The Blue Jays are entering another offseason not knowing what they can expect from Nate Pearson next year, but they could have a unique plan to maximize the talents of the fireballer.
Pearson has long been viewed as a potential ace of the future in Toronto, and has even cracked the top 10 on many prospect lists around baseball. Unfortunately a variety of injuries have really hampered him during his pro career thus far, and some of the shine has started to wear off of his star. That said, it’s more than understandable that the Jays remain hopeful about what he could bring in the future.
For now I’m all but certain that the plan will be to stretch him out again next spring and put him in the competition for one of the five starter roles on the team. At the moment the Jays will return a trio that includes Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Alek Manoah, and will likely be in the mix to retain one of both of Robbie Ray and/or Steven Matz, who are set to hit the open market in November.
In my opinion, a best case scenario for the Blue Jays would see them be able to retain Ray on a reasonable multi-year deal (we’ll see how out of hand the bidding gets for his services), and hopefully be able to hand the fifth starter’s job to a healthy Nate Pearson. Admittedly it’s a bit of a gamble to think that way, but the presence of Ross Stripling certainly helps, and hopefully the Jays will see better results from organizational arms like Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, and Trent Thornton as well.
All that said, I found Ross Atkins’ recent quote about Pearson to be an intriguing one. From TSN’s Scott Mitchell:
"“We’re hopeful Pearson will be someone who will be more of an extended outing, closer to a starter look for us … it’s a great starting point.”"
In the context of Atkins’ quote, he was actually talking about the depth in the bullpen when Pearson’s name came up. The GM obviously threw some cold water on the idea that Pearson will be used as a reliever, but it’s pretty clear that they’re keeping an open mind for the 25 year old at this point as well.
Even in a best case scenario, there’s a good chance that Pearson will need a reduced workload in 2022 even if he stays healthy for the entire season. After throwing just 18.0 big league innings in 2020, Pearson was limited to just 15.0 with the Jays this season. He obviously added to those totals a bit during rehab stints in the minor leagues, but that only amounted to 30.2 more frames in 2021. “Big Nate” has a lot of building up to do before he’ll be able to withstand the rigours of a 162 game season at the highest level.
With that in mind, Atkins’ quote makes perfect sense. It’s entirely possible that Pearson could start the season in the rotation and eventually transition to a bullpen role later in the year. We’ve seen the Blue Jays do this kinda thing in the past with Aaron Sanchez, and it would make sense on many levels. They could also plan to shut him down for a while during the season as well, although that’s not ideal since he’d have to work to get back into game shape.
Of course, any plans for Pearson will centre on whether or not he can stay healthy in 2022, and I think the front office has to be realistic with their expectations. They’ll absolutely give him the opportunity to win a job and make an impact with the Blue Jays, but they’ll also be mindful of his performance, and his long-term health. Hopefully the Florida native can finally find some better luck in 2022.