By Michael Keys
DUNEDIN, Fla. – Right-hander Nate Pearson bet on himself and never felt any doubt.
A Toronto Blue Jays first-round pick last June, Pearson took a risk when he transferred from Florida international University (FIU) to the College of Central Florida.
Baseball players at junior colleges often tend to be overlooked by scouts in the MLB Draft, but that did not deter the Odessa, Fla. native.
“There were a ton of people saying it was a big risk, I mean, even my dad said so,” said Pearson. “I knew it would work out for myself because I knew I was going to work hard.”
Pearson committed to FIU out of high school but transferred to the College of Central Florida after one year. During his time with the Panthers he was used primarily as a reliever, finishing the season with a 2.70 ERA in 33.1 innings pitched and only one start.
Central Florida allowed him to work as a starter as he went on to make 13 starts pitching 81 innings and posting a 1.56 ERA with 118 strikeouts.
Listed at 6-foot-6, Pearson has always had a strong arm with pitches that would reach the mid-to-low 90s even in high school. Working with Central Florida pitching coach Zach Bove, he reached another level with velocity at 100 m.p.h and above.
“(Bove) introduced me to a lot of different arm care stuff to take care of my shoulder and elbow and everything. I gained a lot of velo when I was there,” said the 2017 junior college pitcher of the year.
Photo by Michael Keys
The Patriots coach worked close with Pearson and the more time they spent together the more Bove believed the righty was special.
“Nate is where he is today because of the work he has put in and he has taken ownership of his development,” said Bove, in an email. “Every day was an opportunity for him to get better and he maximized it the best he could.”
Taking care of his arm has become an important part of the right hander’s career. Pearson had a screw inserted into his elbow in high school, but that has not been a problem for him so far.
“I don’t feel it all, it’s just something I had to go through when I was younger and I’m a lot wiser for it and I take my arm care a lot more serious now since going through that,” said Pearson, top-five on most Blue Jays prospect lists.
The athletics program and Bove recognized Pearson could generate a lot of force in his pitches because of his size.
“We do Driveline programming using PlyoCare and weighted balls to increase velocity and arm health,” said the pitching coach.
Pearson spent his first year of pro ball with the Vancouver Canadians helping them win the Northwest League Championship.
He believes baseball is finally giving junior college players more of a serious look.
“Every year in the draft JUCO players are going higher and higher so I think they’re starting to blend in with just the regular (Division I) players of the world.”
The Blue Jays haven’t informed Pearson where he’ll play this year, but his goal is to start in Dunedin with Toronto’s high-A affiliate.
“Wherever they put me, I’ve just got to work hard, and hopefully keep my upward trend going and keep on going up through the system,” said Pearson.