Every time we think the Tigers have depth in the rotation, they seem to have to dig deep into their system to find someone to plug into the mix.

The latest find has been left-handed pitcher Andrew Oliver, who made his second career start earlier this week after being drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft.

While he is 0-2 on the season, he has a 3.00 ERA (though he has allowed three unearned runs), 1.33 WHIP, and 10 K over 12 innings of work. It’s an extremely small sample size, however, so let’s look at his stats at Double-A prior to his recall for a little bit more background:

Six Wins
77.1 Innings
3.61 ERA
1.28 WHIP
70 Strikeouts (8.2 K/9)
25 Walks (2.9 BB/9)
.312 BABIP

Those are promising numbers, but they did not come against the most impressive opponents either. The 8.2 K/9 is nice, and since this is his first professional experience, it’s impossible to say that it is not maintainable.

He does throw hard, averaging 94.4 mph in his first two starts. Prior to the season, Baseball America had him ranked as the Tigers’ fourth best prospect, saying:

“Oliver throws harder than most lefthanders, pitching at 92-94 mph and occasionally reaching the upper 90s. He throws strikes and gets average movement with his four-seam fastball, and Detroit is having him add a two-seamer and emphasizing pounding the bottom of the strike zone.”

That certainly seems like the makeup of a pitcher who can maintain striking players out.

As far as pounding the bottom of the strike zone, if he’s doing it, it hasn’t led to groundballs. In his first two starts he had a groundball rate of 41.2 percent, similar to his Double-A experience, where he had a 39.3 percent groundball rate.

Considering that his 14 starts earlier in the season were his only professional experience prior to his recall, it’s certainly something to continue monitoring. If he can start generating more groundballs to go along with his strikeout potential, he’d have the potential to be a must use option.

While his control has been solid, the long ball has been a major issue. He allowed seven home runs in the minor leagues and has already allowed one in each of his two starts for the Tigers. It’s only a matter of time before the numbers inflate significantly if he continues to allow home runs.

At this point, Oliver is something of a wild card. While his second start wasn’t all that impressive (having allowed the three unearned runs), overall you have to like what you’ve seen out of him. There’s no questioning the stuff; the long-term question is if he is better suited to come out of the rotation or transition to the bullpen.

Given his lack of experience, it’s hard to think that the Tigers depend on him for very long. At the first sign of struggles, it’s easy to imagine them sending him back to the minor leagues. He’s worth keeping an eye on, but I wouldn’t consider owning him outside of keeper leagues and AL-only leagues for now.

I also would pick and choose the matchups before putting him into your lineup. With the Orioles next on the schedule, this is one of those times that I could see actually having him in your lineup if you are in need.

What are your thoughts on Oliver? Is he a pitcher that could be usable in 2010? How about beyond?


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