While there have been plenty of interesting things to talk about, Nate Pearson has really been the story of spring training for the Blue Jays. He made a sparkling debut last week by striking out the side against the Yankees and then he followed that up on Sunday by picking up another six strikeouts in two clean innings of work against the Pirates.
After plowing through nine batters with such ease, fans are ready to see Pearson crack the team and travel north at the end of the month. It isn’t going to happen. Ross Atkins was asked on Monday about whether or not Pearson could make the club, and, in a roundabout Atkins way, he shut down the possibility.
Asked about Nate Pearson's camp and whether he could break with the major-league club on opening day, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins: pic.twitter.com/RpsvfUuvV4
— Arden Zwelling (@ArdenZwelling) March 2, 2020
Given what we dealt with last year when it came to Vlad Jr. having to work on his “baserunning” in Triple-A for a few weeks, the automatic conclusion to jump to here is that the Jays are manipulating Pearson’s service time. But I don’t think it’s quite so cut-dry in this situation as it was with Vlad.
The Jays have taken a very conservative and data-driven approach with Pearson’s development. His entire 2018 season was lost due to a freak injury and the organization spent 2019 having him go back and forth between making two- and five-inning starts before they took the training wheels off in the second half of the season.
Ahead of this season, the Jays worked with Pearson to develop a plan for how he was going to progress this season. As Arden Zwelling reported last week, he’ll go into 2020 starting with the Buffalo Bisons without a two- or five-inning limit with the Jays monitoring how the stress of pitching effects his health. The Jays will monitor everything from changes in his hand position or his arm slot or his spin rate to determine how he’s handling the innings he’s being given.
So, why not do all of this in Toronto rather than Buffalo, where the organization can easily keep an even closer eye on him? I don’t think it’s so much of a service time thing here as it is simply being conservative with a pitching prospect inherently more volatile than a position player. It seems the Jays want to avoid piling extra stress onto Pearson as he slowly builds up the stamina to be their work-horse, ace starter.
Not all pitches, outs, and innings are created equal, and pitching in the Majors would be a bigger strain on Pearson than pitching in Triple-A would be. He’s going to be jumping from a career-high of 101 innings in 2019 to, ideally, something well above that in 2020, so the more conservative way to ease him into routinely throwing six or seven innings each time out would be in a lower-stress environment.
From a fan’s perspective, no, none of this is fun to hear, but the fact Pearson, who’s heavy into data usage himself, was involved in creating the plan makes it easier to swallow. This isn’t forcing Vlad Jr. to kick the shit out of Triple-A scrubs for a few weeks to save cash. There’s a real, analytically-driven plan here to help Pearson become the best pitcher he can be.
That said, there are also arguments against what the Jays are doing with Pearson.
Last week, Andrew Stoeten wrote an excellent post in The Athletic comparing Pearson to San Diego Padres stud pitcher Chris Paddack and his journey to the Majors. Like Pearson, Paddack missed an entire season (in his case, 2017) due to injury. Paddack then pitched 90 innings in Single and Double-A in 2018, producing a 2.10 ERA.
In 2019, he cracked the Padres’ roster right out of camp and immediately became a key part of their rotation. Given the fact he was a 23-year-old with a career-high of 90 innings in a season under his belt, the Padres were still conservative with Paddack. In June, they sent him to Triple-A for a quick breather and called him back up a week later and he kept on rolling. All told, Paddack posted a 3.33 ERA over the course of 140 2/3 innings. It was a pretty big jump in workload from the previous year, but the data-driven Padres handled it well.
The Jays could probably execute the same thing with Pearson in the Majors. But, regardless, it appears that isn’t the plan, and we won’t see Pearson for a little while. I don’t love the decision, personally, but I can see where they’re coming from. Regardless, this isn’t the same as the Vlad situation and doesn’t warrant the same outrage.
I've seen video of Jose Bautista throwing a bullpen session. Couldn't tell the velocity, but one source said he can run his fastball up to 94. His slider had legitimate tilt — threw a short one and a bigger bender. @STR0 said in January he could pitch in a big league bullpen.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 2, 2020
If you’re bothered by the Pearson thing, just sit here and visualize Jose Bautista coming out of the bullpen and striking out Rougned Odor with some high heat. Wait, what? Yeah, exactly. Apparently, Jose Bautista — yes, our Jose Bautista, the GOAT — is working on a comeback as a pitcher. Jose Bautista! A fucking pitcher! Yes!
According to Jeff Passan, Bautista will be on the Dominican Republic’s Olympic qualifying roster as the team tries to punch its ticket to Tokyo 2020. Bautista is slated to play first base for the Dominican, but he’s also been working out as a pitcher and could contribute to the team out of the bullpen. Passan adds that he’s seen a video of Bautista throwing a bullpen session and that he can apparently hit 94 miles-per-hour on the gun and that he has a slider with “legitimate tilt.”
Ohhhhhh, fuck yeah. Jose Bautista staring down opposing pitchers with that borderline insane intensity was the absolute best. Now imagine him on the other side of the situation, staring guys down after he struck them out. Sign him, you cowards! (I’m only half joking.)
Ken Giles told the Toronto Star he’d give back his 2017 Astros World Series ring if asked. “Whatever they ask, I would oblige. Because what was going on at the time was not OK.” https://t.co/dsvaupSHPK
— James Wagner (@ByJamesWagner) March 2, 2020
Finally, Ken Giles told Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star last week that he would give back his 2017 World Series ring if he was asked to. The crux of what Giles said is that he feels awful for his former teammates being vilified for their cheating scandal and that he would give the ring back if it meant those players not having to go through what they’re going through now.
“I feel awful, how the guys are being punished,” Giles said. “They’re great people, they really are, and great ballplayers. But I guess sometimes you just have to roll with it. Either be quiet or speak up and tell the truth. Go out there and perform, show them what you’re made of. Competition-wise, it’s going to be harder, in all of baseball, because now they’ll want to show that it’s man to man and not just computer to computer.”
It’s actually an interesting perspective coming from Giles as he had such a weird time in Houston. He was acquired by the Astros from the Phillies to be their ace closer but he kind of imploded in 2017 and didn’t actually play a big role in the playoffs. He never seemed to gel in Houston, as made evident by the fact he got sent down to Triple-A following a spat with manager A.J. Hinch the following season.
I know we’ve already talked about the Astros waaaay too much at this point, but it’s hard not to given the fact there really hasn’t seemed to be any actual closure on the situation.