Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential Under the Radar Future Closer Candidate

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Nick Mears #81 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photo during the Pirates' photo day on February 19, 2020 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Nick Mears #81 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photo during the Pirates' photo day on February 19, 2020 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images) /
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While Nick Burdi, Kyle Crick, and Michael Feliz might be seen as the Pittsburgh Pirates next late inning arm, Nick Mears is an overlooked relief prospect.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will be set to open the 2020 season with Keone Kela at the helm of the closer role. However, with Kela set to hit free agency following the seals. and a relief pitcher who can be very good when he is healthy, he will likely be traded at some point in 2020.

When Kela departs, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a handful of young options ready to take over the role. While you might usually hear guys like Michael Feliz, Blake Cederlind, Nick Burdi, and Kyle Crick as potential successors. Other names such as Clay Holmes and Geoff Hartlieb might also make their presence known as both have the potential to be extremely effective late inning arms. But one name you might glance over is right handed relief pitcher Nick Mears.

Mears was signed as an undrafted amature free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2018. The right hander went undrafted because of concerns with his arm that included a Tommy John Surgery. In both 2017 and 2018, Mears pitched fantastic in the Northwoods League. In 28.2 innings, Mears allowed just three earned runs on 14 hits, none of which were home runs. He walked eight batters, but countered that with an outstanding 41.2% strikeout rate. Overall, he had a 5.87 K/BB ratio.

When Mears was sent to short-season West Virginia in 2018, he immediately left an impression. In only 4 innings and 15 batters he faced, he struck out eight of them, and only allowed two to reach base on a hit and walk. 2019 would be the year he rocketed through the Pittsburgh Pirates’ minor league system.

Following his outstanding short stint at West Virginia, Mears was moved to full-season Greensboro. Although he struggled with walks, allowing seven free passes in 11.2 innings of work, and long balls letting two leave the park, he was still showing great strikeout numbers, getting 19 of the 46 batters he faced on strike three.

Mears spent most of 2019 at High-A where he threw a grand total of 30 innings. In those 30 innings, Mears had a 3.60 ERA, but had an outstanding 2.84 FIP and 2.28 xFIP. He saw his walk rate go down to 7.3% and 2.7 per 9 while increasing his strikeout rate to 35%. He also gave up less home runs on average as his HR/9 dropped from 1.5 at Greensboro to 0.9 at Bradenton.

Eventually, Mears made it to Double-A. Although he only got to face 23 batters, he pitched a total of 5 innings. Mears struck out seven, while walking just two and didn’t give up a home run. However, he did surrender an earned run on four hits. All told in 2019, Mears spent time at three different levels of baseball. He accumulated 46.2 innings, had a 3.28 ERA, 2.95 FIP and 1.05 WHIP. His peripherals included a 35.9% strikeout rate, 9.4% walk rate, and 0.96 HR/9 rate.

Mears relies on two pitchers, a fastball and curveball. His fastball has a 70 grade fastball. That’s because he can consistently throw it in the 96-98 range, and reach back for more heat when he needs it, so he can definitely touch triple digits with the pitch. Overall, it’s the highest graded pitch in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. To pair with it, he has a great curveball which has a 50 current and 55 future grade per FanGraphs.

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Mears’ future in the bullpen with the Pittsburgh Pirates could be a bright one. He has plenty of upside and is showing improvement throughout each level of the minors. Mears could be the Pirates’ next bullpen ace when he makes the major leagues. Overall, a pretty good result for an undrafted player who was picked up on an amature deal.

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