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Nate Pearson and his diminishing role with the Toronto Blue Jays
29 days ago
Heading into the 2020 campaign, right-hander Nate Pearson was not only one of the top prospects within the Blue Jays’ farm system but also ranked well across the league, holding the eighth spot via MLB Pipeline. For many Jays fans, he was predicted to be the next “ace” of the squad, as the 6’6″ Florida product featured a fastball that could hit triple digits and was mowing down Minor League opponents since making his professional debut.
That’s not to say Pearson was perfect; his injury history (and some bad luck) had derailed his development after being picked in the 2017 MLB Draft from the College of Central Florida. A comebacker off his elbow in his debut game in the 2018 season kept him on the sidelines for most of the year, but what followed was a multitude of injuries to his lat, groin (including sports hernia surgery), elbow, and also missing some time with mononucleosis.
Pearson eventually made his big league debut during the 2020 campaign, making four starts before elbow tightness sent him back to the IL. He made one relief appearance to round out the season and pitched two innings in Game #2 of the AL Wild Card, striking out five Rays batters without allowing a run or a hit. He finished his first year with a 6.00 ERA through 18 innings with a 7.19 FIP and 16 strikeouts through the regular season. He struggled with his command at times, pitching to a 6.5 BB/9.
Looking at Nate Pearson and his role with the Blue Jays in 2024
His sophomore campaign started with him back on the IL, making his first start of the year on May 9th against the Houston Astros where he struggled with his command (five walks, three earned runs, and four hits with zero strikeouts). He was sent back down to triple-A after that start. He returned as a relief pitcher in late September but succeeded in this new role, pitching to a 2.84 ERA through 12 2/3 innings. He was still a bit wild at times (seven walks) but limited opposing hitters to a .208 average.
After spending all of 2022 in the Minor Leagues (13 relief appearances, 15 1/3 innings), Pearson was fighting for a spot on the 2023 Opening Day roster but lost out, heading down to Buffalo to begin the year. Throughout the season, Pearson rode the options train between the two sites for most of the year, finishing with a 4.85 ERA (and FIP) through 42 2/3 innings with a 9.1 K/9 and a much-improved 3.1 BB/9.
Heading into the 2024 season, the right-hander is in a tough spot when it comes to cracking the big league roster. His days as a starter are likely numbered considering the injury history and his use as a reliever over the past two seasons, although the Jays could look to stretch him out when considering their lack of depth at the position outside of the current rotation. His plus fastball does bode well for a late-inning role in the bullpen, but the Jays don’t have a lot of room in their relief corps at the moment, with most of the group returning from last season while also adding Yariel Rodríguez into the mix amongst other internal candidates such as Yosver Zulueta, Hayden Juenger, Bowden Francis, Mitch White, Zach Pop, and Hagen Danner.
This is the last season where Pearson has a Minor League option, so next season (and beyond) he will need a spot on the roster or be designated for assignment (and then either traded or exposed to the waiver wire) should that option be used this year. He also just went through his first year of arbitration ($800,000), and he isn’t free agent eligible until after the 2026 campaign.
Looking into the future, Pearson’s road to the big league roster with the Toronto Blue Jays seems murky at best. He has shown flashes of brilliance at times but also has shown what can happen when the wheels fall off, especially with his command. Working out of the bullpen seems like Pearson’s role, at least for the time being, but given the internal competition and the limited bullpen spots, unless the injury bug hits quite a few members, the right-hander likely begins the campaign in Buffalo again, waiting for an opportunity.
Why the Jays could move Nate Pearson
On the other hand, the Blue Jays could look to move their former top prospect, as a change of scenery could be beneficial for both player and club. Pearson gets a fresh new start with a club that may want to try him in the rotation again (while assuming the risk) and the Jays can add to their current roster to attempt another playoff push with the current core.
Pearson alone does have some trade value, as he has three more seasons of contract control through arbitration and the raw talent to be a great pitcher, but the club could use him as part of a trade package to gain value. Putting him alongside someone like Santiago Espinal, who the Jays could move as well given their utility player depth after the Isiah Kiner-Falefa signing, could net Toronto an outfield/DH bat that the team is in desperate need of. If that type of trade does present itself, I cannot see why the Blue Jays would pass on that opportunity.
Overall, the road for Pearson to return to the big leagues in a full-time role is dwindling with the Blue Jays given the current roster and reliever depth, barring injuries to the relief corps or poor performance among the group, which could open a window for the former first-round pick to return.
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