If you follow the Blue Jays minor league system at all, you will know that there are a few different pitchers dominating the headlines in the Jays organization.
Ricky Tiedemann is the clear frontrunner, as the third-round pick of the 2021 MLB Draft continues to dominate every level the club puts him at. Right-hander Yosver Zulueta is also a popular figure, especially since he can touch the upper 90s with his fastball and joined Tiedemann at the All-Star Future’s Game earlier this year.
One player getting back on the right track is Nate Pearson, the 6’6″ right-hander who was once the Blue Jays’ top prospect but has yet to stick at the MLB level due to injuries. This injury bug is unfortunately not a new phenomenon, as the Florida product has dealt with numerous ailments since turning professional and even dating back to his high school days.
Last year was one of the first years Jays fans really saw Pearson struggle, both on and off the mound. He started the year on the IL and in his first start against the Houston Astros, he was unable to locate his fastball and lasted just 2.1 innings. He returned later in the year in the bullpen and found a groove but missed a majority of the season with a sports hernia/groin injury, which kept him out of the rotation and also limited him in the minors.
Blue Jays right-hander Nate Pearson continues to rehab in AAA. Is there a chance fans will see him at the big league level sometime this season?
Fast forward to this season and Pearson was on the outside looking in heading into Spring Training, as the Blue Jays offseason moves and the development of Alek Manoah into a dependable rotation arm pushed him out of the picture. Fans weren’t even sure if the club was going to use him in the rotation or bullpen given the time he missed last season or whether he would be on an innings limit, potentially moving him to the bullpen out of caution.
Unfortunately, Pearson started the season on the IL due to mononucleosis and later suffered a lat injury, which really limited him throughout the year until recently, as he is slowly starting to rehab back in the Minor Leagues. He made an appearance back on September 4th in Single-A Dunedin, pitching a clean inning, and most recently made a rehab appearance two days ago in AAA Buffalo, once again pitching a clean inning while striking out one batter. The strikeout was impressive, a sweeping breaking ball on a 2-2 count to get the batter to chase, while also hitting 98-99 MPH with his fastball.
So is there a chance Blue Jays fans will see Nate Pearson at the MLB level?
Perhaps, but he still needs to get some innings under his belt, at least according to Jays manager John Schneider, with MLB.com’s Keegan Matheson reporting that the club wants to see the former top prospect pitch in back-to-back outings before considering a promotion, likely taking the spot of Julian Merryweather or Zach Pop in the bullpen (as they are the only two with MiLB options and the Jays bullpen has been pitching well as of late).
Even if Pearson starts throwing well during his rehab outings, will the Jays consider moving Merryweather down if he is pitching well? He did give up a home run in his first appearance back with the Jays but he had an impressive outing against the Orioles on September 6th, allowing just one hit and one walk while striking out three through 1.2 innings of work.
I would imagine the decision will be easier over time once Merryweather gets some more innings under his belt but he too can light up the radar gun, and if he is doing well in the big leagues versus Pearson, will the club be willing to make the switch?
I honestly think they might, only because Pearson had a great stretch to end the 2021 season in the bullpen and could be a valuable weapon out of the bullpen if the Jays make the playoffs.
Only time will tell.