Born: December 3, 1987
Height: 6’3″
Weight: 210
Bats: Left
Throws: Left
Drafted: 2nd round, 58th overall, 2009 (Tigers)
How Acquired: Trade from Tigers (for Ramon Cabrera)
College: Oklahoma State University
Agent: Scott Boras


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.

AA:  6-4-0, 3.61 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 77.1 IP, 2.9 BB/9, 8.1 K/9
AAA:  3-4-0, 3.23 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 53.0 IP, 4.2 BB/9, 8.3 K/9
MLB:  0-4-0, 7.36 ERA, 1.77 WHIP, 22.0 IP, 5.3 BB/9, 7.4 K/9

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.

AAA:  8-12-0, 4.71 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 147.0 IP, 4.9 BB/9, 8.8 K/9
MLB:  0-1-0, 6.52 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 9.2 IP, 7.4 BB/9, 4.7 K/9

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.

AAA:  5-9-0, 4.88 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 118.0 IP, 6.7 BB/9, 8.5 K/9

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.

AAA:  5-4-0, 4.05 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 124.1 IP, 8.1 BB/9, 10.0 K/9

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.

AAA:  3-4-13, 2.53 ERA, 1.28 BB/9, 64.0 IP, 6.6 BB/9, 12.0 K/9

The Pirates kept Oliver on their 40-man roster though the end of spring training, which is a measure of just how much they like his stuff.  They ultimately put him on waivers and, not surprisingly, nobody claimed him.  The team outrighted him to AAA, where he spent the season in the bullpen, part of the time as the closer.  Oliver seemed to be making a lot of progress, striking out a lot of hitters, holding opponents to a .157 average and .224 slugging average, and keeping the walks within reason.  This led to a lot of clamoring for him to be called up.  He continued, though, to have outings when he couldn’t get many pitches over.  This got especially bad at the end of the year.  In his last three outings, he threw only 30 of 73 pitches for strikes.  In his last two, it was seven of 29.  The Pirates did not put him back on the roster or call him up in September.

Oliver obviously remains intriguing due to his outstanding stuff, but the Pirates just as obviously don’t think he’s made enough progress with his control.  I don’t believe he’s eligible for minor league free agency.  He is eligible for the Rule 5 draft.  If he returns in 2015, it should be in the Indianapolis bullpen.

Baseball Reference–Majors
Baseball Reference–Minors
2015: Minor league contract
Signing Bonus: $1,495,000
MiLB Debut: 2010
MLB Debut: 6/25/2010
MiLB FA Eligible: 2016
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
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.
March 29, 2014: Outrighted to AAA by the Pittsburgh Pirates.