There was a time when left hander Andy Oliver was considered by some the top pitching prospect in the Detroit Tigers organization. It was less than two years later, however, that he had fallen out of the Triple-A rotation and fallen out of favor in Detroit. This past Winter, Oliver was shipped off to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for catcher Ramon Cabrera.
Oliver has taken kindly to his new home and a return to a starting role with Triple-A Indianapolis. Friday night in Louisville, Oliver held the Bats to a single hit over six shutout frames. He walked three but struck out a season-high 10 batters en route to his first victory of the season and lowering his ERA to a sterling 2.11.
Oliver was ranked as high as 87 by Baseball America on their top prospect list prior to the 2011 campaign, but began to struggle with control shortly thereafter. A second round pick by the Tigers in 2009, Oliver features a mid-90s fastball a solid arsenal of off-speed pitches. Unfortunately, too often he puts himself behind in counts and winds up getting burned, either via the base on balls or by giving in to the hitter. In two separate stints with the Tigers in 2010 and 2011, Oliver made a total of seven big league starts and was summarily rocked. He wound up 0-5 with an ERA of 7.11 and 21 walks versus just 23 strikeouts in 31.2 innings of work.
It was long speculated that Oliver’s struggles could iron themselves out with a shift to relief work and the Tigers ultimately decided to give that a shot in 2012, but the results weren’t much better. With concerns not only about his delivery but his mental makeup, Detroit essentially gave up on the still young left hander and dealt him to Pittsburgh.
It may be worth noting that Cabrera, the catcher Detroit got back in the deal, is off to a blistering .388/.475/.531 start, but he’s also a 5’8″ catcher with 13 career home runs in almost 1700 minor league plate appearances. His ceiling is limited.
Oliver, on the other hand, is limited only by his command issues and those haven’t completely abated. While his excellent outing on Friday accentuates his potentially dominant stuff, he’s still walked 12 batters in just 21.1 innings pitched this season for Indy. That’s something he won’t be able to dance around for long.
Oliver has impressed with high strikeout rates in the past only to have his weaknesses exploited when facing more advanced hitters. There is little to suggest that his fast start with a new organization is anything other than just that. Until he gets his control problems ironed out, Oliver won’t reach the level of success his talent suggests he could reach.