By Louis Addeo-Weiss
For those in tune with the landscape of the American League East in 2020, you’re aware that the New York Yankees, a team who managed to win 103 games the previous season despite playing a majority of the year without rotation anchor Luis Severino – who will also miss the entire 2020 season after electing to undergo Tommy John Surgery – and slugger Giancarlo Stanton – who had all of 72 plate appearances in 2019 – present the biggest advantage in terms of winning the division at season’s end.
However, one may also be aware and cognizant of the Tampa Bay Rays, who won 96 games despite a payroll just a smidge over $60 million, thanks in large part to their advanced use of analytics, particularly seen through the advent of the opener.
The Boston Red Sox should remain a team of interest in 2020, given the ongoing investigation into their sign-stealing scandal during the 2018 season in which they won the World Series, as well as the fact that they look to remain competitive despite trading away franchise player Mookie Betts and pitcher David Price.
And as for the Baltimore Orioles, we’ll be brief in our thoughts and just say that they’re in transition.
The Toronto Blue Jays though, are a different story. We saw at points during the 2019 season, with the emergence of the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichete, and Cavan Biggio, all sons of former big leaguers, that this team isn’t far from competing in a highly competitive American League. These three, all position players who look to man the team’s infield for years to come, represent the next wave of young talent at the big league level.
It could be the emergence, though, of a name on the pitching side that could make Toronto relevant a lot quicker than you think; that name is Nate Pearson.
Entering the 2020 season, Pearson, a product of the state of Florida, was ranked as Baseball America’s 7th best prospect, as well as 8th by MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo. In 34 minor league starts since 2017, Pearson owns a 2.19 ERA over 123.1 innings, in which he struck out 146 batters.
Pearson possesses a fastball that has reached as high as 104 miles per hour and regularly touches triple digits, as well as a plus slider and changeup that give him a legitimate three-pitch mix. This is a tell-tale sign of a pitcher who can start at the big league level.
In his first spring training appearance, Pearson showed why he can and should be a difference-maker on the 2020 Jays’ season, striking out the side on just twelve pitches. The outing saw his fastball reach up to 98 on the radar gun, with the righty flashing that previously mentioned slider to boot.
“It was impressive,” says Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo.
With GM Ross Atkins signing the likes of Hyun-Jin Ryu (4/$80M) and Tanner Roark (2/$24M), as well as the acquiring of Chase Anderson, the Blue Jays appear to already have a good base of talent in their starting rotation. Adding Pearson into that mix would only further give notice to a team on the come-up.
Now, would Pearson make the team better today was he to be on the roster come opening day? Sure, and we’ve seen teams such as the San Diego Padres – who did this with fellow pitcher Chris Paddack and shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. – start the service time clock now knowing it makes them a better team, but Toronto may be best served to have Pearson start the year at Triple-A before joining the team sometime during the season.
However, Pearson could begin the year on an innings limit, which he may benefit from given he hasn’t thrown more than 101 innings in a season since entering pro ball. Imagine having Pearson in your bullpen to start the season, then come late-July-early-August, you begin to ramp up his workload where he slowly transitions into the starting rotation. That would make for some interesting pennant chase baseball.