10/23/09 7:02 PM ET
Oliver gets past rough start in AFL
Tigers prospect performing well since shaky debut
By Jason Beck / MLB.com
Though Oliver was the Tigers' second-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft just a few months ago, the Tigers believed the former Oklahoma State left-hander was advanced enough to get in some innings in Arizona rather than wait until next year. His first outing on Oct. 13 was a rough introduction, in which he loaded the bases with a single and allowed back-to-back walks before giving up a grand slam to left-handed-hitting Mets prospect Ike Davis.
Since then, however, Oliver has settled down to make an impression with the kind of stuff that made him too enticing for Detroit to pass up once he fell out of the first round. In two outings since, he has three scoreless innings on two hits with a walk and four strikeouts.
Oliver anticipated a learning curve. But that's also why he couldn't wait to get started once he signed at the August 15 deadline.
"I'd say the first day you get [to pro ball], it's a different experience, especially from college," Oliver said last month. "You kind of just take it as your job now. This is what you've got to do. But I have no problem with that. It's something I've wanted to do all my life. "
Oliver followed up his rough debut with two scoreless innings last Friday, striking out three and retiring six of the seven batters he faced. He went back to work on Monday and pitched a scoreless ninth inning in an 8-1 victory for the Peoria Javelinas.
So far, Oliver has thrown a heavy dose of fastballs, playing to his strength as a hard-throwing southpaw. While he has shown a change of speeds, his next step -- whether it's this fall or next spring -- will be to find consistency on a breaking pitch. He knows that.
"Last year, my slider was no good. It just kind of spun," said Oliver last month. "But I've been working on that lately, and I think it's coming around."
Oliver got a victory of another sort during his time in the AFL. He reached a reported $750,000 settlement from the NCAA, announced earlier this month, to end a lawsuit Oliver filed when he was initially ruled ineligible last year. Oliver won his eligibility back for this spring in a decision in Erie County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court in February, striking down the no-agent rule.
More important for the Tigers, the settlement closes a legal fight and allows Oliver to focus on his pro career.
Oliver, too, sounded ready to put the battle behind him when he talked with reporters at Comerica Park in September.
"It was definitely a stressful situation that kind of distracted me," Oliver said. "It's kind of unfortunate that the NCAA was not there to protect. So that's the biggest thing I was struggling with."
If Oliver can build off his recent outings, he'll be a pitching bright spot for a Tigers AFL contingent whose strength is at the plate. Outfielder Casper Wells entered Friday ranked sixth in the league in hitting at .476 (10-for-21) with a double, two triples, two homers and 11 RBIs. He hit a grand slam off top overall pick Stephen Strasburg on Thursday along with an RBI single in a 9-6 Javelinas victory.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.