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Visiting the video room: Tigers acquire Reese Olson at the trade deadline

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Detroit’s newest prospect has four pitches and some fun upside

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Phew! One of the more exciting trade deadlines in MLB history has come and gone. All 30 teams participated. As the dust settles, the Detroit Tigers chipped in one transaction, trading Daniel Norris to the Brewers in exchange for RHP Reese Olson.

At face value, it’s a good return for Norris. Olson has spent the entire season with Milwaukee’s Low-A affiliate, striking out 79 batters with a 4.30 ERA in 14 starts. It’s been reported by Jason Beck that Olson will remain in the Midwest League and be assigned to West Michigan, but should be promoted to Erie shortly to finish out the year.

Olson is still just 22 after being selected in the 13th of the 2018 draft out of high school by the Brewers. The 2021 was his second straight season with the Timber Rattlers, though with the realignment that means a promotion to High-A for the 2021 season. Something has clicked this year, however. While the ERA above four has been consistent from year to year, the strikeout numbers are way up from 7.99 K/9 through 94.2 innings in 2019 to 10.3 K/9 in 69 innings thus far this season.

Of all the publications, Fangraphs is by far the most bullish on Olson ranking him sixth in the Brewers organization. Since the trade, MLB Pipeline has slotted him 13th in the Tigers organization. The latter believes Olson may one day be a solid bullpen arm due to some mechanical flaws that put stress on his shoulder.

The 6-foot-1 right-hander can get violent in his movements and looks like he puts a lot of stress on his throwing shoulder. If not for those concerns, Olson has enough swing-and-miss stuff to profile as a starter. Instead, it’s much easier to see him moving into a bullpen someday where he could really thrive with wicked stuff in shorter stints.

It’s also worth noting that Brewers beat writer for The Athletic, Will Sammon, had designated Olson as a potential breakout for the Milwaukee farm system.

A new arm for the Tigers means a visit to the Bless You Boys video room to see what Detroit has in its newest prospect.

Fastball

This pitch is perhaps the biggest reason that Olson has seen a spike in strikeout numbers. The velocity has seen a big jump. It generally is sitting 93-95, topping out a few ticks higher, whereas it used to sit lower in the 90’s. He can generate some good armside run on the pitch on either side of the plate, so he does a good job moving it in and out.

Sometimes when throws it to the armside, it gets stupid amounts of run.

Most of the time when he misses with the fastball, it looks like he’s trying to overthrow the pitch and misses low. Generally, he isn’t missing way out of the zone or sailing it.

While he likes to work it low and generate grounders, he will elevate it late in the count to try and generate whiffs. Bare minimum, it’s a change of the eye level before he unleashes one of his secondaries for an out pitch.

The increase in velocity has been huge for Olson’s fastball. Still, it’s a pitch that won’t miss many bats. The run it gets does a good job keeping the ball on the ground, so long as it isn’t catching too much of the plate.

Breaking Balls

For clarity, Olson does have two breaking balls. To be honest, they can be hard to tell apart sometimes. The curveball, generally, does have more vertical movement than the slider. There are times when it’s clear to tell, and there are times when the shapes are similar. The same was said about Tarik Skubal at one point too, so that will be interesting to watch.

Obviously the velocities of the two pitches are different on the pitches. The slider is usually in the mid-80’s, whereas the curveball is a high-70’s offering. He’ll use both throughout a game, but his curveball is the one it seems he’s had the most confidence in recently. He’ll deploy either in pretty much any count.

In terms of the shape of the two breakers, they are clearly different when thrown well. For example, here are some curveballs that are distinctly curveballs.

The slider gets gyro movement, so it’ll break across two planes. That tends to lend itself to more swing and miss potential than sliders that sweep across the zone. That is where the shapes of the breaking balls bleed into each other. As previously mentioned though, there are many times it’s clear which pitch is which. Here are sliders that have their own shape.

Those four pitches are clearly different, and you can tell between the curveball and slider. So with that baseline of shape, here’s a game for you. These next three are breaking balls, what are they?

I have curveball, curveball, slider. Based solely on how much Resse Olson video I’ve consumed in the last several hours, I’m confident in that. But realistically, how different are those first two curveballs from the sliders above? If you tell me that I have the pitch classification wrong, I won’t fight too hard.

This isn’t the worst thing that could be happening. The ball is still breaking quite a bit. It’s worth mentioning because if he can gain more consistency in the release on the pitches, then Olson will have four very good pitches. He still does right now. The different angles and breaks just add to the upside. Look at Skubal, who I mentioned earlier. He’s done an excellent job separating the shapes between his two breaking balls.

Changeup

The changeup is his fourth pitch and it is used that way. He flashes it, mostly against lefties. That being said, against big power bats from the left side of the box he’s used it as the primary offering. It’s a change of pace that mirrors the fastball pretty well with it’s movement.

The velocity separation and deception makes this pitch a hard one to hit for batters. It looks like a fastball, then it isn’t. It, generally, has a smaller sample size than his other three pitches, but Olson does have an effective changeup when he can find the zone with it. Hitters get fooled quite a bit and have trouble even making contact.

Frankly, I think it’s be his best if he used it more. That’s easy to say, but throwing a consistently good changeup can be difficult. When this pitch is on though, it’s extremely fun to watch. While I’d give an above average grade to his breaking stuff, the changeup has the potential to be a plus offering, in my opinion.

Mechanics

Generally, I don’t like to speak on mechanics. There are a billion ways to get from point A to point B and many times it can be hard to agree upon what works. Still, for Olson, mechanics are the biggest detractor from his upside.

A lot of publications throw that reliever risk on him, in part, because he has a high effort delivery. It’s certainly not the most fluid motion, he doesn’t generate a lot of power with his legs, and he whips his arm through violently while throwing that ball. That makes it hard to sustain velocity and movement over several innings because it’s taxing on the body over what would be a starters workload. This may be part of the reason why he’s completed six innings just once this year. Inconsistent strike throwing is the other big factor, and Olson’s high effort delivery doesn’t exactly project major improvements in command.

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to like in Reese Olson. Whether he’s a long term starter or not remains to be seen, but it’s good value for what the Tigers traded to acquire him. If I were slotting him into my prospect rankings today, I’d be confident putting him in the top 10, likely in that 8-10 range. He’d be the fourth highest ranked arm behind Manning, Jackson Jobe, and Ty Madden. Think Joey Wentz and Dylan Smith territory. Unless I’m just the high man on Smith, then this is awkward.

The Tigers should give Olson every opportunity to develop as a starter. He’s got a four pitch mix that he’s shown developing feel for. His walk numbers are high and he’s behind in counts a lot. That is where trouble finds him. That said, he can throw all of his pitches for strikes and that’s a huge plus.

Maybe he’s not a starter, and that’s okay. He’s got the stuff to be a high leverage, multi inning reliever. Either way, the Tigers have plenty to work with here.