DUNEDIN, Fla – The raw stuff is impressive, the power with which Nate Pearson throws drawing everything from knowing nods by interested observers to flustered headshakes by those standing in against him.
“It was a lot better watching the other guys in the box from behind the screen than being in the box, that’s for sure,” said teammate Randal Grichuk, one of four Toronto Blue Jays hitters to take some live batting practice against the club’s top prospect.
While a more meaningful evaluation point comes Tuesday, when Pearson starts against the New York Yankees, most intriguing from Friday’s final day of prep before Grapefruit League play begins were the subtleties identified by his teammates and coaches.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., was impressed by the way Pearson told him he was going to challenge him with a first-pitch fastball before they took the field and then did, while Grichuk noted how the 23-year-old’s arm extension “is pretty far out above league average.”
“I saw him for 10 pitches, right, so I didn’t see him too much,” said Grichuk. “He’s got a short arm motion, so it gets on you quicker than someone that’s more fluid with a longer arm action that you can time up a little better. That short arm motion makes it get on top of you.”
That’s just one of the reasons why Blue Jays bench coach Dave Hudgens was able to teasingly offer up $100 to anyone able to barrel up one of Pearson’s offerings, and then not need to dig into his wallet.
The best Guerrero, Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez and Ruben Tejada could do was fouling off some balls.
Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker didn’t have the radar readings from Pearson’s session but didn’t need them to see how hitters were overpowered.
“It was coming out pretty hot,” said Walker. “Upper 90’s fastball, a dominant fastball and the reactions from Grichuk and Vladdy, it’s special, no doubt about it.”
Hitters, of course, tend to lag behind pitchers so early in camp, so extrapolating too much from that is foolhardy.
At the same time, it’s also an indicator of what type of stuff Pearson is featuring.
“Command with off-speed pitches,” catcher Danny Jansen said of the improvement he most notices from the six-foot-six, 245-pound right-hander. “The curveball has been really good. It’s a big curveball, it’s a good pitch early and late, burying it in the ground in front of home plate, so it’s going to be a good pitch for him. The slider, he’s commanding that really, really well. It really complements his heater. The fastball, the command is great and he’s got a changeup that’s pretty good too. I don’t know the speed differential on it, but the action is nice.
“The command of his off-speed will take him far and that’s something that’s got eyes opened now.”
The curveball is Pearson’s current point of emphasis, an offering he’s been working diligently to refine the way he did with his slider last year. He described it as “my fourth-best pitch,” but adds “it’s come a long way and I’m definitely more comfortable throwing it to batters.”
Pearson is making the most of the experience at his first big-league camp, seeking feedback at every point. He and Guerrero not only exchanged friendly chirps about facing each other, they also traded notes about what they saw, as well.
“Vladdy is really good about picking up my signs and picking my glove, if I’m showing,” said Pearson. “He said I did pretty well. I wasn’t showing my signs. He wasn’t able to pick up anything. That was one of my main focuses.”
And so the next step for him will come Tuesday versus the Yankees, with his parents set to make the short drive up to Dunedin to watch the outing.
“It’s very special,” said Pearson. “I’m going to have fun with it and get my work in.”
CATCHING CONUNDRUM: Catching isn’t easy at the best of times. What’s it like catching big-time velocity?
“The biggest challenge is when you want a high heater, for example, it’s coming in hot and it’s not where you’re expecting it, which happens,” said Danny Jansen. “It could be a strike but you’ve got to react and if your glove is up and it’s down and away, you’ve got to be able to catch that somehow. At that point, with all guys that throw hard, it’s just trying to catch it and do the best you can.”
SHORT HOPS: Left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu will make his spring debut Thursday against the Minnesota Twins. Manager Charlie Montoyo expects him to throw an inning, possibly two, in his first time out. … Ryan Borucki is slated to resume playing catch Monday after being shut down due to left elbow tightness. … Trent Thornton starts for the Blue Jays on Saturday against the Yankees in Tampa, followed by Anthony Kay on Sunday at the Twins, Shun Yamaguchi at TD Ballpark on Monday against Atlanta, Chase Anderson in a second game Tuesday at the Phillies, Thornton again Wednesday versus Detroit and Ryu on Thursday. … No firm plans yet for Tanner Roark, who’s been fighting the flu, and Matt Shoemaker, who was sent home early due to a stomach bug. There’s still lots of time left but the clock is starting to tick and if they miss a start or two, they may not have enough time to be ready for the start of the regular season.