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.
Coming stateside in 2008 didn't really slow Oliveros' prospect train down one bit. Debuting in June with Oneonta, Oliveros had a little adjustment period posting a 5.40 ERA in five innings that month. Things got back on track in July, as Lester notched three saves in eight games, and was named TigsTown Oneonta Pitcher of the Month on the back of a 0.71 ERA and over 14 strikeouts per nine innings. The Tigers promoted Oliveros to Lakeland in August, and his control deserted him as he walked nine batters in just eleven innings; finishing with a 4.22 ERA and 1-1 record.
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 fit 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 92-94 range, and he can reach back for a touch more when necessary, toughing 96 on some occasions. He generally shows good command of his fastball, but he can fly open too much on the left side, allowing his mechanics to get away from him. His lower half has begun to thicken up, and he could still add more velocity as he continues to approach physical maturity.
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.
See Oliveros in action in his scouting video:
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG SS-A
The workload has been low on Lester's arm, and there are going to be lingering concerns among some scouts regarding his small stature. With his added weight in the lower half, and excellent drive off his back leg, there is hope that he can avoid arm injuries over the next few years.
His success at Oneonta almost assures him of a promotion, but his spring will determine where he lands on Opening Day in April. His struggles in Lakeland suggest he may not be ready to head back to High-A in 2009, but he looked strong and in control during the fall instructional league. With a good spring, Lester could be sitting at the back end of the Lakeland bullpen, but with all the advanced relievers taken in last year's draft, it is more likely he heads to West Michigan. Success on the mound will be the deciding factor in how quickly Oliveros moves. He has the stuff and mentality that the organization love in relievers, and they won't hold him back if he continues to get outs.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.