While we should expect to see Nate Pearson throwing MLB innings for the Blue Jays at some point in 2020, he won’t be doing it out of the bullpen.
Back in March during the original MLB spring training, one of the major storylines around the Blue Jays was what they would do with Nate Pearson, or more specifically, when he would make his big league debut. While almost everything else about the MLB season has changed over the last few months, the anticipation about Pearson joining the Blue Jays is picking up right where it left off, and with good reason.
Now rated as the #7 prospect by Baseball America, the big right-hander looks like he’s ready to dominate major league hitters right now, at least after his stellar performance last year, and again this spring before things were shut down. It remains to be seen if the Blue Jays will have him on the roster at the beginning of the shortened 60-game season, or if they’ll delay things to manipulate his service time (let’s call a spade, a spade here), but it’s hard to imagine him not pitching in a Blue Jays uniform at some point this season.
That said, it won’t be out of the bullpen, at least according to recent comments from GM Ross Atkins.
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On one hand that shouldn’t be a surprise at all, as Pearson is viewed as a premium pitching prospect that’s destined to lead a big league rotation someday. Naturally the Blue Jays want to develop him as such, and keeping him a “once every five days” routine should aid in his development, and hopefully help to keep him healthy. With a shorter season, the Blue Jays also don’t really have to worry about innings limits, as it’s hard to see him topping the 101.2 innings he threw over three levels of the minor leagues last year.
On the other hand, I’m surprised to hear Atkins immediately rule out the idea. The front office could always change their minds later on of course, but it seemed like a pretty definitive statement when he told the Toronto Star:
“I don’t think that we’ll consider that for Nate, as a pure relief role. But we’ll consider for all of our pitchers, how do we maximize development, put them in the best situation to make a significant impact. We just feel so strongly about Nate Pearson’s ability to start that we’ll prioritize.”
In my mind, there’s no doubt that Pearson is one of the top-five starting pitchers available to Charlie Montoyo and his staff to begin the year. Having said that, they do have plenty of options to fill out a five-man rotation including veterans Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, Matt Shoemaker, Shun Yamaguchi, and a group of solid young arms including Trent Thornton, Ryan Borucki, and several others. The front office can make the argument that they can still field a solid rotation without Pearson, and I anticipate they’ll likely do that to begin the year at least.
I fully expect Pearson to join the rotation at some point in early August, but it’ll be interesting to see how Montoyo manages the addition when he arrives. Assuming the other rotation options are healthy, someone is going to lose their job, and other than Yamaguchi, there really aren’t a lot of natural relievers. That won’t get in the way of adding a potential premium talent like Pearson, but it’s interesting to hear Atkins basically say they’ll make room for him in the rotation. There was no typical “we’ll see” responses from Atkins, although there are exceptions made for exceptional players I suppose.
With the amount of variables to the 2020 season, I don’t know that we should say “never” to much of anything right now. That said, it doesn’t sound like the Blue Jays are interested in having Pearson pitch out of the bullpen at all, regardless of how strange the calendar may turn out to be.