One of the many intriguing aspects of the shortened season is how teams will handle their prospects. In a 60-game sprint, in what should be an unpredictable season, will teams be more willing to push their brightest young players? Without a true minor league season will they want them getting actual game action, as opposed to simply working out as part of the player pool?
A prime example is Nate Pearson of the Toronto Blue Jays. One of the elite pitching prospects in the game, Pearson reached Triple-A in 2019 and it was expected that he’d eventually make his MLB debut in 2020. While that wasn’t supposed to happen on Opening Day, given the unique set of circumstances is it impossible?
Pitching in a tough division Toronto always appears to be on the hunt for starting pitching, and this year is no exception. The team seemingly stocked up on middling veterans, none of which are guaranteed to thrive (outside of Hyun-Jin Ryu):
- Hyun-Jin Ryu
- Tanner Roark
- Chase Anderson
- Matt Shoemaker
- Shun Yamaguchi/Trent Thornton
The team also has Ryan Borucki and T.J. Zeuch in the mix, though it’s easy to argue that Pearson’s upside is greater than that of all of them. Initially we ranked him as the #8 best pitching prospect, giving him a “B+” grade. At the time we said this about him, and it obviously still holds true:
There are few pitchers with the upside of being an ace, but Pearson is one of them. Pitching across three levels in 2019 he showed more than enough in two of the three skills we look for from a pitcher:
- Strikeouts – 10.53 K/9
- Control – 2.39 BB/9
- Groundballs – 39.5%
He clearly has the stuff to miss bats, with a 13.4% SwStr%, with the size (he’s listed at 6’6” and 245 lbs.) and stuff (with a fastball that’s been clocked at over 100 mph) that teams look for. While there are still questions about his control, he’s clearly made strides there as well. The question is going to be in his home run rate, especially since he’ll currently reside in the AL East. There also is always going to be the concern that an injury could crop up, given the type of velocity he possesses, though at this point is there any pitcher who doesn’t have injury risk?
Unfortunately the home run concerns aren’t going to suddenly disappear. Pearson will still have to routinely matchup with the Yankees, Rays and even the Red Sox, especially in ’20, and his interleague matchups aren’t necessarily much easier. The Mets, Phillies, Nationals and Braves all have championship aspirations with the potential to mash the baseball. Even the Marlins have improved their lineup (and if their young pitching clicks, who knows).
The matchups alone wouldn’t be easy, but pitching half his games in Toronto only further complicates the matter. One of the hitter friendliest ballparks in the game today, things could ultimately get ugly.
That’s not to say that Pearson can’t make an impact, but at the same time don’t consider him a potential difference maker in 2020.
Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com
Make sure to check out all of our Updated 2020 preseason rankings: