Position: Left-handed Pitcher
The Tigers plucked Oliver in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State. He signed for an over-slot bonus just under $1.5 million and made his professional debut with Double-A Erie in 2010.
Starting 14 games for the SeaWolves, Oliver posted a 3.61 ERA in 77 1/3 innings. He allowed just 74 hits and struck out 70 batters. He also made nine starts for Triple-A Toledo that year, posting a 3.23 ERA in the process. He limited opposing hitters to just 43 hits in 53 innings at Triple-A while striking out nearly a batter per inning (49).
When the Tigers needed a starter in 2010 they turned to Oliver and the first-year pro struggled in his MLB debut. Across five starts, Oliver allowed 26 hits and 13 walks in 22 innings while striking out 18 batters. All told he finished with an 0-4 record and 7.36 ERA.
Oliver returned to Toledo to start the 2011 season. Throughout the year he posted a 4.71 ERA in 26 starts. He maintained a solid hit rate (9.1 per nine innings and very good strikeout rate (8.8 per nine innings), but saw his walk rate spike to nearly five per nine innings.
Oliver received two additional starts in Detroit in 2011, getting roughed up again in the process. This time he allowed eleven hits in 9 2/3 innings with eight walks and five strikeouts.
At his best, Oliver shows a fastball that works consistently at 94-95 mph and regularly touches 97 when he reaches back for a little more. In the past he has had a propensity to lean back on his drive leg too much, resulting in him pitching uphill with a loss of plane and control.
The Tigers have worked extensively to help Oliver find a consistent delivery, including some rigorous work at the end of the 2011 season. His work is beginning to pay off as he repeats his windup, arm slot and follow through more consistently now, but still must focus on the task to maintain his progress.
Oliver's secondary pitches have been a mystery since his final year in college. His once filthy breaking ball had all but vanished in 2011. After becoming more comfortable with his mechanical changes, Oliver seems to have found his slider again this spring. One scout that has seen him twice already this year said he has consistently flashed an above-average slider and even mixed in a couple of really nice ones of the plus variety.
Though Oliver has tried various grips he has yet to develop a consistently effective change-up. In order to keep right-handed hitters at bay, Oliver has been forced to work inside more frequently with his fastball because of the inability to throw the change-up.
Command and control has never been a strong point in Oliver's game, but it became very problematic as he battled his delivery in 2011. He still lacks the ability to locate within the strike zone but he has begun finding the zone more consistently this spring. If that holds and he can show at least average control and occasional command, he has the raw stuff to get big league hitters out consistently.
In the past, Oliver's projection has ranged as high as that of a number two starter. Without a third pitch and consistent command, Oliver projects more as a back of the rotation starter with an electric fastball. There are still scouts that believe he could close at the big league level, but the Tigers will continue to try and coax enough out of him to let him start long term.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP WHIP AAA
Oliver has a great frame and has proven to be a durable pitcher, logging over 300 innings in his first two professional seasons.
Oliver's performance early in spring training has put him in the driver's seat for the number five starter spot in Detroit.
Hard-throwing left-handed pitchers tend to get multiple chances to cut it in the big leagues and Oliver's third time may be the charm. With big time velocity, improved control and a usable slider, he could fit in the back of a very talented Tigers rotation.
His long term prognosis in the big leagues hinges entirely on his ability to consistently throw strikes and manage a secondary pitch to keep hitters off his fastball. If he does either of those reasonably well, he should have a lengthy big league career.
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