Toronto Blue Jays: Nate Pearson’s Role in 2022
Nate Pearson is a talented, young arm. Promoting his health and major league experience is key. A Hall of Fame manager’s strategy could be useful.
It’s hard to imagine that Nate Pearson’s season went as planned. With one eye on his development and another on his health, the Blue Jays find themselves with an interesting opportunity when it comes to Pearson’s role for next season.
From being injured during Spring Training, to poor performances in both AAA and Toronto, and then discovering a sports hernia, Nate Pearson dealt with his fair share of issues during the 2021 season. MLB.com had Pearson ranked as the highest prospect in the Jays system as recently as one year ago, and 6th amongst all teams. That’s high praise for a guy who struggled to a 4.44 FIP in only 15 innings of big league baseball in 2021 as per Baseball Reference.
All this being said, I think the world of Pearson. He displays a strong work ethic and a desire to help the team however he can. This was shown last year when he was, at points, relied on to record big outs out of the bullpen. He also shows electric stuff, has the ability to throw 98, and his wipeout slider is a pretty decent tool. Increased consistency and health would aid in Pearson’s path to be an established and impactful major leaguer. If the Blue Jays can bottle up this power and use it effectively, they can use it to both win close ball games and develop Pearson’s arm.
This may sound fairly out there, but it may be worth it for Charlie Montoyo and the Blue Jays to take a page out of White Sox manager Tony La Russa’s book.
This past season, La Russa utilized a pair of former top pitching prospects exclusively out of the bullpen. Both Michael Kopech and Garrett Crochet were used as relievers in 2021 in anticipation of being starting pitchers during the 2022 season. These modified workloads, brought on by La Russa, wielded very good results. This antiquated technique had Kopech and Crochet posting a 2.97 and 2.80 FIP (fielding independent pitching) respectfully.
La Russa’s strategy was not carried out on blind faith, as it has wielded results before. The poster boy of this strategy would have to be Adam Wainwright. Have you ever heard of him? The 40 year old freight train just put a cap on the 16th season of his illustrious MLB career, a season in which he placed 7th in NL Cy Young voting.
Back in 2006, his first full year in the majors, he was under the leadership of La Russa. Wainwright acted exclusively a reliever for the St. Louis Cardinals and posted a 3.31 FIP in 75 innings according to Baseball Reference. He then transitioned into a starting role the following season, and has thrown at least 170 innings in nine seasons afterwards. Comparing Wainwright to Pearson may seem like a reach, but the acclaimed strategy has shown a history of success with skilled, young pitchers.
With this being said, what exactly would the use of this strategy look like on the Blue Jays? The late-inning options are relatively set for the Jays, even this early in the offseason. A seventh and eighth inning of either Tim Mayza or Trevor Richards seems likely, while Jordan Romano should start the season closing games. This gives Nate Pearson a golden opportunity to gather many middle relief innings. I envision this role being similar to how Adam Cimber was used last season, someone who’s reliable but not necessarily someone who works solely late in games.
If Nate Pearson were to stay healthy and hold down this role for the Blue Jays, I believe it would go a long way towards his acclimation to Major League Baseball and his transition as a starting pitcher.