GIF Breakdown: Nate Pearson’s MLB Debut

Nick Pollack analyzes Nate Pearson's MLB debut with 24 GIFs.

With Chase Anderson out with injury before the season began, we anticipated an early call-up of Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Nate Pearsonranked as the #17th overall fantasy baseball prospect and #6 SP prospect by the Pitcher List dynasty team.

Entering 2020, there was plenty of hype surrounding Pearson. His arsenal outlined triple-digit fastball velocity paired with a plus-plus slider that gracefully nailed the outside corner to right-handers. He has a solid changeup as well, creating a formidable arsenal worthy of the top prospect label. These are things you want from a prospect pitcher.

We had a quick glimpse of Pearson during his exhibition game last week, sporting spotty command and a mid 90s fastball – a bit underwhelming, though it was still summer camp and not the real thing.

I was hoping for upper 90s velocity, some excellent sliders, and improved overall command.

Here is what I saw.

 

First Inning

 

Pearson’s first pitch was a 95 mph heater and I’m a little sad to see it:

In general, opening debuts come with increased velocity, fueled by the adrenaline of the outing and we know Pearson can hit triple digits. I want to see electricity.

He nailed the inside corner for 0-1, sailed a 97 mph pitch north for ball one (phew), then dropped this doozy of a slider:

Absolutely gorgeous. Bottom of the zone, vicious break, and over a 10 mph difference. This is going to work.

He ended the at-bat with another slider – a little worse than the previous one, but it landed in the zone and forced an awkward whiff from Turner. Good, not explosive, but good:

Pearson fell behind to his first left-handed batter following Turner. After missing high at 97 mph to Adam EatonPearson missed with a back-door slider, then a pair of heaters sailed up-and-away for easy takes. A four-pitch walk.

There could easily be nerves at play here as Pearson was flailing open and not staying closed for long enough with his front shoulder. He returned to form with his next pitch though, this 0-0 slider to Asdrubal Cabrera:

I don’t blame you Cabrera, that’s absolute filth. Pearson went back to the pitch at 0-1, and bounced it in the dirt, possibly alarmed that Adam Eaton had a great jump and coasted into second base.

At 1-1, I expected Pearson to paint the outside corner with a fastball, which he did…at 94 mph with a bit of elevation and it led to a foul out of play. I’m not thrilled about that relatively low velocity – this is supposed to be plus-plus heat!

Pearson fired another fastball, this time at 96 mph and fouled off on the third-base side again. Another slider followed, this one getting a ton of the plate on the inner half, but Cabrera could only dribble it to first base. It’s a really good breaking ball, but without proper fastball command (and lessened velocity) it’ll be a struggle for Pearson.

Next was a poor opening pitch to Eric Thames with another missed heater, but the 1-0 offering was the best fastball I’d seen so far:

Much more focused toward the plate on release, allowing him to drive through the pitch and keep it straight toward the plate. There’s the Pearson I want, albeit a few ticks lower than ideal.

The 1-1 pitch was another fastball, this time up-and-away as Thames fouled it off. Now in a two-strike count, he turned to his slider once again, resulting in a liner to left for the final out of the inning:

It wasn’t the sharpest of sliders and had too much of the plate, allowing a hard-hit ball that often finds grass. Pearson had a little bit of luck here and I was curious if there is another gear that could show up next inning.

 

Second Inning

 

Iwas hoping for some more consistent fastball mechanics in this inning, a glimpse at his changeup, and some more filthy sliders in this frame.

First up was Kurt Suzuki who saw this 95 mph heater followed by a perfect slider along the outside corner:

Yeah, that works for me. Now we see why Pearson was such a highly-touted prospect. If he can nail this constantly against both lefties and righties, he’ll be great. It’s as simple as that.

Stop reading. Go watch that GIF again and imprint it in your mind. That’s the goal.

Now at 0-2, Pearson elevated and Suzuki chased, earning an easy chopper to third:

All of this was great. 98 mph (the hardest we’ve seen) and inducing a chase on 0-2 well above the strikezone are both marks of excellence.

Starlin Castro followed and saw a first-pitch slider that fell in from the top of the zone. Pearson reared back for strike two, pumping an elevated 98 mph four-seamer for a foul ball.

At 0-2, it was 98 mph again, this time pulled into the opposite batter’s box.

That’s three straight pitches at 98 mph. It’s time to get hyped.

At 1-2, Pearson touched 99 mph that Castro got some wood on to stay alive:

This is what’s up. Seriously, I love the high location and the velocity and I don’t know if you can feel my excitement in these words, but like Neo, I’m starting to believe.

If Pearson executed a good slider, he would have earned his second strikeout of the game, but he left it in the middle of the zone. Castro was stuck on his front foot and rolled it over to shortstop for another easy out. Throwing 99 mph will induce outs on mediocre sliders constantly.

Bases-empty and two away, Carter Kieboom stepped in and saw a pair of easy takes from fastballs up and inside. At 2-0, Pearson flipped another easy slider for a strike, and went to it again at 2-1 for an 83 mph breaker that missed the outside edge. I like to see Pearson trust his slider when behind in counts – I’m sure he can effectively pitch backward – and I expect to see more of it moving forward.

At 3-1, he painted 95 mph on the outside corner before gassing Kieboom with 96 mph at 3-2:

It wasn’t the 99 mph, but I’m liking this Pearson a lot more than the first inning Pearson. Better fastball command, more velocity, and a touch more confidence. And we still haven’t seen the changeup!

It’s still rough around the edges with slider consistency, a 94-99 mph velocity range, and nailing down his mechanics, but it’s there. It’s fun watching a pitcher gradually improve and showcase his potential during their MLB debut.

 

Third Inning

 

I was hoping to see more upper 90s velocity in the third, but we were first met with 94 mph up-and-away to Andrew Stevenson that resulted in a fly-out. It left me wanting more.

Show me up-and-in to left-handers! Jam batters with elite heat! Hopefully we get there.

Victor Robles stepped in and saw 97 mph at the top of the zone and a touch away. A good first pitch to get a strike, but again, I want to see that offering high-and-tight.

98 mph fell off the corner to make it 1-1, then a grooved 95 mph surprisingly led to a pop-out to first. That’s two outs on questionable fastballs, but at least he’s peppering strikes. Maybe Pearson’s heater is a bit harder to pick up and barrel than others?

Moving on, to Trea Turner, Pearson is making me fall hard for his slider. Just watch this one beginning his second at-bat against the Nationals’ shortstop:

Textbook first pitch strike there. So good, it made Turner take a weak hack at 97 mph that landed outside the zone for strike two.

Turner saw a pair of fastballs after, each missing at 97/98 (the latter well above the zone), but he came back with another slider at two strikes:

This is just like the outs we saw earlier on sliders left over the plate and it’s about time Pearson was punished for it. He has a beautiful sweeper that will miss a ton of bats, but he’ll have to be a bit more consistent with it, especially with two strikes.

Now with Adam Eaton up, he missed with a fastball away for 0-1, then tugged an outside fastball too far in for ball two. Ball three followed shortly at just 93 mph up and comfortably out of the zone.

We haven’t seen Pearson walk a batter yet and now in the hole, he gathered himself for a solid 96 mph fastball at the knees – it was just like the great one to Eric Thames in the first. Maybe he found the tweak to get his fastball command back—nope. Fastball missed far away. Ball four.

A bit disappointing to see, but I imagine Pearson was a bit rattled by the speedy Turner on first base with two gone. He took a step off the mound to gather himself before Asdrubal Cabrera‘s first pitch, resulting in a solid heater at 96 mph taken for strike one.

A sharp 85 mph slider followed in the dirt, but it was bounced too in front of the plate to induce a whiff. Cabrera looked tempted and a well-executed pitch would have worked.

Wisely, Pearson went back to it at 1-1 and got himself out of the frame:

Not a great slider, but Cabrera couldn’t handle it.

It’s a little bit of a struggle watching Pearson. You see the glimpses of his potential, but he’s not there on each and every pitch. The raw talent is present, I worry that it’ll be a volatile season ahead.

Well, that’s after watching just three innings. Small sample size is very real and I hope to be wrong about his undulating ability.

 

Fourth Inning

 

We haven’t seen a changeup yet, despite seeing two lefties in Eaton and Cabrera for a second time last frame. It was on my mind as Eric Thames stepped in to lead off the fourth.

Alsmost as if he read my mind, Pearson threw neither a slider nor fastball:

A curveball! I didn’t expect to see this! It’s a good pitch, but it seems more like a show-me to use early in counts rather than a money maker to earn outs. That’s perfectly fine as we’ve already seen Pearson struggle to get ahead with heaters and it has enough break that I’d want to see it sprinkled in a little more often.

At 0-1, Pearson then showed off his first changeup of the game at 86 mph – Thames is spoiling us! – and I feel bad showing it. It was terrible:

He didn’t follow through effectively (his arm lagged behind on release) and it floated up-and-away. It’s part of the fastball inconsistency we’ve seen with his top half not quite catching up to his bottom half. I’m sad to see him fail in this 0-1 count as an effective changeup would have worked well. Thames was likely sitting heater after the first pitch hook.

Pearson gave him that heater at 1-1, a little up and middle of the zone, resulting in a liner to the right-field corner, good for a double. If only that changeup had worked…

Pearson started off Suzuki with a slider that just missed nipping the top of the zone. At 1-0, he went back to it and made it tighter, but just missed off the inside corner. At 2-0, it’s a little bit of a scary situation. He’s almost assuredly going heater and his command hasn’t been great.

Suzuki was ready for it, and slapped a grounder up the middle, but fortunately right at the second baseman for the first out of the frame. That could have been a lot worse and Pearson should feel lucky to get a grounder for an out, given the scenario.

Starlin Castro followed and took a first-pitch slider to see another one at 1-0, this time hung along the outside edge:

Pearson is finding gloves right now despite looking as poor as he has all game. However, he threw his three best pitches of the frame in his next at-bat. Pearson got a lucky 0-0 call with a slider that fell off the outside corner to Carter Kieboomthen followed it with this 97 mph fastball:

That’s a solid pitch. Great to see Pearson have 97 mph still in the tank and have the ability to nail the corner after struggling all inning.

Well it gets better as Pearson closed the frame on the very next pitch:

Kieboom was likely looking for a slider and was met with 99 mph dotted on the corner. Oof. That’s gorgeous and you have to feel for Kieboom a bit as he saw Pearson at his best.

So we got a look at his changeup and curveball at first, but Pearson fell back into the fastball/slider routine shortly after to close the fourth. He was a bit lucky to escape unscathed, but I have to give him credit to bear down against Kieboom. Still a little skeptical of the longterm consistency, but it’s hard not to be enamored by 99 mph painted on the corner.

 

Fifth Inning

 

I’m hoping Pearson can recover from a shaky inning. He flipped in a solid 83 mph slider away from Andrew Stevenson for strike one then he gave us this beauty:

The changeup! And it was BEAUTIFUL.

Man, if Pearson can get consistent with this pitch and throw it to right-handers while pumping upper 90s and a wipeout slider…

But then on his very next pitch, he threw another changeup that he got too far on the side of as it blew into the batter’s box. Stevenson didn’t even blink at the pitch to make the count 1-2. Womp womp.

As I got my expectations in check, Pearson showed off that wonderful slider to earn his fourth strikeout of the game:

That’s excellent. He was clearly starting to feel that pitch as he opened his next at-bat to Victor Robles with a near-identical one for another check-swing whiff, earning strike one.

He gassed it up to 98 mph out of the zone for 1-1, but then yet another perfect slider landed under the zone for strike two:

I feel weird continuing to GIF these sliders here, but you need to see that Pearson is able to execute the pitch a fair amount. And, you know, it’s pretty.

He pulled a slider outside after, then spun a weak slider to the middle of the zone for a chopper foul by third. At 2-2, I loved seeing Pearson aim high with 97 mph that was fouled away. That’s the right approach to me, now show me the changeup…

Nope, another poor slider that had Robles way out in front and lined foul into the stands. We do it again at 2-2 and Pearson overthrew a fastball high at 96 mph for an easy take.

Finally, Pearson got his man with another slider, this one just low enough inside the zone to avoid Robles’ bat:

Not the best slide piece, but Pearson bore down and got the whiff he wanted. Love to see the fist pump there as well.

Now seeing Trea Turner for the third time, he elected to go first-pitch curveball and I’m all for it:

That’s a great pitch to mix-in to help boost the effectiveness of both heaters and sliders. It led to Turner fouling off a 96 mph up-and-in, earning a quick 0-2 count.

What do you throw here? Pearson was feeling his slider and dotted the pitch down-and-away for his final out of the game:

It worked, I’d ideally love it a little lower, but he got the out he wanted.

 

Conclusion

 

It was a little bit of everything in Pearson’s debut. We saw the ceiling – upper 90s heat, a fantastic slider, a strike-earning curveball, and a moment of bliss with his changeup – and we saw the floor – over-thrown fastballs, sliders finding the middle of the zone, and inconsistent mechanics. I’m not sold that we’ll see Pearson be able to perform at a high level through the year, but his stuff allows him to get away with a good amount of mistakes.

Pearson needs to work a little on his timing as his arm lagged behind a bit too often. When his arm-circle sped up, he was able to stay through his pitches and wow us all. When he rushed his bottom half, it led to four-pitch walks and poor sliders that can be crushed frequently.

He left without a run to his name, but against a better lineup, I’d expect him to be punished a bit more for his middle-middle heaters and sliders, though I see a relatively decent floor here given his slider’s bite and fastball’s velocity.

Overall, I liked what I saw. I hope he can work in good curveballs and changeups a bit more while spotting heaters up-and-in frequently, but his current level will work. Let’s just hope he can tweak those mechanics slightly to ensure he stays through the ball on release and resist flying open too early.

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former pitching coach and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

  • Avatar Rocket says:

    I was really looking forward to this match up with Scherzer. I think Pearson looked remarkably composed and thoughtful in his approach in his first MLB start. His potential is really well highlighted in his fourth inning backwards K of Kieboom. The GIF shows an absolute laser right on the outside lower corner at 99mph. The expression on Kiebooms’ face is priceless. It was a mixture of “I can not hit that” and “how is that fair”. I think Pearson is still in the process of ramping up to his 100+ mph stuff and think his approach of not trying to overthrow shows some nice maturity for a young arm.

    Can you give us his pitch percentage breakdown? Would be interested to see how he was using his slider, CB, and cambio off speed pitches?

    How long before he earns an Aces Gonna Ace tittle? Think we will see it this year? I am buying it.

    • Nick Pollack Nick Pollack says:

      It was 52% Four-seamer, 40% slider with a few changeups and curveballs.

      35% CSW with 14 whiffs across 75 pitches!

      It’ll take a while for Aces Gonna Ace. You need to be fully trusted to earn that.

  • Avatar Pears says:

    Rough thoughts on top 100 placement after tonight?

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