Position: Left-handed Pitcher
The Tigers 2nd round pick out of Oklahoma State University in 2009, Oliver could end up being a bargain from that draft. Heading into the draft season, Oliver was considered by many to be a lock to go in the upper half of the first round. When his breaking ball vanished during the collegiate season, he stock plummeted, and the Tigers, all too willing to snap up another hard thrower, pounced on him with the 58th pick. Running right up to the August signing deadline, Oliver was finally inked for a bonus approaching $1.5 million.
Though a talented lefty on the hill, Oliver may currently be more renowned for his experience in the court room. After switching advisors (to Scott Boras), Oliver's former advisor reported him to the NCAA for violating regulations during prior negotiations with the Twins, and he was suspended. His lawsuit against the NCAA stood up in court, and Oliver was re-instated in time to play with the Cowboys last spring.
After signing, the Tigers were both cautious and aggressive with Oliver at separate moments. Though they did not have him participate in any competitive games during the final month of the regular season, Oliver was assigned to the Arizona Fall League for his first taste of pro ball.
After a rough first outing in the desert, Oliver settled in and finished with a 2.81 ERA over eleven outings (all in relief). In 16 innings, he allowed 13 hits and walked nine, battling his control, but did strikeout 16 batters.
Oliver was a last minute addition to the Tigers spring training non-roster invitees, and he participated in big league camp until just recently being sent to the back fields at TigerTown.
The package starts with a plus-plus fastball for a lefty, one that sits at 92-94 and touches 96 with ease. Oliver can blow his fastball by hitters at any time, but he understands the art of pitching, and has the ability to move his ball around the strike zone for maximum effectiveness. His command can get away from him at times, but he projects to have above-average location as he adjusts to the pro game.
Prior to the draft, Oliver was considered by many to have one of the best breaking balls available in the entire draft. That pitch escaped him during the collegiate season, and the Tigers worked diligently last fall to get it back. Moving away from the curveball he had toyed with as he struggled at OSU, the Tigers got him back to using his slider and though still lacking some consistency, it projects as a potential plus pitch and legitimate swing-and-miss offering.
Oliver also mixes in a change-up that shows above-average movement and deception, and it rounds out a potentially dominating arsenal that should keep him in the rotation long term.
Oliver is a quiet, reserved guy with exceptional mound presence and makeup. He isn't easily rattled on the mound, and he battles and fights for his outs when necessary. His coaches and teammates rave about him.
If the consistency of his slider and change-up improve throughout the 2010 season, Oliver has the ceiling of a great number two starter. There are plenty of fall-back options, but he will get every chance to start.
Did not pitch for a minor league team in 2009
Oliver has the body and arm action of a workhorse starting pitcher. He's been healthy throughout his career, and his arm has proven largely durable. He will have some of the same restrictions all first-year pitchers have within the organization, likely working on a 100-pitch limit for all of the 2010 season. When the reigns come off, he has the ability to work deep into games and maintain his outstanding stuff.
After working out with the big leaguers for much of the spring, Oliver seems poised to make his official professional debut in Double-A, where he will be challenged against experienced hitters. The only thing standing between Oliver and the big leagues is innings. Those innings will give him the repetition he needs to refine his secondary pitches and round out his repertoire.
The time table to Detroit could be brief, as it would not out of the realm of possibility for Oliver to see the big leagues this year as a September call-up. He could enter the 2011 season with a chance to make the big league roster, and he should be there for good sometime next year.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.