Leading up to Day 1 of the MLB Draft on June 12, we will be conducting Q&A interviews with many prospects who are projected to be first-rounders. For a complete listing of these interviews, click here.
Next is College of Central Florida right-hander Nate Pearson, a 6-foot-6, 240 lb. native of Odessa, Florida. Pearson transferred to junior college after one season at Florida International University, and impressed scouts with velocity throughout the season. He recently hit 102 mph in a pre-draft bullpen and is considered one of the fastest risers on the draft board. He is committed to LSU for next year but is expected to go pro.
Pearson is widely projected as a first-rounder, with Baseball America (18th-Tigers), ESPN (26th-Rangers) and MLB.com (26th-Rangers) projecting him off the board in the top 30 and BA even noting that he could rise to be a top-5 pick. Be sure to check out Pearson’s full scouting report over at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball.
When did you first get into baseball as a kid and realized how much you loved the game?
“I started playing around 5. I knew I really loved the game around 7 or 8. When baseball season was over, and I was playing basketball and football and really knew I missed the sounds of the game. The ball hitting the bat and everything. Just throwing the baseball.”
Did you have a favorite team growing up? A favorite player?
“Growing up, I was always a Rays fan because I grew up in Tampa. My favorite player has always been Nolan Ryan just because he always was throwing hard, being overpowering and dominant. I love his mentality.”
For you, was there a turning point moment when you realized you could become a first-round draft pick?
“Probably when I hit my velo jump was when I realized I actually had a shot. I threw somewhat hard in high school, throwing like 92 or 93. I still got a couple draft looks and I knew it was probably a possibility if I just went to school and developed like I planned to do. It’s all kind of surreal, especially this year. Transferring to [junior college], I didn’t expect all of this to happen. My goal was to just work the hardest that I could and hope for the best. I could not imagine all this happening this year.”
You’ve risen up the boards in recent days primarily due to extremely impressive velocity, throwing 102 mph in a recent bullpen session for scouts. Where did that velocity come from?
“I’m sure I’ve always had it, I’ve just never been able to show it when I start because I have to throw the whole game and try to show some velo toward the end. I hit 100 in the fall in a bullpen, but it wasn’t as good as the bullpen recently. What I attribute that to is that I just do all I can to keep my arm strength there and keep it healthy. I do a bunch of arm care stuff after I throw and before I throw just to make sure I stay healthy. There are a bunch of different programs I follow. I’m a big believer in the Driveline program they do over on the west coast, so I follow that. I believe in what Kyle Boddy preaches, so that’s helped me.”
Being a junior college prospect puts you in a different boat than many top prospects. What went into your decision to transfer from FIU, and what has the JuCo experience been like?
“I chose FIU out of high school because that was my best offer at the time. I went there and thought I would stay there for three years and develop, but I ended up going there and it not being the fit that I was expecting it to be. I knew I had an opportunity to change it, to look at which other colleges were interested in me if I went JuCo. I also had the draft possibility but that’s not the main reason I transferred.”
Was it a struggle getting noticed by scouts in a JuCo environment? A lot of guys at SEC and ACC schools have scouts flocking there all the time... did you find it a little bit harder to get noticed?
“A little bit. Yes and no. JuCo pitchers get kind of a stigma just because they don’t face as good of competition as the ACC and SEC. I just did my best, trying to do everything I could to prove I’m just as good if not better than the pitchers at the higher levels.”
What is the biggest strength in your game?
“The biggest strength for me is definitely my fastball command and my velo with it. That’s been my strength for a while.”
As you progress to the next level, what’s the part of your game you want to work on to improve the most?
“My breaking stuff and just getting consistency with it. Making those plus pitches.”
There is always the idea with high velocity guys that they could become relievers down the line in the upper levels of the minors and big leagues. Where do you see yourself in the pros, as a starter or reliever?
“I definitely see myself starting. I proved that I could do that this year. I can definitely hold my velocity through a nine-inning game so I’d like to start. Then again, I’d like to do anything that will get me to the big leagues.”
As one of the real helium guys in this draft, what have the last couple weeks been like seeing your name rise up the boards so rapidly?
“It’s an experience that I’ll never forget. It’s very humbling. I went undrafted out of high school so this shows that hard work really does pay off. Everything that I’ve been working for, this is truly humbling. Just shows all my hard work.”
If you had to pick a major-leaguer whose game mirrors yours the most, who would it be?
“I’d like to say Nolan Ryan. I don’t know what everyone else would say. Just because of his mentality, being fearless on the mound. That would definitely be it.”
Heading into the draft, do you have any expectations of where you’ll fall on the draft board? Any goals for where you’re picked?
“I’m not really setting expectations for myself. The draft is very shaky and no one knows exactly what’s gonna happen. I’m just gonna let God take care of it. He’ll know what’s best.”