The Blue Jays have waited a long time for Nate Pearson to reach his potential in the big leagues, and it might be time to start thinking short-term with the talented right-hander.
For the last number of years the Blue Jays have waited patiently for a combination of health and performance from their former first round pick, but for one reason or another things just haven’t come together for the now 25 year old.
Coming up through the ranks as one of the top rated young starting pitchers on most prospect lists, it’s made a lot of sense that the Jays have remained patient with Pearson, especially about his future role. They’ve resisted the temptation to move him away from being a starting pitcher for the most part, knowing that an arm with his talent is likely best served in the rotation if possible. However, if I’m running the Blue Jays, I’m probably thinking about the here and now a little more these days, and maybe even a little more selfishly.
With all due respect to Pearson, he has had his opportunities to secure a spot in the rotation in Toronto over the last couple of years. Most of his progress has been stalled due to injury, which isn’t exactly his fault, but the Blue Jays have had to move on, and have even seen a young star in Alek Manoah lap Pearson on the depth chart despite being far behind him just a couple seasons ago. Things change, but the fact that Pearson’s progress has stalled might mean it’s time to look at the situation differently. At least for the rest of 2022, and maybe for good, I think the Blue Jays need to view Nate Pearson as a reliever.
From the sound of things, they may be quietly already moving toward this arrangement with the Florida native, at least as far as how they’ve addressed his rehab so far this season. From Gregor Chisholm of the Toronto Star:
"“Manager Charlie Montoyo and company continue to insist Pearson could be used as a starter, a bulk reliever or even a setup man. They say the plan is to continue stretching him out and, if another starter gets hurt, Pearson supposedly will be one of a select few under consideration to take his spot.The rehab schedule suggests otherwise. Pearson was diagnosed with mononucleosis in early April. Two and a half months later, he still hasn’t thrown more than two innings in a game despite going six days between appearances. Even more telling, all four of Pearson’s rehab appearances have been out of the bullpen.”"
Does that sound like a pitcher who is ramping up to join the rotation? I know they could start stretching him out more at any time, and that there’s not an immediate need in the rotation at the moment, but the lack of urgency to build Pearson’s workload is pretty telling to me. And frankly, I’m fine with it.
In my eyes, the Blue Jays have reached a point with Nate Pearson where they shouldn’t bank on, or even plan for him to be part of the big league roster, at least until he’s arrived and had a few successful outings under his belt. There’s no doubt about the raw talent he possesses, but as we’ve learned over the last few seasons, you need a lot more than that.
Looking at the current needs for the Blue Jays, I would argue that Pearson could provide a greater boost to the bullpen, and possibly in a few different ways. They could use another long-man out of the ‘pen after Ross Stripling moved into the rotation with the season-ending injury to Hyun Jin Ryu, and Pearson should have the skill set to fill that role. In an even more tantalizing set-up, the Blue Jays could really use that strikeout potential at the back of the bullpen.
With their “win-now” attitude in 2022, I honestly believe this is the direction the Blue Jays should send Pearson for the rest of this season. When he’s ready, bring him up to start out in some low-leverage situations and allow him to get comfortable while building his confidence back up. In a perfect world, eventually he could help guys like Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza by being another swing-and-miss weapon for the Blue Jays’ bullpen in the late innings. It’ll take some time to get there and develop that kind of confidence from the coaching staff, but I can’t think of a better role in the short-term for a guy who can throw a triple-digit fastball.
At this stage of Pearson’s young career, I think the most important thing is finding some sort of success at the highest level, and I don’t know that it matters what form it comes in anymore. Whether that’s as a starter, a long-man, or ideally as a high-leverage reliever, Pearson needs to prove that he can stay healthy and hang with the highest level of talent. As for the Blue Jays, they could use an arm exactly like his to boost their bullpen, and it might be time to start looking at Pearson with a much shorter lens.