Position: Right-handed Pitcher
The Tigers Ramon Pena signed Oliveros in October 2005 as a 17-year old pitcher with promising stuff. During his debut campaign for the VSL Tigers in 2006, Lester posted a 2.72 ERA with 46 strikeouts and four saves in nearly forty innings of work. His performance – including his .188 batting average against that ranked 4th in the VSL – was enough to earn him TigsTown's VSL Pitcher of the Year in his professional debut.
Oliveros returned to the VSL for another tour, and promptly blew away the competition. Working exclusively as the VSL Tigers' closer, he posted a league leading 19 saves while appearing in 27 games; good for fourth in the circuit. Oliveros' 59 strikeouts ranked him 7th in the league, despite being the only player among the top ten to appear solely in relief. His dominating season including a 1.41 ERA earned him the May and June TigsTown Pitcher of the Month honors, and his season culminated with his second straight TigsTown VSL Pitcher of the Year award.
We will get the standard disclaimer out of the way up front, because it applies more so with Oliveros than many other young pitchers. Minor league relievers are an extremely risky commodity; and pitchers who begin there careers as teenage relievers are even riskier. At only six-feet tall, Oliveros is a little undersized, and his work in the bullpen could allow him to remain healthy over the long term. His stuff and mentality fits well at the back of the ‘pen, and the organization's reasoning behind the move are easily understood.
Lester's fastball currently sits in the 90-93 range, and he can reach back for a touch more when necessary, toughing 95 on some occasions. His command of the pitch helps it play up, as he has the ability to routinely spot the ball throughout the strike zone. As he adds strength and reaches physical maturity, he could see his fastball consistently sit in the mid-90s. Despite his small frame, he still generates a good downward angle on his fastball. His slider is a second positive pitch, working regularly in the 81-83 range with good two plane action. He can work the pitch to both sides of the plate, and he understands when to bury it in the dirt as a chase pitch. Oliveros does not currently have a third offering, and with his future lying squarely in the bullpen, it is unlikely that he will ever add another offering to his arsenal.
Oliveros has excellent makeup for such a young player, and he thrives in pressure situations. He has the desire, bulldog mentality, and short memory to continue dominating in a late-inning role; which could give him the opportunity to move quickly through the organization. Lester has all the tools of a great relief specialist, but he still must overcome the significant hurdles that stand in the way of every minor league reliever.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
Oliveros has been healthy throughout his two years as a pro, though he has yet to throw more than 40 innings in a summer. His smaller stature will be a concern to some until he proves his ability to remain durable and bounce back on short notice.
Lester will come stateside for spring training in a few weeks, and is a near lock to lock down the late innings for one of the Tigers US teams. The most likely scenario would see him working as the primary closer for the GCL Tigers, but given his dominating successes to date, he could be pushed to Oneonta for a true test of his abilities. It would not be shocking for him to spend time with West Michigan before the end of the 2008 season.
Oliveros is one of the Tigers most promising Latin players, and he will be watched closely by both the organization and it's fans. If he can make a smooth transition to the stateside game, he could pave the way for a nice influx of talent that appears to be bubbling up from Venezuela and the Dominican.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.