TORONTO – About 24 hours before his highly anticipated big-league debut, Nate Pearson walked out to the mound at Nationals Park, climbed up on the bump and let his mind go to work. Given that this is his first time at the home of the defending World Series champions, the 23-year-old visualized a batter stepping into the batter’s box, himself locking into the plate, trying to get his bearings and build comfort around some new surroundings.
“Just mentally preparing,” said Pearson, who’ll start for the Toronto Blue Jays against Max Scherzer and the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night. “That’s really all it was. Just getting used to the atmosphere.”
The process is demonstrative of Pearson’s attention to detail, a promising trait that should help him fully leverage a repertoire with a front-of-the-rotation profile. His graduation is the latest high-impact transition for the Blue Jays, who over the past year have integrated several of their top prospects, highlighted by Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette.
Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.
Pearson is the centrepiece of a wave of young arms bubbling up to the majors, signs the Blue Jays pitching is beginning to catch up to the club’s more advanced position-player side. His arrival pushes their overall talent level a step closer to the elite rivals they’re aspiring to catch.
If he fulfils his potential, and develops into the ace he’s determined to become, the Blue Jays’ trajectory changes dramatically — and quickly.
“The sky is the limit with this kid,” manager Charlie Montoyo said.
While some of the maturity in his approach was reflected in his preparatory trip to the mound Tuesday, another example came in the way he’s viewing the timing of his call up. By waiting until the season’s sixth game to give him the ball, the Blue Jays manipulated his service time to delay his free agency a full year.
The players union has grieved – and lost – past cases of such suspiciously timed call ups, and has been monitoring Pearson’s status. Whether or not his case ends up before an arbitrator, he demonstrated a deft touch in discussing the situation, making clear he understands what exactly the organization has done without creating a public rift about it happening.
“I try not to let that stuff bother me,” he said. “Obviously, bringing me up right after the service time date brings up a lot of speculation. But at the end of the day it’s a business move. I want the Blue Jays to be successful. They’re just doing what’s best for the organization and I can’t take that personally. They’re just doing what owners and GMs are supposed to do, just do the best for the team. And so I try not to let that affect me and I just control what I can control. I’m making my debut and I’m excited for it.”
As well he should be, given how he would surely have debuted already if not for a fractured forearm that derailed his 2018 season. Last year, Pearson started off at advanced-A Dunedin and finished at triple-A Buffalo, an ascent that pushed him to this point.
He worked doggedly in 2019 to refine his devastating slider, which unfairly tunnels out from the same slot as a fastball that sits mid-90s and occasionally hits triple digits. And then, during the pandemic shutdown, he went through the same process of trial and error using advanced data to further refine his curveball and changeup.
Now, more than anything, he simply needs reps to pull all his progress together.
“Just solidify in the rotation, earn a spot,” Pearson replied on what he needed to continue his meticulous progression. “This is a good start, making my debut, being able to start the game. This year has been crazy so far, but still working and still developing my pitches throughout the season, and just enjoy being up in the big-leagues for the first time. I know my parents won’t be able to be here, and friends and family will only be able watch me on TV and everything, but still enjoy it. I’m about to achieve a dream and a goal that I’ve had since I was little. Just enjoy this whole process.”
Making things all the more extraordinary is that Pearson will start a home opener in which the Blue Jays will play as the home team at the stadium of their opponent. Incredibly, Pearson has a reference point for that, as when he played for Dunedin last year, the team used Jack Russell Stadium in neighbouring Clearwater as a temporary home and hosted games at the park of their opponents due to renovations at TD Ballpark.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
“I thought about that as soon as I heard I’m starting the home opener in D.C.,” Pearson said. “It’s pretty cool to think about.”
Even cooler is that he’s finally arrived at the launching point of his big-league career. A stress fracture in his elbow while in high school derailed his progress, before he made up for lost time at Central Florida Community College, leading the Blue Jays to select him 28th overall in the 2017 draft, with the compensatory pick received for Edwin Encarnacion’s departure. Then came the fractured forearm that further pushed back his arrival, and then the COVID-19 shutdown this spring.
Now, having watched many of peers make the jump, his turn is here.
“You know coming into the minors, being on the top-30 prospect lists, there are guys ahead of you that are a little bit older and have just been in pro ball a little bit longer, they get their opportunity and just to see them have success with it … it’s pretty cool to see,” Pearson said. “That’s what I plan to do, obviously. At a new level and everything, there might be some learning curve and everything, but I’m up for the challenge. And I’m always going to get better any way, shape or form. Whatever comes my way, I’m ready for it.”
Pearson’s methodical approach to his development has made sure of that.