Pittsburgh Pirates 2021 Prospect Preview: Reliever Nick Mears

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 08: Nick Mears #70 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes his major league debut in the sixth inning during the game against the Detroit Tigers at PNC Park on August 8, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 08: Nick Mears #70 of the Pittsburgh Pirates makes his major league debut in the sixth inning during the game against the Detroit Tigers at PNC Park on August 8, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /
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The Pittsburgh Pirates could soon build a very strong and young bullpen around right-handed reliever Nick Mears

For many years the Pittsburgh Pirates have prided themselves in having a strong bullpen. When the team made the postseason three seasons in a row from 2013 through 2015 their bullpen was arguably their biggest strength each season. In 2018 when they team last posted a winning record, their bullpen was once again a strength.

So far this season the Pittsburgh Pirates have had an excellent bullpen. Additionally, they have a handful of relief prospects in the system right now, ones that could eventually become high-leverage, late-inning arms. Among them, the highest ranked is right-hander Nick Mears.

Mears was an un-drafted free agent prospect who thePittsburgh Pirates signed in August 2018 and went on to strike out 8 of the first 15 batters he would face as a professional. Mears played a full season in 2019, pitching a total of 46.2 innings between Low-A, High-A and Double-A.

All told, Mears put up a strong 3.28 ERA, 2.95 FIP and 1.05 WHIP. His biggest strength was his ability to strike out batters. He put up an outstanding 36% strikeout rate. This did come at the cost of his control though, but still had a workable 9.4% walk rate. He also had a solid 0.96 HR/9 rate, but only gave up 3 home runs in his final 35 innings of the season.

Mears also played in the Arizona Fall League where he tossed 8.2 innings, striking out 11 batters and not giving up a single earned run on just 2 hits. He did, however, issue 5 walks while pitching in the AFL.

Mears is a two-pitch pitcher. His four-seam fastball is elite. The pitch averages out in the 94-97 MPH range and has a spin rate of about 2400 RPM. He also has an above-average curveball that comes in around the upper-70s. This pitch has about 2450 RPM.

The right-hander’s fastball is considered a 70-grade pitch while his curve has 55-grade potential. As a hard-throwing reliever with a hard fastball, he’s going to rely on it a lot, and luckily for him, it’s a good pitch. It’s comparable to Yankee reliever 2019 Chad Greene’s four-seam fastball. Greene’s four-seam fastball also had a -4 run value that season.

Another comp that could be made the comparison to 2019 Hansel Robles four-seamer. Robles racked up -9 run value on that pitch in 2019. Jacob deGrom also had a similar in 2019 as well, coming in at 96.9 MPH and having just under 2400 RPM of spin. deGrom ovbiosusly had one of the highest run values on any pitch he threw in 2019.

Mears also has the build for a pitcher. He stands in at 6’2″, 200 pounds. He’s about the same size as Astro righty Ryan Presley, who is listed at 6’2″, 206 pounds. Raisel Iglesias also has a similar build at 6’2″, 190 pounds.

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The only issue Mears may face is his ability to locate. He has just a 20/35 current and future command grades on FanGraphs. Mears is very talented, and his ability to throw into the upper-90s while throwing a breaking ball in the 70s will get a lot of batters to swing and miss, which will make up for some of his overall lack of control. However, he can’t solely rely on the speed differentials and overpowering stuff to get outs.

His only hurdle to get over is his ability to control his outstanding stuff. If he can manage that, then you’re looking at potentially one of baseball’s best relievers. Mears could easily step into a set-up or closer role with his fellow young relievers like David Bednar and Luis Oviedo by the end of 2021.

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