For former top prospect Andy Oliver, the only thing that is keeping him out of the Major Leagues is control, or lack there of.
While he led the International League in strikeouts with 138 in 2013, he also blew away the competition with his league leading 112 walks. In fact, Oliver had more walks than hits allowed. He only allowed 99 hits in his 124.1 innings.
Though on the surface, it doesn’t appear that Oliver has seen much improvement this season, the numbers have improved greatly over his past few outings. He has walked 10 hitters in 15 innings. However, in his last 11.2 innings, he has walked five hitters. During this string, he has allowed only one earned run. In fact, Oliver has only allowed earned runs in two appearances. The numbers are skewed by his one inning of work with three hits and three walks, where he allowed four runs on April 9.
Outside of the walks and the one game, Oliver’s numbers are staggering. He has compiled 22 strikeouts in 15 innings and the league is hitting only .158 against him coming into Friday night.
“He has been throwing the ball pretty well since spring training,” Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer said. “In going to the bullpen, he has accepted the role and is kind of flourishing in it right now. His confidence is high and he is throwing lots of strikes. His velocity is 93 to 95 and he has the ability to throw a breaking ball over the plate at any time.”
Filer said that the biggest thing that he has worked on with Oliver is making sure that he is in a good posture to start out.
“Before, he was getting on his back side a little bit too much,” Filer said. “For the most part, making sure he is in a good posture is the big thing. He needs to get that front side down and throw the ball hard.”
In addition, Oliver’s outings have been getting longer. Three out of his first five were one inning appearances. Since then, his last three appearances have been two innings, three innings and 2.2 innings, respectively. Oliver threw 57 pitches in his last outing on Sunday.
Filer said that there are no changes on the horizon along with stretching Oliver out. He said that it is more of the product of circumstances with the squad. The goal is to keep Oliver to one to two innings, but with the situations of a consistently changing roster, he has been the guy to be trusted to get some extra work the last few times out.
Along with these numbers, Oliver is not surprisingly much better when working from ahead in the count. He has not allowed an earned run and only three hits while working ahead in the count. While behind in the count, Oliver has allowed three earned runs and opposing hitters average against him goes up to .211.
Oliver’s velocity is in the 90s and he is still fooling hitters to the point where he either walks them or strikes them out. Of his outs, almost half have been by way of the strikeout.
This is a key year for Oliver has he is eligible for minor league free agency if he is not on the 40-man roster by the end of the year. While it seems a long shot for Oliver to impress enough to be put on the 40-man, he certainly has the stuff to get big league hitters out. However, the control has to be consistent over the long-term. Oliver has gotten in stretches in the past where he has been dominant, and then regressed back to high walk rates. If he continues at his current pace, Oliver will at least give the Pirates a decision at season’s end.