Right-handed pitcher Adam Oller didn’t get a lot of press for his strong season in Morgantown this year. We mentioned him here a number of times, but that can be said for most players in the system. He got mentioned more often as the year went along because he put up great stats, including his best career outing in his final game of the season.
Oller was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates last year in the 20th round. He was a 21-year-old with over 300 innings of college ball at Northwestern State. The Pirates assigned him to Bristol, which was a low level for a pitcher of his caliber, but it gave him a chance to get more innings than he would get with an assignment to Morgantown as a reliever.
In 54.2 innings with Bristol, Oller had a 4.45 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. He impressed with his control, posting a 46:9 SO/BB ratio, and got his share of ground outs, but those aren’t the best overall numbers considering his age and experience. We got one live look at him with Bristol and nothing really stood out. Oller used a fastball-heavy approach that day and was sitting 87-90 MPH. It was his best outing last year, throwing five shutout innings on two hits and one walk, but we were looking for at the stuff, rather than the results.
The next look we got at Oller was during the Fall Instructional League and there was an impressive batter-pitcher match-up for him during one of his two-inning outings. He faced Gift Ngoepe, a player five levels ahead of him in the system. Oller got him well out in front of two off-speed pitches, before getting a weak tapper back to the mound. The rest of his outing was so-so, yet the one at-bat really stood out because of the three bad swings on three straight pitches. We look for signs of success as a way to keep tabs on someone who isn’t considered a top 50 prospect in the system yet, and that was a good sign.
Going into the 2017 season, Oller seemed like a possibility to make the West Virginia Power out of Spring Training. Once spring got started, he was on the sidelines, listed among the injured players. Once the full-season teams left for their home cities, we noticed Oller was still listed as injured, so we checked in on him. He was sidelined with a shoulder impingement suffered on the first day of Spring Training and that cost him nearly two months of throwing. It was tough on him at first, but then he decided to move on and use it as motivation.
“At first I took it very negatively because I had never had issues before and I was upset I wasn’t able to do anything,” Oller said “But after a while I figured I can either take this and sulk or use it as an opportunity to work on learning the mental side of the game and situations. By doing that I was able to keep positive and increase my knowledge of the game through mental repetition.”
Oller wouldn’t begin pitching until the first week of May and took it slow at first. In fact, his highest pitch total with Morgantown was 36 through his first six weeks of the season. Three months after he returned to the mound, Oller’s longest outing was 3.1 innings. It was after that point that his season took off and he finally got some notice.
Through the end of July, Oller had an 0.95 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP in 19 innings. Those are terrific numbers, but not the type that gets a second-year player out of college much notice. If you didn’t know about the injury, then the limited use would have stood out just as much as the stats. He was getting notice from the Pirates though and that led to more innings in August alone than he had during those first six weeks of the season. It wasn’t just the stats that got him attention, he was flashing better stuff than before.
As noted, Oller was sitting 87-90 MPH with a fastball-heavy approach when we first saw him. This season however, he was hitting 93 MPH with his fastball and using his off-speed pitches better. One of those off-speed pitches was new this year and came about partially due to his Spring Training injury.
When I talked to Oller during the season, he noted that he made the switch from a curveball to a slider for two reasons. The first was that it gave him a fastball look to his breaking ball, as he was able to throw the slider harder than his curve. It was also thought that the curve was responsible for his injury and the slider would prevent the injury from recurring.
Oller was now mixing a low-90s fastball with a hard slider and a circle changeup that sat 82-84 MPH, showing nice separation from his fastball and a different break than the slider. With his above average control, he had success this season by pounding the strike zone, mixing his pitches well while moving them around the zone. In particular, he got strong results by getting chases on his fastball up in the zone with two strikes. All of his hard work during the season culminated with his final outing. Oller threw 5.2 shutout innings, setting a career high with ten strikeouts.
After putting up lackluster stats with Bristol, Oller finished the 2017 season with a 1.59 ERA in 45.1 innings, posting a 50:9 SO/BB ratio, a .188 BAA and a 1.52 GO/AO ratio. He fell about ten innings short of qualifying for the league leaders, but his ERA was third best among all pitchers with at least 45 innings and his 0.86 WHIP was ten points better than the league leader.
Oller did end up getting recognition from the league during the season, getting named to the New York-Penn League All-Star game and winning the Pitcher of the Week award for his last start. Possibly the only bad thing about the way his season ended was that the final game of the Morgantown season was rained out and Oller was scheduled to start.
Coming into the season, Oller’s strong points were his ability to throw strikes and get ground balls, along with the potential to throw a lot of innings. He has a 6’4″, 225 pound frame, and really put in a lot of work during college. In fact, when you throw in his Bristol innings and work in the Instructional League, he threw about 170 innings last year. The injury and limited innings briefly took away that workhorse tag, but he finished strong and felt it was a solid overall year.
“I think with coming off the rough start in Spring Training this was a great season for me,” Oller said. “There’s obviously always room for improvement, but I was very happy with the way I competed and maintained my health throughout this season.”
With the return to health, along with the strong finish, the ability to pitch in any role and go deep into games can be an asset for him going forward. Along with the strong control and ability to keep the ball on the ground, the three-pitch mix of a low-90s fastball, hard slider and a nice changeup, shows why he had so much success this season.
There is possibly more room for upside, and that shoulder injury may have had a second positive effect besides the better breaking ball. Oller is stepping up his off-season workout at the Tomball Sports Medicine Center in Tomball, Texas.
“I’ll be doing more of a baseball regimented workout with a group in Tomball this off-season and definitely be focusing more heavily on arm care and increasing my shoulder and core strength,” Oller said “Putting myself in the best position I can to be healthy this Spring Training.”
There is potential for him to skip over West Virginia and go to Bradenton to start the 2018 season. That will have to be something he earns during Spring Training. He has the fastball command down, which is a big part of the learning process in Low-A ball. He also has the changeup you want to see and a breaking ball with strong results. He has the age and experience to skip the lower level, so we will see in April if it all adds up to an advanced placement next year.