Blue Jays play service-time game with Nate Pearson; other prospects facing similar delays

Nate Pearson is a major leaguer. He wasn’t one officially until a few days into the 2020 MLB season, however.

Pearson’s club, the Blue Jays, applied the hated (but permissible) formula of delaying a top prospect’s call-up until it was assured of delaying his free-agent eligibility beyond six full seasons. Toronto did that with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last year, although the Jays had the legit excuse that a spring training injury set back Guerrero’s development.

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The 23-year-old Pearson, on the other hand, is healthy and dealing 100 mph heat. His arrival Wednesday in Washington — where he was called upon to start against Max Scherzer and the world champion Nationals — will bolster a revamped rotation that features Hyun-Jin Ryu, Matt Shoemaker and Tanner Roark and could eventually include Chase Anderson, who is dealing with an oblique injury.

July 29 was the target date for Pearson’s call-up because it was seven days into the abbreviated 66-day season, which began July 23. Under a formula agreed to by MLB players and owners in March, debut players will not receive credit for a full season of service time if they’re called up after the season’s sixth day. The Jays will have Pearson for 55 of their 60 games if they keep him up all season. 

Toronto watched its prized right-hander battle through an exhibition outing against the Red Sox at Fenway Park two days before the season opener. He allowed four runs in a shortened first inning before coming back with three scoreless frames. Then they sent him to wait with the Jays’ other reserve players before bringing him back.

Several other high-level prospects are in line to receive the Pearson treatment and have their debuts strategically delayed: 

Joey Bart, C Giants

Bart, 23, is San Francisco’s best catcher with Buster Posey opting out of this season, but the Giants don’t want to rush their top prospect. They might be able to stay patient if the team gets off to a bad start with 4-A filler Tyler Heineman as the No. 1 receiver, but if San Francisco comes out of the gate quickly, there will be pressure to get Bart in the lineup pronto.

Dylan Carlson, OF, Cardinals

The 21-year-old Carlson has shown the good people of St. Louis enough; they think he needs to be on the field right now. But the Redbirds have outfield depth: Tyler O’Neill, Harrison Bader, Dexter Fowler, Lane Thomas and Austin Dean are all on the 40-man roster.

Wander Franco, SS, Rays

Tampa Bay doesn’t need the 19-year-old Franco right now; it has a good selection of infielders who can contribute to a pennant contender. Then again, he was in camp with the big club even though he only played in Single-A last year. Maybe it was the 7.1 percent strikeout rate in 2019 — as a teenager. He’s the future in St. Pete; he just isn’t the immediate future.

Jo Adell, OF, Angels

Angels fans are dreaming of Adell and not Brian Goodwin flanking Mike Trout in the outfield, but manager Joe Maddon said the 21-year-old needs work, and lots of it, before he can come up. Adell will need to get that work in against his fellow reserves at the Halos’ alternate training site.

Spencer Howard, RHP, and Alec Bohm, 3B, Phillies

The Phils can claim to have the depth to slow-play Howard, who has been assigned to reserves camp, but they also want to contend this year and the last two spots in the rotation are being split between Zach Eflin (4.13 ERA in 2019), Vince Velasquez (4.91) and Nick Pivetta (5.38). Bohm is blocked by Jean Segura and Scott Kingery, who got around a service-time delay in 2018 by signing a long-term deal before his debut.

Other MLB clubs decided against watching the clock. The White Sox went with outfielder Luis Robert from the start (but kept second baseman Nick Madrigal down), the Mariners are set with Evan White at first base and the Royals plugged Brady Singer into the rotation right away.

Robert and White, like Kingery, signed long-term contracts while still minor leaguers. Singer, on the other hand, was just too good for the Royals to keep down. He debuted last weekend and pitched five solid innings.

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