ERIE, Pa. — Nate Pearson grabs his glove and jogs out to the visiting bullpen at UPMC Park on a hot but tolerable Saturday afternoon.
He goes through his normal off-day routine like the rest of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats pitchers.
The difference between Pearson and his double-A teammates, however, is noticeable.
It’s not his 6-foot 6-inch frame that makes him stand out, but rather the effort the Toronto Blue Jays’ top prospect is putting in during a routine pre-game drill.
After a team stretch, Pearson grabs a teammate and starts playing catch. The rest of the team is playing a normal game of catch, but Pearson, 22, is pretending he’s on the mound.
He comes to a set before each throw and fires it to his teammate, who starts to give him different targets like a catcher.
Once both pitchers are done playing catch, it’s on to short runs back and forth. The rest of the players complete their runs and head back to the clubhouse.
Alone in right field, he gets in a few more runs.
It may seem like a small detail, but it’s Pearson. His work ethic was praised at Bishop McLaughlin Catholic High School in Spring Hill, Fla., which led to an offer from Florida International University
Pearson had hoped to be drafted out of high school, but he used the disappointment to work even harder in college.
Pearson’s hard work led to him being taken in the first round (28th overall) of the 2017 draft.
He’s hoping the hard work in double-A leads to a shot in the big leagues.
“It’s a lot of work, but I love it,” Pearson said. “I’ve been working hard my whole life, and seeing my success because of the work fuels me even more. I want to work harder than everyone else.”
All eyes are now on the young flamethrower in the Toronto organization. Now that Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez are gone via trades and top prospect Bo Bichette has been promoted to the Blue Jays, checking on Pearson’s progress is becoming a weekly activity for Blue Jays fans.
Pearson is listed as No. 14 on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list.
“I don’t really pay too much attention to the rankings and the pressure,” said Pearson, who represented the Blue Jays at the Futures Game during all-star week in Cleveland last month. “I know with Bo getting promoted I’m the No. 1 guy, but I want to focus on handling my game and controlling what I can control. The rest will take care of itself.”
Pearson has been working with New Hampshire pitching coach Vince Horsman, who pitched in the big leagues in the early 1990s. Horsman has praised Pearson for pitching out of trouble and working on his pitch sequences to become less predictable.
Pearson’s start on Sunday was another example of his growth. He cruised through the first three innings and retired 11 Erie SeaWolves in a row while hitting 100 mph several times.
Pearson ran into some adversity in the fourth inning when Josh Lester guessed right and pounded a 97-mph fastball over the right-field wall for a two-run home run. Pearson didn’t let it derail him as he threw five solid innings and hit 100 mph six times in an eventual 3-2 loss
While Pearson hasn’t won a game (his record is 0-4) in 14 double-A starts, he has a 2.82 ERA and opponents are hitting just .184 off him. He also has a WHIP of 0.94 as he continues to intimidate hitters with a live fastball, a slider in the 88-90 mph range and a curveball in the high 70s.
Pearson is also keeping an eye on the big-league club as he works to move up to triple-A Buffalo.
“I’ve been following all of my friends as they get called up and it’s an awesome feeling, and I know it’s not my time right now,” Pearson said. “I’m hoping to get up there at some point next year. I just need to stay healthy.”