that includes a triple-digit fastball, a devastating slider, and a couple of other solid developing pitches with his change-up and his curveball. The 23-year-old has looked so good, that yesterday I wrote a quick piece asking if the Blue Jays will have any choice but to break camp with him on the 26-man roster.

That’s one question the front office will have to ask itself over the next few weeks, even if the long anticipated plan was to start his season in Triple-A. That said, I can’t help but wonder if he could be the type of difference maker that could push the Blue Jays from a good team, to one that might be able to compete for a Wild Card spot.

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That’s a lot of pressure to put on a rookie, and fortunately the Blue Jays don’t have to ask him to come and be the saviour of their rotation this season. Ross Atkins and company went out and acquired plenty of veteran talent to bolster the starting group, lead by Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will be the team’s ace this season. They also signed Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi (who may end up in the bullpen), brought back a healthy Matt Shoemaker, and traded for Chase Anderson. With the presence of Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, Ryan Borucki, and more, the Blue Jays don’t have to start the year with Pearson on the roster, but he looks like he could significantly raise the bar, even in his first season.

With the Red Sox having traded Mookie Betts and David Price, they could be vulnerable in the AL East this season. The Yankees, who have been wildly expected to run away with the division, are already dealing with significant injuries to their core. Luis Severino will be out all season recovering from Tommy John surgery, James Paxton likely won’t be back until June, Giancarlo Stanton has a grade one calf strain, and now Aaron Judge is dealing with an issue with his pectoral muscle. The Bronx Bombers showed tremendous depth in 2019, winning 103 games while breaking a franchise record for time spent on the Injured List, but that will be a feat that will be very tough to repeat.

There’s no guarantee that the Blue Jays will sail through the year with a healthy roster either, but those are significant losses for two powerhouse teams in the division, and in the American League, and it could cost them a few extra wins. Being about as simple as I can get here, if Pearson can add a few extra wins for the Blue Jays, that could close the gap in a way that might make things very interesting.

As optimistic as I’m being here, I also understand that the chances of the Blue Jays going from a 67-win team to a playoff contender are very slim, regardless of how many roster additions they’ve made. That said, with an exciting offence that showed off it’s potential late last season, and a vastly improved pitching staff, it’s not hard at all to see this being a .500 team or better, even in the second year of the careers of many of their core hitters.

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And if they choose to utilize Pearson’s talents from the get-go, or even very early on during a long 162 game season, I believe he’s got the talent to make a significant impact in their win column. For example, Walker Buehler earned 3.4 bWAR during his first full season in 2018, and if Pearson can do that, three wins could make a big difference. We’ll see when the club decides to give him that opportunity, but I think the rest of the teams in the division will be paying very close attention.