Blue Jays can’t afford to keep Nate Pearson off the roster

Jays GM Ross Atkins won’t say if Nate Pearson will join the club out of camp.

As the Toronto Blue Jays prepare to begin training camp for the truncated 2020 Major League Baseball season, there is a strong case of deja vu permeating around the club.

Last year, the Blue Jays had the top prospect in baseball in Vladimir Guerrero Jr., a batter nearly every observer believed was ready for the big leagues right away. But Guerrero didn’t get called up until April 26 as General Manager Ross Atkins, ostensibly citing Guerrero’s development, in reality, abused the league’s service time rules to keep him in the minors for a few extra weeks.

It was a distraction for a young ballclub counting on their prospects maturing as quickly as possible. And they could be making that same mistake again this year with right-handed pitcher Nate Pearson.

Blue Jays should put Nate Pearson in the rotation.

Pearson’s powerful right arm is already equipped to get out big league hitters. He gave up just two hits in four appearances this spring, striking out 11 batters in just seven innings. After Josh Bell, a National League All-Star starter a year ago, struck out feebly on Pearson’s fastball, he called it “the closest thing I’ve seen to unhittable stuff this spring.”

Minor League opponents hit just .176 against Pearson in 2019, eighth-best among pitchers with at least 100 innings. He had a 2.59 ERA in 16 appearances with Double-A New Hampshire, striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. His fastball averages around 98-100 mph and has reached as high as 104 mph during game action; MLB Pipeline gives the pitch a perfect 80/80 rating. Only Noah Syndergaard and Gerrit Cole averaged as high as 97 mph last season among starting pitchers.

Pearson has the potential to be the Blue Jays No. 2 starter behind Hyun-Jin Ryu right now. But, on Saturday, Atkins attempted to temper expectations among Blue Jays fans. He wouldn’t commit to Pearson joining the rotation straight out of camp, saying in a conference call with reporters that the club is focused on ‘what’s going to be best for his development.”

It’s the same type of language he used to justify keeping Guerrero from the Majors a year ago, only this time it will be easier. In a 60-game season, a player has to be on the big league roster for at least 62 days to accrue a season of service time. If Pearson misses just one start at the beginning of the season, he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2026 instead of 2025.

The temptation to get that additional year of team control may be too much for Atkins and the Blue Jays’ front office to pass up. After all, what’s one start compared to an entire year? In an abbreviated season, though, one game can mean everything. Through the first 60 games of the 2019 season, just three games separated the final six teams competing for the second Wild Card spot in the American League.

In order to compete in 2020, the Blue Jays will need to put their best roster on the field every game. There is no time to wait for a top prospect who could help out the club right away. But that’s exactly what Atkins seems prepared to do, and Blue Jays fans will just have to be patient to see their ace of the future in uniform. Just like they were forced to do last year.

Next: Samardzija casually throws owners under the bus

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *