ALTOONA, Pa. — Right-handed pitcher Nick Mears has been in the Pirates’ organization for a little more than a year and in that time has been nothing short of remarkable.
Mears was playing for the Wilmar Stingers of the Northwoods League, a collegiate summer baseball league, last year before being signed by Pittsburgh.
“He was sought after out of college by a lot of different teams,” Altoona manager Michael Ryan said. “He’s had a tough upbringing and tough past and those are the guys that work their tails off and people you root for.”
Now a year into his professional career, Mears is in Double-A and gearing up for action in the Arizona Fall League beginning Sept. 18.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Mears, who’s 6-foot-4 and 185 pounds. “The opportunity being here in Double-A and then going to Arizona is unheard of for an undrafted free agent in their first year. I plan on taking full advantage of it.”
The hard work Mears put in while at Sacramento City Community College and in his first full year as a professional baseball player have started to pay off and he’s relishing the opportunities.
“It’s been kind of a whirlwind, but it’s been really nice to see all the hard work I’ve put in throughout my career has paid off finally,” Mears said. “I’m excited for this opportunity and I can’t wait to take full advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given.”
The adjustment to the professional game from college is a major step and Mears, 22 did it with ease. He posted a 3.28 ERA over 34 games in Greensboro, Bradenton and Altoona in 2019 with opponents hitting a paltry .186 against him.
“It’s definitely a little bit more of a grind than playing in college. you have almost three times as many games but I love baseball so I love the grind,” Mears said.
Mears has a strong arm and routinely hits the upper 90s on the radar. That, coupled with a devastating slider, gives him the potential to keep his stock rising and rising fast over with a solid performance in Arizona.
“My goals are to continue what I’ve done this season,” Mears said. “I still have to make my pitches and compete for my team. Just continuing what I’ve done this season out in the fall league.”
Mears is heading to Arizona with a plan of attack to help him as he continues up the organizational ladder. His focus will be on attacking hitters from the left side as well as setting up use of the slider.
“Left-handed attack. Being able to throw the slider for a ball then strike instead of strike then ball to where he tries to get a chase,” Ryan said.
For Mears to be at Double-A within a year of signing his first contract to play professionally is impressive, but with his skill set and continued strong performance he could easily find his way onto prospect charts and the express lane to Triple-A next season.
MVP — Jared Oliva, OF — Oliva, 23, led the team in batting average (.277), runs (70) and stolen bases (36). He’s also headed to Arizona for fall baseball.
Pitcher of the Year — Beau Sulser and Pedro Vasquez were named Co-Pitchers of the Year. Vasquez was 8-5 with a 2.71 ERA this year while also notching 91 strikeouts while walking only 29 hitters in 24 appearances.
Sulser played a variety of roles for Altoona whether it was in the rotation or a long relief guy. He finished the season 8-3 with a 2.72 ERA in 33 appearances. Opponents were hitting .241 off Sulser.
Fireman of the Year — RHP Matt Eckelman was named Fireman of the Year for his work as the closer for the Curve this year. Eckelman, promoted to Triple-A over the weekend, appeared in 45 games for Altoona notching 23 saves and 45 strikeouts.
Unsung Hero — Infielder Brett Pope was named the Unsung Hero after steadily raising his batting average from .169 to .252 over the past few months. Pope had 15 doubles, a triple and two home runs while knocking in 22 RBI for the Curve.
CURVE’S TOP PITCHERS
Top starting performance: Cam Vieaux went 7.1 innings Thursday giving up two hits, striking out 10 and not allowing a run. Vieaux was 4-4 with a 2.23 ERA for Altoona this season.
Top reliever: Jerrick Suiter went 1.1 innings in relief Saturday against Harrisburg recording the first strikeout of his career while not giving up a hit or run.
NOTABLE ROSTER MOVES/INJURIES
8/29: RHP Matt Eckelman promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. RHP Shea Murray promoted to Altoona.
8/22: LHP Elvis Escobar and RHP Jesus Liranzo promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis. LHP Joe Jacques and RHP John O’Reilly promoted to Altoona.
Altoona began the season 5-0 and ended the season 0-4. It was an up and down year which featured a 10-game winning streak entering the All-Star break and an inability to have many weeks over .500 toward the end of the year.
The Curve finished the season 69-71, going 33-38 in the second half after a 36-32 first half.
They return to action next year April 9 to take on Erie.
ALTOONA FUN THING
Altoona is one of the smallest markets in professional baseball and despite that, the support the Curve get on a nightly basis is always solid. They averaged 4,604 fans per game during the 2019 season to watch a team that wasn’t exactly loaded with prospects.
Small towns, big hearts 💛
Once again, thank you for supporting this team through the cold & rain and through the picture perfect summer nights. You truly are the best fans in baseball! ⚾ pic.twitter.com/0fNLyH5EgI
— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) August 30, 2019