The combination of power and command has been striking. In 34 innings split between high-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, Nate Pearson has punched out 52 batters and issued just six walks. His ERA sits comfortably at 1.32. Blessed with a blistering fastball and a carve-‘em-up slider, he’s the top pitching prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
The 22-year-old right-hander doesn’t possess a long professional resume. Selected 28th overall in the 2017 draft out of Central Florida Community College, Pearson got his feet wet with 20 innings of rookie ball, then began last year on the injured list with an intercostal strain. Upon returning in early May, he was promptly nailed by a come-backer and missed the remainder of the regular season with a fractured ulna.
Pearson recovered in time to make six appearances in the Fall League, an assignment Jeff Ware, Toronto’s minor-league pitching coordinator, called “a big test given that he’d really only pitched in short-season ball.” In terms of reestablishing his high-ceiling credentials, he passed with flying colors.
Standing a sturdy six-foot-six, Pearson looks the part of a power pitcher, and that’s exactly what he is. Asked for a self-scouting report, he led with that exact definition.
“I’m a power pitcher,” Pearson told me following the first of his four starts for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. “I’m very fastball-dominant. My four-seamer has life to it — it’s always been my best pitch — and my slider is my second-best pitch. I also have a changeup and a curveball. My changeup has had a lot of depth this year, while my curveball is more of a pitch that I’ll use for a first-pitch strike.”
Pearson worked on his slider and his curveball at Driveline this past January. It was his first visit to the Seattle-area facility — he’d already been doing a Driveline arm-care program — and according to Ware, the fast-rising hurler has the ideal mindset to thrive in that type of environment.
“He can touch 100 mph, and his slider sits in the upper-80s with depth,” said Ware. “He can overpower hitters. We all know that. So our message to Nate is to learn how to command, how pitch sequence, how to tunnel pitches. And he’s probably one of the better guys in the organization when it comes to understanding that stuff. He understands his analytics — where they need to be — and he’s very self-driven.”
A high-octane heater up in the zone is the youngster’s bread and butter.
“Analytics-wise — looking at it on Rapsodo or Trackman — that’s where my fastball plays best,” affirmed Pearson, who has been clocked as high as 102 mph this season. “The spin rate is anywhere from 2,400 to 2,600 [rpm], but what makes it elite is the vertical [movement]. When it’s up in the zone it looks like it’s rising.”
Pearson is doing some fast rising himself. The Jays are being careful with his workload — Pearson has yet to go more than five innings this year — but he nonetheless commands attention every time he takes the mound. It’s only a matter of time before he goes north to Toronto.
I was at PNC Park earlier this season when Josh Bell hit a 474-foot home run against the Cincinnati Reds. After the game, I asked him about the bat he uses to do damage against opposing pitchers.
“I’ve always been more or less a Marucci or Victus guy, although I used a Louisville Slugger for awhile,” the Pirates first baseman told me. “Size-wise, I bounce around depending on how my body feels. Every season I take a 35 into camp, and it kind of fluctuates from there. This one is the biggest model I’ve used.”
Bell isn’t superstitious about his bats. Asked if he’ll be chagrinned if the piece of lumber he’d just used to propel a baseball into the Allegheny River breaks, he shook his head in the negative.
“Hitting is just timing,” he told me. “Especially when you’re in a good place. I don’t think the bat has anything to do with it. It’s knowing when you start your load, how it feels when you’re coiling up, when you’re releasing that snap.”
That snap has produced an 1.121 OPS and 16 bombs this season. Pretty much whatever Josh Bell is swinging these days is doing damage.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
A.J. Pierzynski went 10 for 15 against Gary Glover.
Jimmy Piersall went 10 for 33 against Bob Feller.
Lenny Dykstra went 10 for 33 against Dwight Gooden.
Milton Bradley went 10 for 20 against Brandon Webb.
Carl Everett went 11 for 21 against Kenny Rogers.