Between the time I posted my transaction post and it was scheduled to run, Mark Anderson tweeted that the Tigers were promoting Lester Oliveros from Erie to Toledo. The pitcher Lester will pass on the turnpike is Zach Simons. My guess is a lot of people who follow Tiger prospects will see that and think, "Man, what does Simons have to do to catch a break?" or "Why do the Tigers hate this guy?" After all, Simons has been a pretty serviceable reliever at the upper levels of the system since he was the return from the Jason Grilli trade in 2008.
The thing about Simons, though, is your interpretation of his numbers can be slanted depending on whether you think he's getting robbed of a shot. If you want to see him in Detroit, you can say he was nearly unhittable in 2008 (29 hits in 53.1 IP with 61 strikeouts) and has made strides with his control since. I think this is accurate. His numbers since coming into the organization are indeed good. As a Tiger farmhand, he's thrown 205 innings, given up just 147 hits, 93 walks and struck out 206. Those are pretty good numbers and while you may not like the walks, he has improved in that regard overall and his ability to limit hits and get Ks could be argued to mitigate their harm. What's more, Simons is said to have stuff that lines up with these promising numbers.
That's one approach. If you just see Simons as another wave in a sea of middling relief prospects, you can make another argument. You could say his control has always been an issue, and while it was at its worst in 2008, it seems to keep rearing its ugly head. That's especially true when he's had his shots in Toledo. In 47.1 innings (in parts of three different seasons) in Frogtown he's had 21 walks. That's creeping up toward an unacceptable rate, especially when you consider he's also allowed eight home runs in that time. A penchant for home runs coupled with poor control, you could argue, does not make for a lockdown middle reliever.
Both of these arguments have their shades of truth. Simons' game has always seemed to have a wart in one way or the other, but there were pretty sizable stretches in Erie - and Toledo last year - where he seemed like he could be earning his shot. That argument can be made especially easily in an organization that has seen fit to give major league time to guys like Enrique Gonzalez and Chris Lambert while Simons was having these stretches. But I don't spend a whole lot of time criticizing the Tigers for how they handle their prospects. Maybe they wanted to see five more outings where he kept the ball down, kept it in the zone better or showed command of his curveball. I don't know, and that's why I don't say much usually.
I just know there must have been something else they wanted to see from him and he's certainly not showed it to this point in Toledo. In eight games, Simons has thrown 12.1 innings, given up ten hits, four for homers, walked ten and struck out the same. Those are terrible numbers across the board and include a couple of two home run outings and walks allowed in all but two appearances. Considering what he's done in Erie over the past couple years, I would usually be inclined to let him try to work through it to see if he can figure things out in Triple A. Kind of a "see what we have here" test for him. But at this time, the Tigers want a spot for Oliveros and Simons' early returns must have stood out.
I certainly don't blame them for wanting to clear room for Oliveros. He's been pretty ridiculous, really. In nine games, he's thrown 16 innings. He's given up just nine hits, one run, no homers and four walks. Those are all good rates which look very nice next to his 0.56 ERA. Here's the real stunner, though. He's already struck out 27 batters. As a reliever whose longest outing was 2 1/3 innings, he's already had two(!) six strikeout outings. This includes his most recent - and perhaps last - appearance with Erie where all six of his outs came via the K. The Ks haven't come is flashes either. He has a strikeout in every one of his appearances and has had at least as many strikeouts as innings pitched every time he's been called to the mound.
He's dominating Double A to the extent that you need to find him a spot in Toledo. That point is made even stronger when you realize he's a pitcher whose stuff has had the Tigers waiting for the results to catch up. That seemed to be happening when he was in Lakeland in 2009 (54 IP, 53 H, 5 HR, 16 BB, 58 K) but injury problems slowed him last year. This year, he seems to be healthy again and he's making a very strong case for showing what he can do in Toledo.
Now, before I wrap this up I want to make a couple things clear. I don't particularly care for Simons being the one to get demoted to Erie to make room for Oliveros. Simons seems to be one of those pitchers where the Tigers make him succeed for long stretches only to be given very little latitude when he struggles. As I said above, he's been pretty good the last couple seasons and it seems harsh to drop the hammer on him after eight outings and twelve plus innings. Of course, I say this without really having seen him pitch. I suppose it's possible he's just looked overmatched, but I suspect it's something more like they'd rather make this move then let go of somebody like Chris Oxspring. I don't know that I agree with the logic. I'd certainly listen to complaints.
In the long run, though, I think Simons is going to end up trying to prove to Detroit they were wrong about him rather than trying to justify a shot with the big club. As fans, we'll just have to hope the success of pitchers like Oliveros makes such decisions irrelevant.