The Rangers announced that they have claimed right-hander Nick Mears off waivers from the Pirates. Mears had been designated for assignment earlier in the week. In a corresponding move, outfielder Eli White was designated for assignment.
Mears, 26, will join just the second organization of his career, as he’s spent it all with the Pirates up until now. An undrafted free agent, he burst onto the scene with a 2019 campaign that saw him go from Single-A to High-A to Double-A. He threw 46 2/3 combined innings at those different stops with a 3.28 ERA, 35.9% strikeout rate and 9.4% walk rate. He capped that season off 8 2/3 shutout innings in the Arizona Fall League.
That strong campaign was enough to get him attention from prospect evaluators. Baseball America ranked him the #19 prospect in Pittsburgh’s system going into 2020, highlighting a fastball that averaged in the mid-to-high 90s and could even reach 101 mph. FanGraphs put him as up in the #13 slot.
Mears was added to Pittsburgh’s 40-man roster in 2020 and has served as an optionable depth arm over the past three seasons. He has 30 1/3 big league innings over those three campaigns with a 4.75 ERA and 22.7% strikeout rate but a huge 14.9% walk rate. He spent most of 2022 in Triple-A with similar control concerns, walking 16% of batters faced.
The Rangers were evidently intrigued enough by the power to put in a claim and see if they can harness it. Mears has one option year remaining, allowing the club to keep him in the minors for another season of experimentation and development, if necessary. However, the price they are paying for that privilege is potentially losing White.
Originally drafted by the A’s, White came to the Rangers in the Jurickson Profar trade. Since then, he’s struggled to produce offensively and has dealt with injuries, though he’s been strong on defense. He’s played 130 games at the big league level over the past three seasons, hitting just .185/.260/.296, wRC+ of 56. His 2021 season was ended by elbow surgery and his 2022 finished by wrist surgery. On the glove-side of things, Defensive Runs Saved has given him a grade of +11 in the outfield so far, along with a +9.7 from Ultimate Zone Rating and 10 Outs Above Average.
The Rangers will now have a week to trade White or pass him through waivers. Though the bat hasn’t been great so far, his strong defense and two remaining option years could make him attractive to other clubs looking for outfield depth.