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Is tonight's Tigers starter Andy Oliver the next Andrew Miller?

Today's starter is 2009 draftee Andy Oliver. Oliver is a 22 year old left-handed pitcher, standing 6'3" and weighing 209. He's the type of flamethrower David Chadd loves to draft. But he's got a whopping 77 innings logged in AA and is coming off a disastrous college season in 2009. Does Andy Oliver have the ability to survive in the major leagues, or is he being rushed like Andrew Miller was in 2007?

Scouting Report

Oliver is a big projectable lefty with a big fastball- it sits 92-94 and some people even say it touches the high 90's. He averages about 93, but has the ability to reach back and put a little bit more pepper on the ball if he needs to. His changeup flashes plus but needs more work. There seems to be a dispute about his breaking ball- BA noted that he had a curve that disappeared his senior year at Oklahoma State and a slider that needed work, while Sickels commented that his slider was the breaking ball that went backwards. Either way, he's got to get that breaking ball back in order to be an effective major league starter. The Tigers apparently want him to develop the slider, which also flashes plus. His command is pretty good, and he puts the fastball where it needs to be. The problem is that he throws fastballs (both a two and four seam) 80% of the time. That won't fly in the major leagues. Mark Anderson expects us to see a bunch of fastballs and sliders in his debut, so there's also questions as to his confidence with that secondary stuff.

Player History

Andrew Oliver was drafted out of high school by everyone's favorite Minnesota Twins, who took him in the 17th round. Obviously, he never signed and went on to Oklahoma State. His freshman year was rough- he posted a 5.52 ERA in 44 innings with 42 strikeouts to 26 walks. Yeech. But his sophomore year was a huge breakout- a 2.22 ERA in 98.1 innings pitched, with 96 strikeouts (almost 1 per inning) to 36 walks. His junior year looked a lot more like his poor freshman year- a 5.30 ERA in 88.1 innings innings pitched with 97 strikeouts and 34 walks, though that strikeout rate still looked good. Of course, most experts say that the reason Oliver did so poorly was that he was involved in a lawsuit with the NCAA, who tried to strip him of his scholarship because he supposedly retained an agent when negotiating with the Twins (see, working with the Twins never ends well). A judge in Ohio ruled in Oliver's favor, but the trial ended in late February, and Oliver still had to attend further hearings which might have thrown him off.

Obviously thinking that the turmoil over his lawsuit with the NCAA messed with his head and hurt his performance, the Tigers grabbed him in the second round at #57 in the 2009 MLB First Player Draft. He signed for a touch under 1.5 million dollars. Andy Seiler at MLB Bonus Baby called him a "mediocre pick" because he lost his curveball. John Sickels noted the missing breaking ball but also reminded that he rated up with Alex White (who went 15th overall) before the season started. Kevin Goldstein noted the big fastball and his junior year struggles.

Pre-2010 rankings had Oliver ranked in the top-10 within the Tigers system. Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus put him at #5 in Detroit's system and gave him 3 out of 5 stars, projecting that he'd become either an above-average starter or a shutdown reliever. Baseball America ranked him 4th in the Tigers system, noting that he was either a #2 starter or closer in the long run and that his secondary stuff, especially the breaking ball, would be the deciding factor. John Sickels gave him a B-, again tying his fate to his breaking ball but noting his huge upside.

His 2010 is going pretty well. He started out in the Arizona Fall League after he signed with the Tigers, where he threw 16 innings in relief, posting a 2.81 ERA with 16 strikeouts to 9 walks. His performance here along with his college pedigree probably led the Tigers to give him an aggressive early assignment at AA Erie, where he started 14 games, throwing 77.1 innings of 3.61 ERA ball with a FIP of 3.58 and 70 strikeouts to 25 walks.

Right now, I'm not convinced that Oliver is ready to be a #2 pitcher in the Show. That being said, I don't think he'll be horrible. He does need to work on his secondary stuff though, and I expect he'll only be up for a couple starts. If he stays up long-term, he may end up like Miller- desperately in need of some AAA time to develop secondary pitches. Here's to hoping the Tigers have learned or that Oliver can learn quickly...

Prediction for tonight's line: 5.2 IP, 6 H 4 ER, 2BB, 6K, HR