This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat. To read the full newsletter, click here. And the Subscription To get it regularly in your inbox.
It was a simpler time in 2019. The 22-year-old Pearson had just come back from a lost season to enter 2.30pm, as the 100mph fastball carried him to Triple-A as the organization’s number one prospect. The Blue Jays had an ace of the future. Life was good.
The years since have been complicated and frustrating, but Pearson, now 26, is making late-season efforts to join the Blue Jays in the post-season as a savior. Injuries hit the 6-foot-6, 6-foot-4 right arm — the most recent of which was a passing strain that shut him out in the middle of summer — but he made his way back to Triple-A and appeared five times without goals.
On September 21, Pearson worked 1 1/3 of the turns, scoring all four bumps across the strike while touching 99 mph. It was his first multi-stroke appearance in this rehab period – which was entirely by design.
Interim manager John Schneider said, “We’re kind of seeing how he recovers and we’re trying to get him a few rounds. Everything last night? The speed was there, the breaking ball was there. We love what we’re seeing. It’s just a matter of how he bounces and [if he’s] Able to provide multiple roles. We’ll see how the next days go, and then another outing.”
This is a small hub for Toronto. Earlier in his rehab, the Blue Jays had been eyeing Pearson’s work in back-to-back games, indicating that a solo role was more likely. Now that a multi-role role has been prioritized, it’s easy to rethink Pearson’s best moment in the majors.
In Game 2 of the 2020 AL Wild Card series, Pearson went into a relief against the Rays and hit five times in two perfect rounds. It also came at the end of a season hit by injuries, but it was a glimpse into who Pearson could be at his best.
This still leaves Blue Jays with a difficult decision, though. Having spent the entire regular season in a rehab cycle from start to stop, can he confidently add him to the race roster in the post-season race already nearing the end? There will be no time for settling, no time for role playing and no room for error.
“It’s definitely unique,” Schneider said. “You look at things and you look at general health. If these things are there, it’s been shown at this level before. It’s been presented in the post-season in the building, albeit not with fans and all of that stuff, there’s a different kind of atmosphere. It’s knowing a person, looking at things, and listening to how they feel physically.”
Pearson offers something the Blue Jays lack, which is speed. The club has long lagged behind the rest of baseball in this area, and while the organization is doing a much better job of developing speed now — an encouraging trend that will pay off in the coming years — Toronto still lacks the assembly line of the 100 MPH dampers that other clubs have discovered.
If Pearson is able to do this across two rounds, that’s a bonus. Since Ross Streabling moved into the spin, the Blue Jays also lacked a true “huge” softener to stick to the role, and Pearson is a modernized version of that, in late 2022 and beyond. There are still a lot of “ifs” involved here, though, and it looks like Pearson will need to put together at least one more outing in Triple-A before this can be a conversation.
If it gets to that point, and he’s able to rejoin the base of the bulls, Pearson comes loaded upside down. It’s the same upside that has excited and frustrated Blue Jays fans for years now, always floating in sight but rarely close, but talent too bewildering to ignore.