By the time the Tigers drafted Andy Oliver in the second round of the 2009 draft, the hard throwing lefty already had a wealth of experience under his belt. He had been drafted by the Twins, pitched two years for Oklahoma State, ruled ineligible by the NCAA, sued the NCAA and won, and pitched a year of pro ball in an international league while he awaited a decision on his amateur status.
Oliver was drafted by the Twins as a high school prospect in the 17th round of the 2006 draft, but he did not sign, instead choosing to attend Oklahoma State. Oliver quickly rose to the top of prospect lists, being chosen All Big 12, and second team All American in 2008. Following that, he pitched for Team USA during the summer, made four starts and was 2-0 with a 0.93 ERA and recorded 24 strikeouts in 19.1 innings. Oliver was a part of a Team USA club that led the United States to a 24-0 record and a gold medal at the FISU World Championships.
Controversy came when Oliver enlisted an agent to gauge his professional credentials before his college eligibility had expired. The NCAA ruled him ineligible for the 2009 season. He sued the NCAA and won a landmark decision. The controversy did not deter the Tigers from taking Oliver in the second round, after choosing Jacob Turner in the first round of the same draft. Turner received a signing bonus of $4.7 million plus a major league contract. Oliver received a bonus of $1.5 million that was more than double the slot recommendation for the 58th overall pick in the draft.
Both pitchers immediately were listed among the top five prospects in the Tiger organization, with Turner a near unanimous No. 1 overall. Baseball America ranked Oliver third in the Tiger system at the beginning of the 2011 season, behind only Turner and Castellanos. Expectations were that he'd be in the majors sooner than Turner, as he was a couple of years older and had some college experience.
Oliver has more major league experience than any of the other candidates to fill out the Tiger rotation this spring, having pitched 32 innings over the past two seasons. Oliver features a fastball that routinely sits in the mid 90s and gets into the high 90s when he dials it up. Stuff has not been his problem. Control has been a big issue with him. When he made his major league debut on June 25, 2010, our own David Tokarz had this scouting report.
In his brief appearances for the Tigers, Oliver has not enjoyed much success. Frankly, he looked like the classic "deer in the headlights," totally lacking in confidence and folding under the weight of the pressure.You couldn't help but feel bad for him as he went back to the Mud Hens to get his game together. Unfortunately, the control issues have plagued him in the minors, as well. Andy had posted ERA's in the mid 3's until last year, when it rose to 4.71, primarily due to a balooning walk rate of almost five batters per nine innings.
On the plus side, Oliver still has the upside of a No. 2 or 3 starter in the major leagues IF, and that's a big IF, he can control his stuff with consistency. IF he can command his pitches, he is immediately the second best pitching prospect in the Tigers system and he'll have a career in the major leagues. He also has been relatively injury free, and he continues to rack up strikeouts, whiffing almost a batter per inning. Andy controls his own destiny. If he controls his pitches, he could be the next Andy Pettite. If not, he's just another Andrew Miller.