LEFT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: December 3, 1987
Drafted: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2009 (Tigers)
How Acquired: Trade from Tigers (for Ramon Cabrera)
College: Oklahoma State University
Agent: Scott Boras
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Oliver ran into controversy before he turned pro. He was drafted out of high school by the Twins and his agent, Tim Barratta, had discussions with the Twins, but Oliver didn’t sign. Under NCAA rules, an athlete can have an “adviser,” but that person can’t negotiate with a professional team. This rule is, of course, universally ignored in baseball. When Oliver later switched to Scott Boras as his representative, Barratta ratted him out to the NCAA, which suspended Oliver. (It’s hard to decide which is the slimier hypocrite, Barratta or the NCAA.) Oliver sued and got reinstated, along with $750,000, through a settlement.
Oliver eventually went to the Tigers in the 2009 draft. He was considered a first round talent but fell to the second round, and signed for a bonus that was more than double the slot amount. At the time he threw a 92-94 mph fastball that reached the upper 90s, along with a very good curve. The Tigers rushed him to the majors in June of his first pro season and he’s increasingly struggled with his control since then. He also no longer throws the curve, instead throwing what Baseball America describes as a subpar slider and an uneven change. In the majors his fastball has averaged nearly 94 and reached 97. His inability to locate it, though, has made it hittable. BA has ranked Oliver among the Tigers’ top five prospects after the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, but at the winter meetings after the 2012 season Detroit traded him to the Pirates for catcher Ramon Cabrera.
Oliver signed too late to play in 2009, then debuted in AA in 2010. He pitched very well there, with good walk and K rates, and moved up to AAA after 14 starts. The Tigers called him up to the majors in late June and he made five starts. The first went well, but he struggled in the next four, partly due to poor control. He finished up in AAA, where he put up mostly good numbers, but with a high walk rate. After the season, BA ranked him the #87 prospect in baseball.
The Tigers sent Oliver to AAA for all of the season, other than a two-start callup in late May. He struggled to throw strikes in the two starts and also had a high walk rate in AAA. He at least had a good K rate.
Oliver spent the season in AAA and had more trouble than ever with his control. He moved to the bullpen in July and pitched only moderately better, with no improvement in his walk rate.
Oliver had a fourth option due to the limited amount of time he’s been a pro, so the Pirates were able to send him to AAA after he struggled in spring training. They put him in the rotation and the results were encouraging initially. In six April starts, he had a 3.34 ERA and walked 19 in 32.1 IP. That’s not good, but combined with a .202 opponents’ average and 39 strikeouts it seemed promising. In fact, his high strikeout rate throughout the year indicated his stuff may have gotten better. In May, he lowered his ERA to 2.59 and opponents’ average to .176, but he walked 26 in 24.1 IP and started having trouble completing five innings. Things went downhill from there, as he continued to walk over a batter an inning and his ERA ballooned to 6.49 in July and August. The Pirates moved Oliver to the bullpen for part of those two months, but he returned to the rotation when the team ran short of starters. For some reason, he especially struggled to get left-handed batters out, allowing them to reach base at a .427 clip. Oliver’s early season showing led to speculation at times that he could be called up when the Pirates needed a starter. Even though the major league team used a dozen different starters, though, they never called Oliver up and there was no indication that they’d seriously considered it. He also did not get a September callup.
There’s no doubting Oliver’s stuff, but the control issues are so severe that it’d be too big a risk to bring him to the majors, even in a white flag role. If the mopup reliever can’t get through an inning, somebody else has to do it, which defeats the purpose of a mopup reliever. Oliver is now out of options and it’s very hard to see how the Pirates could risk carrying him on the major league roster out of camp. Given the very low odds of him turning things around in time, the simpler course would be to remove him from the 40-man roster. It’s quite possible he’d clear waivers. The Pirates may, however, want to take one last look at him in the spring.
|2014: Major league minimum
|Signing Bonus: $1,495,000
MiLB Debut: 2010
MLB Debut: 6/25/2010
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 6/25/10
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013)
MLB Service Time: 0.034
|June 6, 2006: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 17th round, 516th overall pick.
June 9, 2009: Drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 2nd round, 58th overall pick; signed on August 17.
June 25, 2010: Contract purchased by the Detroit Tigers.
December 5, 2012: Traded by the Detroit Tigers to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Ramon Cabrera.